Inside The CW’s Unscripted Plans: Heather Olander Dishes On ‘FBoy’ Universe, New Funding Models, Reality Docusoap Weariness, Robots & Throuples

Inside The CW’s Unscripted Plans: Heather Olander Dishes On ‘FBoy’ Universe, New Funding Models, Reality Docusoap Weariness, Robots & Throuples

Heather Olander knew she would be taking on a challenge when she joined The CW as its first Head of Unscripted Programming.

Former NBCUniversal exec Olander, who previously oversaw shows such as Temptation Island and The Biggest Loser at USA Network, joined the broadcast network in January after Nexstar acquired it and following the hire of Brad Schwartz as President of Entertainment.

“If you take the idea of a broadcast network and completely transform it into something brand new, that’s massive,” she told Deadline.

The CW was moving to a new model; out were the majority of its youth-skewing scripted dramas and in were lower cost co-productions and a healthy dose of unscripted television – Olander says around 50% of the schedule will be unscripted.

She admitted there were “red flags all around” but that was one of the reasons that she took on the challenge, comparing it to moving from MTV to USA Network at a time where the network had no unscripted.

Heather Olander (Credit: Rahoul Ghose)

“The types of shows that we’re buying in, and the strategy behind unscripted, is very much built around those challenges, which are dragging in a brand new audience, a broader audience and without unlimited marketing and production dollars, which is a song everyone’s signing across town. It’s not going to be easy but I think we have the right support and the Nexstar folk believe in the network,” she added during the hour-long sit down keynote interview at Realscreen West.

Olander was speaking at a strange time for unscripted television; while considerably cheaper than scripted series, unscripted budgets have been coming down across the board and there was no significant boost brought on by the writers strike with most buyers tending to order more episodes of shows they already air than launching new ones.

She discusses the health of the sector, the types of shows that it is looking for – we revealed yesterday that she is looking to launch a true-crime strand – as well as the new ways in which she and her team, which includes VP, Unscripted Programming Betsy Slenzak and one more exec who is joining later this team, are looking for the best deals.


FBoy Island, which was one of HBO Max’s buzziest unscripted shows, is the big headline for The CW. The network will air season two of the series in August and that will be followed by its own version in the fall. It will be followed by a spinoff FGirl Island, which will hopefully turn the F-brand into The CW’s version of The Bachelor.

“We need tentpoles, that’s the big thing. We need a couple of big, loud, shiny shows that can make some noise, that work on their own and market themselves and FBoy is a great example of that. It’s on the higher end of the financial scale for us, but it’s well known IP.”

The first two seasons of the show, which is hosted by Nikki Glaser, were shot in the Cayman Islands and cost upwards of $2M per episode. The CW is reducing the budget, helped by shooting “on the island of Malibu,” Olander jokes.

“Honestly, it’s a lot easier for a lot of reasons. It’s just a lot more efficient if you can do it,” she added.

The CW also greenlit both seasons – FBoy and FGirl – at the same time and plan to shoot them back-to-back. “We will make interesting deals… that are cost effective. Part of that was by greenlighting two seasons at once, which then can be shot at once. It just made the cost per episode much more financially interesting for us and feasible for us,” she added.

The raunchy title is not a worry for Olander, or Schwartz. “Our ad sales team is going to have to do some work there. That’s their problem. Ours is getting audiences in the door.”

Olander is on the hunt for more well-known IP. “There’s two formats that I’m looking at, one is an international show that hasn’t made it to the U.S. and one would be a reboot of a format.”


Ten years ago, the unscripted market was flooded with reality shows like Duck Dynasty and Olander’s own Chrisley Knows Best. Now, other than The Real Housewives brand and Bravo shows such as Below Deck, as well as the continued appeal of The Kardashians, it’s a genre that has struggled to generate new hits.

“I’m not really for straight [docu-soap],” she said. “It’s so hard to launch those things. If you’re at a network that has a reality audience and you have similar things… then maybe, but we don’t so I that would be a real challenge. There’s just so much more content out there than existed when a lot of those like Duck Dynasty, Chrisley Knows Best and [Keeping Up With The] Kardashians [aired], there’s just a lot more out there, it’s much, much harder to get audience attention and the audience is fractured.”

However, Olander said she is developing a series in the vein of Below Deck, which she says is more “accessible” because of its Upstairs, Downstairs-style conceit. “We are we are actually casting one right now and the casting is super good. I’m really excited. Fingers crossed we get to make that one, because it’s great and potentially more.”


Olander praised ABC’s strategy on its Sunday night block of classic gameshows, but admitted that gameshows are difficult to launch unless they’re reboots of well-known formats.

