I had the pleasure of interviewing Award Winning Television Producer, Endyia Kinney-Sterns, the “Go To Guru” for reality television, wife and mother of two. Kinney-Sterns has 15+ years of producing quality TV experience, working as the Vice-President of Development for OWN Network and working alongside Oprah Winfrey, developing shows for major networks such as VH1, NBC and BET to a new a few. She’s now venturing off to start her own production company and building her personal brand. On July 9, 2016, at the Los Angeles Film School, Kinney-Sterns will be hosting an insider’s workshop teaching those interested in producing reality television. You’ll want to read this to find out all things reality TV and if good parenting is ever part of the equation.
During your upcoming workshop you’ll discuss the real on reality TV, can you give us a hint to what that is?
It’s interesting because a lot of times people come to me saying, “how do I get a show on the air? What does it take? Is it really real?” And so I decided to get all my 20 years of experience into one room and offer it to people who otherwise would not have access to the inside scoop on how networks think, what it is we’re looking for and how to build your own ideas in this genre. And one of those things is asking the questions is reality real? And honestly, that answer really is up to the creator. It varies from show to show, from creator to creator, from network to network.
What is the one thing you’ve learned from producing various shows?
I’ve been blessed to be able to work with various networks who have various brands, various messaging, and intentions; as it relates to what they’re trying to put out in the world, what I’ve learned is what works for me. I’ve learned that television is a powerful medium and we have responsibility as content providers to adhere to that call. I was personally blessed to be at the Oprah Winfrey Network where I was able to do programming that inspired, encouraged and uplifted people, but at the same time entertain them. I haven’t always had that privilege. Starting out I was at networks where it was all about entertainment and you threw caution to the wind and if it makes people laugh, if it’s irreverent at times, so what? I’ve learned that there’s no such thing as just entertainment. You’re shaping a mind, you’re helping to create a mind, you’re planting seeds. And so to me at this stage of my career, I find that that’s super important. I’ve learned that it’s a huge responsibility, and we as content providers, as well as buyers have power as it relates to that. And no not all reality TV is real.
Do you think that entertainment sometimes takes precedence over adding value, encouraging, and uplifting?
The culture really drives what’s on the air and I know a lot of people feel like “oh if networks did more positive then we would have more.” But it’s a catch-22. I’ve been at networks where the audience says I want more of this and we give it to them and they don’t show up. I think a perfect example of that is when I was producer, EP creator, and executive director at BET. We had taken news off the air and people were like “we want news, we want to bring back current events, let’s go back to the days when we had talk on there.” So we do that, and they don’t show up. They’ll show up for “Love and Hip Hop” and “Basketball Wives”, but they won’t show up for the programming that they say they want. Really it’s more about knowing that it’s there, just knowing that on BET we’ve got that. But they just won’t come to watch it. So as an executive it was my job to try to find that balance between what’s going to engage the audience in a way that they feel like they’re entertained, but somewhere in the middle it’s like hiding the veggies, hiding the spinach. I call it chocolate covered strawberries. On the outside it’s sweet, it’s sexy, it’s fun; but then you taste it and it’s like “oh this is good for me, it has antioxidants.” What gets you there is the entertainment, but inside of it, it gives a little bit more than what you thought you were going to get. That is something that I personally did with some of the programming that I was able to do.
As a mother of 2, how do you balance parenting and producing?
You know what? There’s a misconception about balance. Because in no way, shape or form can you give equal energy to one thing. You just can’t. It’s not physically possible. The way that you do it is, you re-focus. This is what I learned, when I was trying to do things for myself, it never worked. I said, “OMG, I’m doing these long hours to give my kids everything that they wanted, I’m providing for my family, I’m doing this, I’m doing that.” But honestly, they didn’t ask for that. They didn’t care for that. What they cared for was “oh, my mommy’s here, we’re going to play UNO tonight”, or “oh wow, we’re going to the park”, or “mommy let me tell you about my day.” In the beginning of my career I was so focused on climbing the ladder and making a difference, making my mark in my community, and what I’m doing; but in my heart I was thinking, “it’s for my children”, but it was really about me. My children weren’t really benefitting. So I re-calibrated my thought. I was like you know what, my first responsibility is being a mom, because I’m responsible for two amazing young men who need to be shaped, molded, pruned, girded, and supported. They need their mom and their dad. When I focused I said, “how do I give my best to them?” The other things just sort of fell into place. My job was still important, but how I looked at it and positioned it in my life was different. When it came down to going to a game or making sure that their homework was done, I structured my career around that. Not structuring them around my career, but structuring my career around them. That became the right balance. Because now it wasn’t just about me, it was about my family, and at the end of the day when jobs come and go, who’s going to be there? Your family. That’s how you have proper balance, by having the proper perspective and I think that’s the conversation. The balance comes when you have the right perspective.
Do your children watch any reality TV at all?
They do, they watch “BattleBots” because they love little robotics. They’re boys and they like to watch things crash. They like “Ninja Warrior.” Those are pretty much the only two shows that they watch.
