From the beginning, A. Smith & Co. always had a show on order.
“When I was leaving Fox Sports to start the company, I had done a sports clip show called ‘You Gotta See This,’ and the ratings came back and they were good (that) Fox said they wanted to order our first show,” says Arthur Smith, co-founder of the company. “It got us off to a great start and went for 165 episodes.”
Smith and co-founder Kent Weed have built the 10-year old company by marrying their different but complimentary skills and being willing to seize opportunities when they come along, even if it means days, weeks or even months on very little sleep.
“We both have a work ethic, and we finished each other’s sentences when we met years ago at Dick Clark Productions,” says Weed, who grew up loving science fiction, cartoons and sitcoms like “Cheers.” “We had different experiences and ideas, but we’d always pick the same music cue and we really understood each other.”
Smith, who also loved television from an early age, gravitated toward shows like “60 Minutes” and wanted to read nonfiction or “anything based on a true story because it was always more fascinating to me — because fiction just can’t compete with reality.”
Now A. Smith & Co. has produced shows for more than two dozen networks including ABC, TLC, The Discovery Channel, Fox, truTV, BET, Oxygen, Spike and Travel Channel. Their more than 1,000 hours of programming includes shows like “Hell’s Kitchen,” “Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura,” “I Survived a Japanese Game Show,” “The Swan” and “Paradise Hotel.”
A. Smith also announced last week it is moving into the personal management field with the acquisition of management/production firm Braverman/Bloom Co., whose key clients include Chris Jericho (“Downfall”) and Mick Foley (“TNA”).
“The thing is that we were never strategic at the beginning,” says Smith of the company’s huge roster of shows. “We just wanted to make television we loved, and we wanted to be of service people to networks and make something that worked for them.”
Their instincts proved to be the best strategy of all. Network executives look to A. Smith & Co. because the philosophy comes through when they deal with Smith and Weed.
“They were really great about getting to understand what we needed,” says Sharon Levy, executive vice president of original series and animation for Spike. “They wanted to know what we wanted to do and how we thought about certain shows, so that immediately gives you the sense that they’re really interested in helping you get to where the network wants to go.”
Smith and Weed both believe that research is key before they walk into a meeting and look at their relationships over the long term. Not every pitch sells, but they want the doors to stay open to their ideas.
“I always think you’re representing yourself every time you go into a meeting,” says Smith. “So the idea is that you have to have a sense of what they need.”
Mike Darnell, reality show guru and president of alternative programming for Fox, has high praise for the work of the producers.
“The thing I like is that I never have to worry when they’re working on a show,” says Darnell. “(Arthur Smith) will also tolerate my 5 a.m. phone calls to talk about ratings numbers, and we’ll always end up talking about our favorite shows and a lot of other things when we talk.”
It was working on “Paradise Hotel” for Darnell and Fox that the producers believe they had their first big breakthrough as a company. The show became hugely successful in the summer of 2003 in the 18-34 demographic. Fox was so thrilled with the results that the network upped its order from 15 to 31 episodes.
It was also on that show that Smith and Weed developed the techniques that would become key for “Hell’s Kitchen.”
“Our shows always have the same feeling to them, and a big part of that is the way we’ve trained our camera operators to stay out of the way as much as possible and the way we hide the hidden cameras,” says Weed. “We want people to begin acting as natural as possible as soon as possible.”
As the pair go forward after 10 years together, the way they decide which shows to work on next hasn’t changed.
“We ask ourselves whether someone loves the show that we’re thinking of doing,” says Smith. “It can be a junior executive or anybody but someone in the room has to love it, otherwise there’s no point because it’s already hard enough to get a show going.”