Apple TV+ has cut out its own slice of the streaming market with an eclectic mix of fan favorites and critical darlings. As the platform continues to define itself, unscripted producers should pay attention to how reality and documentary content influence Apple’s streaming slate. 

In this post, we’ll bite into all things unscripted on Apple TV+. We’ll take a look at a few of its recent hits, highlight some of its upcoming shows, and consider what kind of unscripted content Apple TV+ might be looking for next. 

Evaluating Current Apple TV+ Hits

Apple has been one of the biggest brands in technology all around the world for nearly half a century. In the age of streaming television, its leap into entertainment was inevitable.

However, among streamers, Apple TV+ is still a relative newcomer. The service launched back in 2019 with an exclusive focus on original programming, a content strategy that the platform continues to use largely – though no longer exclusively – to this day.  

Five years and several Emmys later, Apple TV+ has hit its stride. As the streamer continues to diversify its slate of Apple Originals, the presence of unscripted content will likely continue to expand as well. To get an idea of Apple TV+’s programming preferences, we’re going to review three of the platform’s current unscripted hits. Let’s dig in.

1. Messi Meets America

Messi Meets America is a six-part docuseries that takes viewers behind-the-scenes as legendary athlete Lionel Messi transitions from football to soccer by joining a new team in the United States of America. After “over twenty unforgettable and record-breaking years of excellence” around the world, news of Messi’s move to the Inter Miami CF team in America rocked the world of international sports.

The recent docuseries offers viewers unprecedented access to Messi and his teammates during his debut season as a Major League Soccer player. Messi Meets America is a front row ticket to sports history in the making. 

2. STEVE! (Martin): A Documentary in 2 Pieces

STEVE! (Martin): A Documentary in 2 Pieces is a two-part docuseries that follows the wild and crazy life of Steve Martin, “one of the most beloved and enigmatic figures in entertainment.” The brief series takes viewers on a personal journey through the mind of a man who revolutionized comedy.

The unscripted series breaks the mold set by more typical celebrity biographies by splitting itself into two separate parts that approach Steve’s story from two distinct points of view. The first part, “Then,” chronicles the comedian’s rise to fame, while the second part, “Now,” focuses on the present day. 

3. Wanted: The Escape of Carlos Ghosn

Wanted: The Escape of Carlos Ghosn is a four-part true crime docuseries that goes beyond the headlines to explore one of the most intriguing crime stories of the past decade. Inspired by the acclaimed book Boundless by reporters Nick Kostov and Sean McLain of The Wall Street Journal, Wanted tells “the riveting story of CEO-turned-fugitive Carlos Ghosn and his relentless climb to the top of the corporate ladder, shocking arrest and unbelievable escape that stunned the world[.]”

The series sets itself apart from most true crime docuseries by offering “in-depth access to all the key players in the saga.” Wanted: The Escape of Carlos Ghosn features interviews with many individuals directly involved with orchestrating Ghosn’s escape, including Carlos Ghosn himself.

Looking at upcoming Apple TV+ Shows

Now that we get the gist of Apple TV+’s current unscripted slate, let’s take a look at how it’s going to evolve in the near future. 

In the sections below, we’ll explore three upcoming shows that Apple TV+ has recently announced or acquired. 

1. Born to be Wild and Endangered Planet

Born to be Wild and Endangered Planet are two similar but separate docuseries coming soon from Apple TV+. As you might guess from their titles, both shows have a distinct focus on nature. 

Following in the footsteps of hit series like Planet Earth and Our Planet, Born to be Wild and Endangered Planet take viewers up close and personal with some of the most astonishing animal life on Earth. Each show leverages rare footage to explore questions of preservation and ecological responsibility from its own, unique angle.

Here’s how the official press release from Apple TV+ describes Born to be Wild:

Born to be Wild follows six extraordinary animals for several years, as they are brought up in our world but destined to return to theirs. Each episode of Born to be Wild features a different young, endangered animal as they rewild their homelands in an attempt to help save their species and change the face of our planet.”

And, for comparison, here’s how the same press release describes Endangered Planet:

“One of the most ambitious wildlife series ever filmed, Endangered Planet explores our planet’s fragile ecosystems, unearthing clues about how to help save and protect the most precious endangered species. All of the elusive animals captured on film in Endangered Planet have one thing in common – there are fewer than one thousand of them left in the wild.”

Born to be Wild and Endangered Planet are set to “join Apple TV+’s slate of award-winning and critically acclaimed nature documentaries[.]” They demonstrate the streamer’s ongoing commitment to high-quality, prestige programming in the docuseries category. 

2. Hollywood Con Queen

Hollywood Con Queen is a true crime docuseries that tracks the investigation into a bizarre scam aimed right at the heart of America’s entertainment capital. For more than a decade, a mysterious figure known as the “Con Queen” impersonated powerful Hollywood executives, luring in unsuspecting victims with promises of life-changing career opportunities.

