Big Fish Entertainment Dives into Live TV

Dan Cesareo, the founder and president of Big Fish Entertainment, talks to TV Real about Live PD and Date Night Live, which he executive produces.

Since Big Fish Entertainment was launched in 2006, the company has produced cable programming and digital projects for TV networks such as A&E, Lifetime, VH1, WE tv, Discovery, TLC, MTV, E!, National Geographic, Oxygen, Travel Channel, Spike and Smithsonian Channel. “We’re leaning very heavily into the live space, and we feel like we’re onto something,” Dan Cesareo, the founder and president of Big Fish Entertainment, tells TV Real. Cesareo also serves as executive producer on Live PD, which recently wrapped its first season on A&E, and Date Night Live, which premiered on Lifetime in July. A+E Networks holds worldwide distribution rights for both series.

***Image***“We’ve always tried to develop and create TV content that’s outside the box with the goal of flipping a genre on its head or reinventing it,” Cesareo says. “Live PD and Date Night Live are the most recent examples of what we’ve accomplished.”

Cesareo and the team at Big Fish believe “live is the future of television and unscripted content,” and that it “puts the ‘real’ back into reality television.” He adds: “As a company, we had never done live TV before until we launched Live PD last October.” The series uses dash cams as well as fixed-rig and handheld cameras to follow police departments from across the U.S. in real time as they patrol their communities on Friday and Saturday nights. It’s an ambitious project, but Cesareo believes, “If you’re a great storyteller and you can execute, you can be a chameleon; you can do formats, you can do urban docusoaps, you can do live. That’s always been our approach as we develop projects.”

Live PD presents an “opportunity to flip the whole law enforcement genre on its head,” Cesareo says. “Law enforcement programming has been incredibly successful for A&E, as well as for other networks, but for the most part it’s all been the same for a very long time—whether it’s actively following a murder case or being on ride-alongs with the police department, the only thing that’s really changed is the backdrop and the execution of storytelling. So, we thought, how do we reinvent it? Simultaneously, there was a public demand for transparency. It is a hot-button issue within our country, so we went after it” as a means of showing Americans what police officers experience as they patrol neighborhoods across the country.

“The big question was whether we could actually do it,” he explains. “Could we get enough police departments that were willing to take this risk and broadcast live? Technologically, could we execute at the level of production and with the number of cameras we wanted to have, and the number of departments we wanted to follow and the number of cars we wanted to be in? Could we do it at a price point that made any sense? We spent just as much time developing the tech side of the show as we did the actual show.”

In July, A&E ordered 100 additional three-hour episodes of Live PD, thereby extending the series’ run to 2018 and the total episode count to 142. Cesareo says that “having a 100-episode order is transformative and beyond gratifying. It speaks to the future and the direction that unscripted, reality television is headed in.”

Given the success with Live PD, the team at Big Fish decided to expand on the live TV “superpower” it had discovered. Cesareo explains that moving forward in the TV business “is always about finding a space or a world that works [well on television] historically, and then deciding how to bring it to an audience in a different way. How do we take something that you may have watched previously on television and come at it from a different direction?” Following dates live as they happen across the U.S. seemed like the answer. Cesareo says: “Date Night Live delivers a voyeuristic thrill,” making the audience feel as though they are at a restaurant eavesdropping on dates as they unfold before their eyes.

As Big Fish looks ahead to the future, Cesareo says, “It’s about trying to figure out what’s next, not where we’ve been. If you deliver and execute the right content, whether it’s live or not live, the audience will show up.”