“Those are probably the most expensive to launch. They require some marketing dollars. If you don’t have that IP, how do we do it?,” she said.

She also highlighted the success of Deal or No Deal and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? “There is one that we are looking at that has some IP along with it,” she added, encouraging producers to look for more, although not likely for its initial tranche of launches.


Whose Line Is It Anyway? with Keegan-Michael Key (The CW)

Whose Line Is It Anyway? will returns this fall with its more episodes. The show has been on The CW for many years, featuring the likes of Aisha Tyler, Ryan Stiles, Colin Mochrie and Wayne Brady. Last year, Mochrie said that the show would film its final season in January, but this turned out not to be the case.  

“We have another batch of episodes coming, they wound up being able to shoot more episodes, which we ordered. Those will be coming in 2024 and after that that we don’t know [what] the future is. There was some discussion around whether the cast wanted to continue with the show or not,” Olander added.

“It’s been a great show. That type of show is exceptionally hard to produce, Dan Patterson, has done a great job, because those improv shows tend to be hard to launch, hard to keep on, hard to keep funny and he’s done a good job at it,” she said, adding that it would be open to doing more episodes.


Olander says there isn’t a huge difference in types of shows she was being pitched when she was at USA Network. “What’s so funny is it’s similar ideas, but just changed a little bit in the details. What you’re starting to see, for instance, a lot of dating shows with AI,” she said. “I’ve heard a lot of pitches in the relationship space about finding like, another person to join like a polygamous relationship. I’ve had a lot of throuples [pitches]. What’s in the headlines, makes its way to the pitches.”


The CW previously sold the streaming rights to its catalogue of scripted shows to the likes of Netflix. However, it is now looking at launching its new shows, particularly its non-scripted shows, on its own CW app after they air, rather than immediately selling them to a third-party service. Olander said this transition will happen this fall.

“We can start building a library there. That’s a big focus is we can’t keep buying shows that we make successful for distributors to then make money on other platforms,” she said. “Down the road, in terms of distribution and some licensing and such, there might be opportunities for [these shows] to live elsewhere. But the cool thing is the entire series will live on the CW app.”

The CW is also considering partnering with digital platforms in interesting windowing combinations. One could imagine, for instance, The CW taking the linear rights to an unscripted show, with a platform like Roku taking the digital rights, as a way to save costs. “You can start to sort of see some of that with different networks and different platforms. We’ve been reached out to by digital platforms, because we don’t have our own SVOD [service], so they’ve reached out to us and talked about if you [we] want to take the linear, and then it’ll live on their platform. It’s early discussions and nothing is solidified. But I can see that happening.”

One of the ways that scripted producers have lowered costs is international co-productions. This doesn’t necessarily work in a straightforward way for unscripted, but Olander says that if it was to launch its own big-budget competition series like The Voice, it would look for different ways to make it.

“Where we do have to probably get creative is with some of the bigger kind of tentpole concepts, like if we were ever to do a show on the scale of The Voice, we would absolutely have to get real creative. That is a very expensive show,” she said.

Filming internationally is also an option, one used to great success by the likes of Fox, which produces a number of its unscripted series in Ireland and Australia.

“Even just shooting in the UK, for instance, project costs are lower, it’s a cheaper way to do it without even necessarily having to do the hub model. There’s lots of places in South America to do that, there’s real talent pools developing [outside of the U.S.] from a production and post standpoint and post standpoint. We’re open to open to all those things. What’s good is because it’s not just us looking to be efficient, it’s the entire community and more attention is being paid that there are those opportunities are being created.”


“The health of the of unscripted is great, and it will continue to be great. The industry right now, overall, just as a business, setting genre aside, is challenging and challenged for a lot of different reasons,” she said. “There’s less dollars invested in in programming period, there’s obviously fears of recession, so companies are sort of dialing back on what they want to spend and invest. Budgets have definitely come down, as ratings have come down, but just have to come down because the math has to work. But I think it’s still a great business, in success. If you can find a format that works and spend less money on producing it, but it goes on to have a successful life, it’s valuable and there’s still really big upside. It’s more challenging for producers, grappling for ownership, it’s still a good business to be in.”

The writers strike hasn’t helped unscripted producers. There was no uptick in buying with the likes of NBC and CBS ordering more episodes of existing shows and even some talent has refused to shoot unscripted series during the strike.

“I think everyone sort of thought that the strike is going to happen and everyone’s going to buy up non scripted. I think the opposite sort of happened, everyone kind of retreated, not fully understanding what the ramifications of the strike might be. Instead of buying and investing in new stuff, it’s been sort of ordering just more episodes of what is working,” she added. “It’s just a challenging time in the business overall.”