The series is based on journalist Scott Johnson’s original reporting for The Hollywood Reporter as well as his 2023 book, The Con Queen of Hollywood: The Hunt for an Evil Genius. It digs into a wealth of interviews, email records, recorded phone calls, and other evidence to unravel the identity of the human behind the con. 

Understanding why Apple TV+ is a streamer to target

Streaming services represent a meeting point for the tech and entertainment industries. Therefore, Apple TV+ occupies a uniquely powerful position by virtue of its corporate lineage. No other streaming service is directly connected to a company as large, recognizable, or diverse as Apple.

The degree to which this characteristic offers a competitive advantage is debatable, but it’s nonetheless a factor worth noting. Vertical integration with other Apple products theoretically makes Apple TV+ more accessible to new subscribers. The company has been quick to leverage that advantage by offering free trial subscriptions with the purchase of seemingly any new Apple device. 

However, for some producers, the exclusivity inherent to Apple TV+ could be a double-edged sword. The platform prioritizes a unique experience for its audience by focusing on Apple Originals. In practice, this means that Apple TV+ often favors high-profile or prestige programming that can entice new subscribers in search of a unique, exclusive streaming experience.

The good news for unscripted producers is that Apple TV+ seems less rigidly defined as a platform for unscripted content. While narrative shows like Severance and Ted Lasso have secured a place for Apple TV+ in the public imagination, the streamer’s unscripted identity is far more open-ended. 

With that in mind, let’s analyze some of the trends we can observe in Apple TV+’s current and upcoming unscripted programming. In the next section, we’ll break down what these trends might suggest about the platform’s unscripted content strategy in the near future. 

Determining what Apple TV+ wants next

If we look closely at the current and upcoming series referenced above, a few clear trends emerge from Apple TV+’s unscripted programming decisions. 

Below, we’ll make three distinct observations about these trends and analyze what they might mean for the future of unscripted content on Apple TV+.

1. Apple TV+ is playing with unscripted sports series

While we only mentioned one sports series in our lists above, the truth is that Apple TV+ has been betting big on sports for quite some time. Messi Meets America is just one player on a court loaded with athletic content. 

Apple TV+’s roster of unscripted sports series includes all-stars like Super League: The War for Football, Boom! Boom!: The World vs. Boris Becker, and The Dynasty: New England Patriots. Apple TV+ even has another Lionel Messi show on its slate with Messi’s World Cup: The Rise of a Legend.

For producers, the platform’s proclivity for sports content could be an opportunity to make a strong play. Note, however, that Apple TV+’s sports slate leans heavily toward high-profile subject matter. If you want to sell a sports show to Apple, you’ll likely have a much better chance if you can offer unprecedented access to a well-known player, organization, or event. 

2. Apple TV+ is still investigating the true crime docuseries

Apple TV+ has demonstrated an ongoing interest in the true crime genre. Their unscripted slate includes several series that dive into high-profile crimes and conspiracies.  

The true crime docuseries on Apple TV+ seem largely united by a solid backbone of journalistic investigation and research. 

Both Wanted: The Escape of Carlos Ghosn and Hollywood Con Queen use published books by professional reporters as a foundation for their narrative.

Similarly, the recent John Lennon: Murder Without A Trial is based on exhaustive research and first-hand interviews. As the official press release states, “[T]he production was granted extensive Freedom of Information Act requests from the New York City Police Department, the Board of Parole and the District Attorney’s Office[.]”

Apple TV+’s research-forward approach to true crime creates a useful target for producers in search of the right unscripted market for their project. If the foundation of your true crime pitch doesn’t align with Apple’s programming values, you can probably close the case on this particular unscripted market. 

Don’t worry. There are more.  

3. Apple TV+ is celebrating celebrity

Just like Peacock, Hulu, and Prime Video, Apple TV+ believes in the gravity of star power. Celebrities play a central role in the streaming platform’s unscripted programming strategy. 

Consider that nearly every series mentioned in this post is rooted in a person or organization characterized by fame or infamy. It’s telling that the only exceptions to this rule are about impersonating people of power (Hollywood Con Queen) and the literal planet Earth (Born to be Wild, Endangered Planet). 

For producers, it’s worth noting that Apple TV+ seems to avoid the more typical “reality TV” approaches to celebrity content in favor of exclusivity and prestige. The celebrity experiences on Apple TV+ largely oscillate between behind-the-scenes glimpses and in-depth documentaries. 

Wrapping up

Unscripted content on Apple TV+ is an exclusive but growing market. We’re excited to see how the streaming platform continues to expand its slate. 

For more in-depth coverage on the world of unscripted production, be sure to keep an eye on Wrapbook. Check out our free eBook on the art of unscripted collaboration or our guide to understanding the unscripted market with Michelle Van Kempen.

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Last Updated 
May 23, 2024


At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice.  You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.

About the author
Loring Weisenberger

Loring is a Los Angeles-based writer, director, and creative producer. His work has been commissioned by a diverse range of clients- from Havas Worldwide to Wisecrack, inc.- and has been screened around the world. Through a background that blends project development with physical production across multiple formats, Loring has developed a uniquely eclectic skillset as a visual storyteller.

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