French export keeps ‘Idol’ on track

Fremantle's North America CEO a born problem-solver

One of France’s best entertainment business exports in recent years, Cecile Frot-Coutaz, CEO of FremantleMedia North America, could handle a crisis from the beginning.

Barely a month before the debut of “American Idol” in 2002, Frot-Coutaz called back the music supervisor, Susan Slamer, for help with handling music clearance issues and talked Simon Cowell into coming over (he had changed his mind shortly before the show was to start). She even hashed out the first version of the show’s budget with Fremantle exec Wylleen May at an IHOP in Sherman Oaks.

But there were even more challenges for doing a successful show without a blueprint.

“You started off one way and adjusted as you went,” says Frot-Coutaz, who also has an exec producer role with “America’s Got Talent.” “Things change, and the team changed over time.”

Frot-Coutaz’s main role with such an enormous show that has many stakeholders is to try to get everyone onboard with decisions and keep the program on track, while looking toward the future.

“We are trying to figure out how to approach scripted shows, with both comedy and drama,” she says. “And another challenge for a company like ours is to find the next big (show). With the economy, it’s hard to persuade buyers to take the risk.”

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