About eight months ago, I had a bright idea that I was sure would expose Americans to the many wonders of tea. Unlike in the rest of the world, here in the U.S., tea ranks only seventh (after sodas) among the most popular beverages. To change that statistic, we in the tea industry need to meet Americans on their playing field instead of expecting them to meet us on ours.
The inspiration, flavors, terroirs, harvest cycles, art, and business of tea are so fascinating to us tea devotees, I was inspired to create a reality show centered around tea. Teeming with the ups and downs of the weather and environmental shifts in harvest and flavor, the whimsical and somewhat cerebral characters in U.S. tea companies, cultural differences along the supply chain, and the spiritual adventures tea leads us to, it was a perfect show in my mind. I knew it would be a hit and started writing the treatment, crafting the story arc in a series of 12 episodes, building a production budget, recruiting a production company, finding a manager and an agent, and locating and convincing an industry executive producer to sign on.
After weeks of after-hours meetings, long-winded brainstorming sessions, and passionate discussions with my manager, we got a meeting at a top agency to pitch our idea to the biggest reality show agent in Los Angeles. The receptionist (a man) asked me what was in my big jute tote bag as I clanked into the marble-walled building, presented him with our tins, and explained each blend to him. He was delighted, said he’d been a tea drinker since childhood, and promised to put in a good word when he saw Mr. “B.” – the Reality Show Agent. I thought this was a very good sign, indeed!
Once upstairs, I was led to a massive conference room with expansive views of Beverly Hills and began to set up camp. I carefully lined up the tins of tea, laid out the presentation, and patiently waited. Mr. “B.” walked in and I began pitching the show, “Realitea” – Tea entrepreneur travels far and wide in search of the world’s finest tea leaves, spices, and herbs, meeting colorful characters from every developing country and sharing their inspiring stories with the world. Americans can see the world through the eyes of small farmers in exotic lands, tasting adventurous flavors and experiencing first hand why fair trade is important to the lives of workers across the world.
“Hmm,” he sat back and looked at the teas lined up before him. “Hmm…,” followed by another long pause. It took at least two full minutes before Mr. “B” spoke.
“Zhena, the first consideration to undertake here is the budget. With the average show lucky to get a $50,000 per episode budget, you would not even get as far as the airport, much less India or Sri Lanka. Secondly, although your story is inspirational and fascinating, tea is an internal, more unseen product. After you find the rare tea leaves and everyone tastes them, the climax is internal – not like a huge cake in the shape of Trump Tower or something. Television is visual, not internal.”
He continued, “The types of shows that are both affordable and that sell are revolving-door-type shows, in which there are crazy clients coming and going or huge challenges in each episode that keep the audience wondering if the main character will be able to handle it, or crack?”
“Unless the tea world is full of totally crazy people, then it doesn’t seem like it will work, because it’s too spiritual, internalized.?”
I thought through each character I knew in tea, one by one – the hip, the funny, the adventurous, and the wild. In my mind, they were all fascinating, deeply hued characters of rich color and quirks, perfect for a show. But as I ran through the catalog in my mind, I realized we all had something in common – we were, for the most part, emotionally, physically, and spiritually healthy … meaning normal.
I shared this thought with Mr. “B” and he said, “Yes, and that doesn’t really sell. One of the big shows I sold was about a tanning salon and it’s crazy clients who came in to get a tan and the crazy owners – not sure if fit, healthy tea people would be as compelling to watch.”
So that was my first pitch. And, so far, my last. I still have big hopes for my show. I think Americans would be fascinated with a life of true health, balance, and adventure in tea. If you know of any totally crazy characters I could use to sell it, please don’t hesitate.