Last great binge watch? Keller: Shark Tank on Hulu; Noll: The CW’s The Flash
What’s on your DVR? Keller: America’s Got Talent: The Champions, Watch What Happens Live. Noll: Shark Tank, The Big Bang Theory
What books are on your nightstand? Keller: Educated by Tara Westover; Noll: When I Stop Talking You’ll Know I’m Dead by Jerry Weintraub
What places are on your travel bucket list? Keller: Anywhere that’s not L.A. or NYC. Noll: All the islands.
What are your favorite apps right now? Keller: David Bowie Is, SongPop2. Noll: I literally just joined Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. #welcometotheparty
Cleve Keller and Dave Noll — the creators of Food Network’s global hit, Chopped, among many other shows — found each other as so many people do: because of a shared passion.
Both Keller and Noll got their start working for cable networks — Noll for Viacom’s MTV and VH1 and Keller for NBCUniversal’s Oxygen. While both had other jobs at those networks, they found that what they truly loved and excelled at was creating new shows.
“After seven years of doing that, I finally thought, ‘Maybe this is what I should do,’ ” Noll said. He opened his own shop and took literally thousands of pitches. The one that stood out, of course, was Keller’s.
“One day this woman came in and pitched one show and I thought, ‘That was the smartest pitch I’ve heard all year,’ ” Noll said. “I thought it could have been a fluke but then her second pitch was even better. Everyone has ideas but she’s like Mozart — she’s the best in the business when it comes to creating shows. It took five years for me to talk her into just working with me exclusively.”
Since then, Keller and Noll have worked together to create such formats as Chopped as well as America Says on Game Show Network and syndication’s Face the Truth, starring Vivica A. Fox.
Keller and Noll talked to B&C contributor Paige Albiniak on the eve of NATPE in Miami about where they see the business of television headed.
What makes a good pitch?
Noll: You need to bring the show to life in the pitch and make sure that everybody in the room comes as close as possible to seeing the same show. That means having a great title and a clear, concise concept.
Keller: There are two types of pitches. One is a game show. We work for months on the format to make it as perfect as possible and to make sure it is indestructible. We’ll play a bunch of rounds with executives and when we come in they say, ‘Oh, you are the fun people, we get to play games.’ They really get to feel the actual show. When we’re pitching a non-game show, we work to paint the story of the show so that it’s something they will love and get right away. Usually, the format has a simple structure but with a twist that they’ve never seen before.
What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?
Noll: Early on, we worked for Barry Diller. Of the top 10 things we’ve ever learned, he said eight of them. He focused us on stopping trying to sell docusoaps, or what I call ‘bearded men’ shows, to cable networks. He said, ‘Don’t sell anything unless you see a clear, concise path to $100 million around the world.’
He also told us that we were best at were these blue-sky, big-tent, age-8-to-88 shows. That’s been our focus.
You guys have recently been working in first-run syndication. What do you think are some of the near trends in first-run?
Noll: It is the perfect time for game shows in syndication. They are relatively inexpensive. You can get a high-end looking production because you can shoot six episodes in a day, and spend money on a high-end set and a great host. In five weeks, you’ve got a whole season.
As a country, we want things that are high-end but brighter, cheerier and fun. There’s a place for shows like True Detective, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead … but when viewers want to sit back, relax and enjoy themselves, a well-made game show is perfect.
Keller: Look at the most valuable TV shows globally in the past 10 to 20 years and at the top of that list is Wheel of Fortune, Family Feud, Jeopardy! and The Price Is Right. You can gamble on trying to find the next Oprah or Ellen and you have the same odds as trying to find the next Wheel or Feud, but production of those games is one-eighth of the cost.
You guys travel around the world selling television shows. What does the world want?
Noll: People want what I call ‘shiny floor entertainment.’ You often hear about it as American entertainment television — they are speaking of American Wheel or Feud. Most countries have the desire to have that shiny floor, bright-colored format where they can plug in their own talent, audience and players.
What do you think is the next big trend in programming, whether in syndication or otherwise?
Keller: Live — day and date — is a huge trend. Also having more sponsorship and incorporating brands into the DNA of the show so that it makes sense for partners who will be funding part of the project.
Noll: Along the lines of live, the other big thing remains sports.