How to turn your business into a TV star

Cameraman Mark Matusiak shoots a scene for the reality TV series
Cameraman Mark Matusiak shoots a scene for the reality TV series "Pawn Stars" in Las Vegas. Pawn sales at the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop bring in about $20 million a year, up from the $4 million a year it made before the show aired. Turning small business owners into stars has become a winning formula for television producers, but the businesses featured in the shows are cashing in, too.

Think your small business has what it takes to be next TV reality star?

Shows featuring small company owners, such as A&E's "Duck Dynasty" and History's "Pawn Stars," are hits, turning nearly unknown small businesses into household names. The shows give them exposure that most could never afford to pay for through advertising or public relations.

So you want your own show? Here's a guide:

Sometimes they find you

Production companies are always on the lookout for businesses to film. That's how "Pawn Stars" came about. Brent Montgomery, the owner of production company Leftfield Pictures, was at a bachelor party in Las Vegas. The limousine he was in passed by a pawn shop and he came up with the idea of a reality show that took place in a pawn shop. Montgomery told his staff to find a family-owned pawn shop in Las Vegas that they could shoot. The producers found Rick Harrison of Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, who had already been pitching a reality show idea to other producers. Harrison went with Leftfield Pictures, which sold the show to History. It's been on the air since 2009.

Pitch a producer

Many production companies accept pitches for reality shows. If a production company likes the idea, they will be able to bring it to networks. Do an online search for reality TV producers and call to see if they accept pitches. The Idea Factory, which has produced reality shows for Spike and Discovery, accepts pitches on the company's website ( Darryl Silver, the owner of the Idea Factory, says that he usually first meets people who pitch shows through webcam chats. Silver usually asks what major events they expect to happen in the next year that could be filmed.

You can also film the business, and the people you think will be on the show, and upload it to YouTube so that you can send a link to the production company.

Robbie Montgomery, who stars in "Welcome to Sweetie Pie's," says that her son pitched their show idea to a St. Louis-based production company and then sold it to The Oprah Winfrey Network.

No failing businesses

Your business must be in good financial standing. No production company wants to start filming a show that centers around a business and then have it close down during filming. Production companies will check to make sure your business is on solid footing.

They love families

Family-owned businesses are favored by producers because it adds "an extra level of story," says Silver. Audiences love seeing people and relationships on TV that they can relate to. "Duck Dynasty," which features a family-owned duck-call business, is the most watched documentary-style reality series on TV right now, according to Nielsen.


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