As the third annual realscreen Factual Entertainment Forum kicks off today, we continue to shine the spotlight on the reality genre and the producers making waves within it. Here we talk to Arthur Smith (pictured), founder and CEO of A. Smith & Co, producers of Kitchen Nightmares (with Optomen and ITV Studios), The World According to Paris and Pros vs. Joes.
Your company recently celebrated 10 years in business and this year you’ve launched some new initiatives. What are they and why did you feel the need to branch into those areas?
Towards the end of last year we made a couple of moves that are going to pay off in the future. One of them is going into the management business – we made a deal to acquire Braverman/Bloom, which manages Jesse Ventura. We produce Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura so there’s a great connection there. They manage Chris Jericho, who was on Dancing with the Stars, and Shawn Michaels, another wrestler for whom we have a deal with one of the networks which we’re negotiating right now. So that was a natural extension.
We’ve always done a number of international deals and coproductions. We did a show for ABC called I Survived a Japanese Game Show that was the first American series to be shot entirely in Japan. So we worked with a company called Taiyo Kikaku, which is one of the largest commercial production companies there. We got along so well with them that last year we built a development structure – an exchange of programming ideas. We set up this unit and there’s a game show that we’ve developed together, and we’ll start rolling it out by the end of the summer.
We’re also growing our genres. We have two new scripted deals that haven’t been announced yet – one’s for cable and both are development deals. So there’s a lot going on.
What sub-genres do you think are growing?
I have a passion for variety – we’ve done Skating with Celebrities and a couple of music shows. We’ve seen what’s happened with The Voice, we see how well Idol‘s doing. There’s a lot of energy in that area, and variety can mean a lot of things. It can be more of what they call in Europe the “shiny floor show,” and I think there’s an opportunity to do more of that in the U.S., especially on the network side.
We’re seeing a fair amount of activity in certain subject matter, such as the pawn craze. When should a producer pitch in a hot area and when should he or she know to leave it alone?
We are cognizant of network needs but we fall in love with ideas. If there’s something similar out there, is ours different enough to break through? We don’t jump on bandwagons but we don’t avoid them either (laughs). I always get most excited by things that are fresh. That’s the great thing about working in the genre – taking chances.