Here’s why reality TV shows keep flocking to Atlanta

And why Georgia’s capital beats out other filming meccas like Los Angeles
Reality TV in Atlanta

Illustration by Chris Piascik

Locations, locations, locations
Unlike scripted series or movies, which typically film in soundstages or on a single large set, reality shows rely on access to a large number of filming locations. “We can be in five to 10 locations every week, which is a lot of places to secure,” says Paria Sadighi, vice president of communications for Kinetic Content, the production company behind Little Women: Atlanta. “We’re constantly looking for new locations, and Atlanta has such a variety. Drive a few minutes outside the city and there’s beautiful landscape and natural backdrops. Inside the city, there’s the food scene with lots of cool-looking restaurants. There’s parks. There’s skyscrapers. And if we need a green screen shot, there’s plenty of studio space.”

Reality TV in Atlanta

Illustration by Chris Piascik

Diverse cast of characters
“Reality was way ahead of the curve on diversity compared to scripted TV, but RHOA just opened the floodgates,” says Matt Anderson, cofounder and executive producer at Purveyors of Pop. “A diverse audience is often an underserved audience, and we found they will come if you build a show around black characters.”

Lynnette Granville, executive in charge of production for Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta, agrees. “As far as casting, it’s all about diversity right now, and here you have very different people living just an hour away from one another, from cabins in the North Georgia mountains to mansions in Buckhead.”

Reality TV in Atlanta

Illustration by Chris Piascik

Southern hospitality
Atlanta is a welcoming city compared to filming meccas like Los Angeles. “In New York or L.A., it is very difficult—and very expensive—to lock in locations, especially for reality [shows],” says Granville. “Here in Atlanta, you still have that big-city feel, but everything is easier. When I first started out, you didn’t even need a permit to film at Piedmont Park. As productions have gotten bigger, that has changed a bit, but the city has remained flexible and accommodating.”

That welcome extends from the city to individual property owners. “People in Los Angeles are pretty jaded when it comes to dealing with crews,” says Suzan Satterfield, an Atlanta-based producer who has worked on several lifestyle reality shows, including Mega Dens for the DIY Network. “They don’t want crews in their backyards or their businesses. In Atlanta people are still excited to have a production in their neighborhood.”

Reality TV in Atlanta

Illustration by Chris Piascik

Behind-the-scenes talent
“The talent here is a big attraction, and I’m not referring to on-air talent, but the camera crews, the directors, the audio supervisors, the logistical teams,” says Granville. There are two benefits to using local crews. One, it helps the bottom line if you don’t have to fly people in from L.A. and put them up for the duration of filming. It also makes reality shows better, says Anderson. “Someone who’s a local is not only in the know about the shortest way to get from Duluth to Midtown, they also can tell you the hottest new bar to film at.”

Until a few years ago, Atlanta’s crew base was much smaller, says L.C. Crowley, cofounder and president of the Atlanta-based production company School of Humans. “But lately the reality crews have really moved in,” he says. “We see camera people and sound engineers moving in droves from New York and L.A. There’s a ton of work here, and it’s less expensive and more livable.”

Reality TV in Atlanta

Illustration by Chris Piascik

Ratings draw
One of the biggest reasons that Atlanta is so appealing to reality producers is that it’s also appealing to reality audiences. “It’s been proven that shows or spin-offs filmed in Atlanta tend to do better than shows filmed in other cities,” says Sadighi. While all the producers we spoke to mentioned the ratings boost, they also acknowledged that the reason remains a mystery. The prevailing theory seems to be that Atlanta offers a just-right mix of Southern comfort and urban hipness.

“Sometimes there’s an expression that a show can be ‘coastal,’ meaning the middle of the country isn’t watching. That’s just not the case with shows that come out of Atlanta,” says Anderson. “I think [the city] seems relatable, but on the flip side, it’s where sports meets music meets Hollywood, so there’s some exciting stuff going on, too.”

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