Ask any network exec who has worked with World of Wonder’s Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato and they might describe the pair with terms such as “intelligence” and “style.” You’ll probably also hear about long-standing relationships that have developed between those execs and the producers.
For Sheila Nevins, president of HBO Documentary Films, that relationship began nearly two decades ago.
“I’m not sure exactly when, but I saw something they’d done and thought, ‘I have to meet these people,’ ” she says.
HBO has since aired at least a dozen World of Wonder productions, from the 2001-02 latenight show “Shock Video” to in-depth docus including “The Strange History of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” “Monica in Black and White,” and “In Vogue: The Editor’s Eye.”
“They do some amazing documentaries, particularly on issues that matter to our audience,” says Lisa Sherman, exec VP and g.m. of Logo/MTV Networks. “The piece they did on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ for HBO was fantastic, and they did the GLAAD Media Award-winning ‘Becoming Chaz,’ about Chaz Bono’s transition. While we haven’t worked with them on those projects, I have a ton of respect for them in that area.”
Still, World of Wonder is primarily known for its reality shows, from “The Fabulous Beekman Boys” and “Million Dollar Listing” (New York and Los Angeles editions), to reality series built around the likes of Tori Spelling and RuPaul.
Sherman credits “RuPaul’s Drag Race” with putting Logo on the network map.
“They basically transformed this outrageous concept of a reality competition show for drag queens into a crossover pop cultural phenomenon,” says Sherman.
Spinoffs “RuPaul’s Drag U,” and “RuPaul’s All Stars Drag Race” keep the franchise going year-round.
Lauren Zalaznick, chairman of entertainment and digital networks and integrated media at NBCUniversal, has worked with World of Wonder since her days at VH1 when, coincidentally, they launched the variety-talkshow, “The RuPaul Show,” in 1996. She estimates NBC-Universal now has over a dozen World of Wonder shows either on the air or in development.
“They’re versatile because their breadth of knowledge and curiosity is extraordinary. There’s a look and feel that’s derived from their intellectual vision and their aesthetic vision — it’s very bright and poppy — and there’s always grist for the World of Wonder mill. They always have something to rub up against, something to say,” Zalaznick says. “Most of all, their hallmark is being attracted to and compelled to reveal the most sides of the most complex and driven personalities in the world.”
Despite her lengthy history with World of Wonder, Nevins remains impressed to this day at how much Fenton and Barbato are able to accomplish.
“There’s a certain part of me that never knows how they pull it off. I’m always amazed at the visual grandeur, and the way they can (tackle) a serious idea,” she says. “I don’t know anyone who can duplicate that.”
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