Do you discuss reality TV with them, in terms of entertainment vs reality?
They don’t even watch it so it doesn’t exists in their world. Just by nature of my conversations with them, and talking with them about what I do, they know what TV is and that there’s an entertainment factor to it, no matter what it is. But not in terms of saying “that’s scripted, and that’s not scripted, and is that real?, is that fake?” I kind of shelter them a bit when it comes to that.
How old are they?
7 and 11.
Would you ever star in your own reality TV show? If so, what would it be about?
People have asked me that. They’ve said, you should have your own show. What I say to that is, it’s a special kind of person who lets you into their world. To be able to completely and wholeheartedly be like “here’s my life, here it is. I am opening myself up to you, to critique it, to comment on it.” I don’t know if I’m there yet. I don’t think I would want to do that. There has to be a clear intention for me to do it. That’s the key. What is the message that I’m trying to do? What is the story that I’m trying to tell? All of that would have to factor in. I will say, I was on a renovation show recently.
Was it your house being renovated?
Yes, yes we had just purchased a home, well we were in the process of purchasing a home and we were asked to be on House Hunters Renovation. And so that’s going to be exciting. It’s going to be rolling out in September/October, I’m not quite sure yet. In that world it made sense. We were renovating, it’s organic, it’s not forced. It’s a little sneak peak into my life, but it’s not so invasive. But a reality show it its true sense? I doubt it, no.
And House Hunters Renovation airs on HGTV correct?
Yes it does.
Your upcoming workshop will also be touching on “what sizzle sells”. Can you hint to what that is?
The workshop is going to give people actual examples of what a really good sizzle looks like, what goes into it, the work that goes into it, what is it that networks really want to see. The problem is that people are shooting in the dark, they really don’t know, unless they’re part of a huge production company, or they produce reality for years. They really don’t know what to expect to get into the room. One of the things that I feel is super important is, I have all this knowledge, I feel bad when people come to me and they’re like “I just don’t know.” The bottom line is, they wouldn’t know cause there’s nowhere else for them to learn it. So they get a sneak peak, a snapshot look into what it takes to sell to a multi-million dollar company. So from a 7-minute sizzle, to a 3-minute sizzle, to what sells, to what gets people saying “I’m excited”, to what makes people say “maybe”, they’re going to get all of that.
For families represented on reality TV, do you think it’s a positive environment to raise kids in? Are the children at all affected?
It all depends on the family, it all depends on the intention of the show, and it all depends on the brand that they are on. So for example with OWN, the brand is all about uplifting, inspiring, entertaining, encouraging, relatability. Because of that naturally that’s what you’re going to get. So anything that OWN does, from “Deion’s Family Playbook” with his kids, you’re going to see an African-American single dad raising his kids, and what it’s really like. So for that show it was a great environment because I remember getting letters and emails of people saying “I’ve never seen anything like it”, “I watch it with my son, he doesn’t have a dad. Now he has an example of what kind of man he should be.” So you see there are ways to make reality TV relatable, positive, and entertaining at the same time. It just depends on the network it’s on, the talent, and the intention. It always starts with the intention. The intent of “Deion’s Family Playbook” was to show a single black dad raising his kids, that’s the intent, that’s what you’re going to get.
With Kym Whitley, the intention was to show “I stepped out on a limb and adopted this baby that was put on my doorstep, how did my life change.” And you see her, single mom, making it happen, adopted this baby and how it changed her life, and how it grew her in ways that she never imagined. Positive. And it’s entertaining. It’s all about the intention. But then you flip it, and you see “Love & Hip Hop”, what’s the intention of that show? Well the intention is to show these people who are trying to make it in the world of Atlanta by any means necessary. That’s the intention and that’s what you’re going to get. So if you see children involved in that, well the intention is not the kids, the intention is, it’s about their career. The career is first, and the kids are secondary (in terms of the show), and that’s what you see. There are some shows that are super great for children, and there are some shows that aren’t meant for kids and family.
Do good TV and good parenting go hand-in -hand?
It’s all in the brand. It can go hand-in-hand if that’s the intention. You see that with Kym Whitley, you see that with “Deion’s Family Playbook”, you see it with Flex and Shanice, you see it across the board. When you think about it, it makes sense because there are certain things that Bravo can do that VH1 can’t do because of the brand. There are certain things that OWN just won’t do because it doesn’t make sense, that VH1 does because of their brand.
You can still register for the workshop on www.realonrealithy.eventbrite.com and what’s great about it is that she’s offering a couple of discounts. If you go to www.realonreality.eventbrite.com, it will take you to all the information on the masterclass and the promo code for students is the word “STUDENT” (all caps, and it gives a substantial discount). But if you’re not a student, just put in the promo code “50OFF”. You’re getting a 2 ½ hour workshop with Endyia, it includes lunch, and it’s immersive. You get to talk to her, you get to engage, get to actually see, understand and know exactly what it takes to sell in the room. There might even be a celebrity/reality star guest coming in. It is going to be super fun, engaging and informative. Endyia really wants to be able to inform and empower people to take the reigns and be creative and get their product out there.