Small companies, big ideas: Keller/Noll

There’s no question that the television industry is competitive, and it can be hard for a small prodco to break through the noise and find its niche. In ‘Small Companies, ...
September 18, 2018

There’s no question that the television industry is competitive, and it can be hard for a small prodco to break through the noise and find its niche. In ‘Small Companies, Big Ideas’, realscreen chats with some indie prodcos who’ve innovated and thrived, showing the unscripted world that sometimes the best things come in small packages.

Founded by award-winning production partners Cleve Keller (pictured, right) and Dave Noll (left), New York City-based Keller/Noll has created and sold over 2,100 episodes of unscripted television worldwide, with formats that have included Food Network’s Chopped and spin-off Chopped Junior, GSN’s America Says, Fox’s Punchline, HGTV’s Beat the House and the recently premiered daytime syndicated series Face the Truth with CBS, Dr. Phil and Entertainment One, starring Vivica A. Fox. In the 12 months from June 2018 through May 2019, Keller/Noll will premiere more than 430 episodes of content across a range of television channels.

Keller and Noll have also penned development and/or series deals with AMC, the BBC, Bravo, CBS, Discovery, Endemol Shine, Entertainment One, Food Network, Fox, France 2, Fremantle, Hasbro, Hearst, HGTV, Lifetime, MTV, National Geographic, Paramount Network, ProSieben, RTL, Sundance, and TLC among others.

Here, Dave Noll discusses the advantages and challenges inherent in being a small company with big ideas.

Where did the idea for launching your company come from?

We created our first show together in 2004 and joined exclusively in 2007. Our sensibilities about television and our goal is exactly the same – to create the next perfect, global, endless format. The next Survivor, Wheel of Fortune, Family Feud, America’s Got Talent, Shark Tank, House Hunters or Chopped.

How have your past experiences informed your current efforts with your company?

We worked with Barry Diller for about four years (2009-2012) and almost everything we do can be traced directly to something Barry said. It was Diller who guided us to focus exclusively on big tent, blue sky, global ideas. This was our personality anyway, but Barry basically said, “Getting any television show on the air is hard. Keller/Noll does one thing that’s extremely valuable. From now on, don’t focus on any show where you can’t see a clear, concise path towards at least $100 million globally.” Cleve and I can do a lot of things, but Barry pointed out that by far the most important thing we could do is create the next massive, global hit format. If you look at our shows since 2009, they all fit into that category.

What are the core values that drive your company at its heart?

Big Tent. Blue Sky. 8-88. Again, this matches both of our personalities. With our formats, our goal is to handcraft a show that anyone can enjoy around the world. Mom’s watching with their kids in Kentucky. A grandpa watching with his grandchildren in Sweden. A family watching together in Japan. Ten years from now, you could easily [have] America Says become Australia Says, UK Says and Japan Says. We want to create something on my porch… and from that one idea bring joy around the world for decades to come.

What are the challenges of being a small company at a time when many prodcos are being acquired by larger, multi-national operations?

Cleve and I are all about the idea. The Great Idea. The Global Idea. Our only challenge is to take that next insane, brilliant idea and then craft a pitch that’s so good, that we can bring it to life in the room and sell it to a partner that truly wants to nurture that idea with us.

Conversely, what are some of the advantages that come along with being an indie?

Right now we’re wholly independent and the beauty is that we can work with anyone. Any partner/buyer that loves the idea as much as we do, we can work with unencumbered. That’s an enormous advantage.

Do you see yourself as a small company, and are there any stereotypes you find yourself trying to fight that come along with that?

We see ourselves as an Ideation Factory. On some days, we’re on the Paramount lot overseeing a production. Some days, we’re on my porch in New Jersey creating the next show. Some late nights, we’re just feverishly texting ideas back and forth. But no matter the scenario, our company is simple to describe: it’s an Ideation Factory.

What’s your strategy when it comes to breaking through the clutter and succeeding in such a competitive market?

We’ve been doing this a very long time now – over 2,000 episodes around the world, produced for domestic and international channels and partnered with giants like WalMart, Hasbro and YouTube. To us, across all of this, the market is no different today than it was in 2003. There are buyers who want the next great idea. We handcraft amazing, unique ideas… and try and bring them to life for those buyers.

Now, with more buyers arriving on the scene in the form of SVODs and emerging platforms, are you finding more opportunities there? Is it challenging to be a smaller company when pitching to these new buyers, or are they more open to creative risk-taking?

There are always new buyers, new platforms and new opportunities. What Keller/Noll does is extremely valuable and new buyers recognize and appreciate that. Often, they seek us out.

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