×

What Made ‘Cake Boss,’ ‘Fixer Upper,’ and ‘Tough Love’ Reality TV Hits

High Noon Entertainment has left a distinctive mark on reality TV during its 20 years in the business. With a mission statement that promises to “discover unknown breakout characters, create entertaining formats around them and tell their stories with authenticity, heart, and a healthy dose of humor,” the company managed to find success while eschewing many of the genre’s most lowbrow tropes. Variety got the stories behind three signature series — the mouth-watering “Cake Boss,” inspiring “Fixer Upper,” and invigorating “Tough Love” — that helped establish High Noon as a true force in the world of unscripted television.

CAKE BOSS (TLC)
Buddy Valastro and his eclectic family, owners of the 116-year-old Hoboken, N.J.-based Italian-American Carlo’s Bake Shop create cake confections while dealing with family and employee relationships.

Inspiration: While competing on “Food Network Challenge” in 2007, Valastro emerged as a perfect reality star: charismatic, hyper-verbal, and funny. Plus, he really knew his way around a cake and had a genially chaotic home environment. TLC showed interest and Valastro pushed for the production to be done at High Noon. “They said it was the best pilot they ever saw and ordered 13 episodes and it aired in 2009 and boom, that was it,” says Valastro, who has now shot his 200th episode and spun off multiple shows.

Breakthrough Moment: “Once I saw the line to the bakery, I said, ‘We’re on to something here,’” says Valastro. Adds TLC president and general manager Nancy Daniels, “It was a good mix of family, and process — the cake builds. Buddy comes off as this blue-collar Jersey guy, which he is, but he’s also a true artist.”

Legacy: Though far from the first, the docu-soap format achieved surprising heights with “Cake Boss,” and proved highly exportable. The series is seen in more than 220 territories worldwide. “We’re not trashy TV,” says Valastro.

FIXER UPPER (HGTV)
With three wildly successful seasons now under their belts, husband-and-wife team Chip and Joanna Gaines help homebuyers purchase fixer-upper houses and turn them into the home of their dreams.

Inspiration: Buying a home might prove stressful for most couples, but for the Gaines it turned out to be a ticket to stardom. The Waco, Texas-based pair, who had fixed up more than 100 homes together before the show even started, were scouted by High Noon. Then, says Chip Gaines, HGTV “put their own spin” on the concept. “I like to joke that the three of us got together and had a baby,” he laughs. Today, the show is heading into its fourth season and attracts more than 3 million live plus same-day viewers for each episode.

Breakthrough Moment: According to Gaines, it was when he scarfed down a cockroach in a video that went viral after being challenged. “I’m like, I’ve done a whole lot worse for a whole lot less,” he says. “People are like, ‘This guy’s like my neighbor! He’s like my uncle!’”

Legacy: Much like a lot of Scripps/HGTV programming, “Fixer Upper” is rarely about the stunt (cockroach aside) and more about information. “It reminds us all that healthy television can be fun to watch,” Gaines says. “I hope some of that organic authenticity is what makes our show great.”

TOUGH LOVE (VH1)
For six seasons, Philadelphia-based Master Matchmakers CEO Steve Ward and his mom, JoAnn, advised singletons and couples about relationship difficulties.

Inspiration: “Obsessed” with the book “He’s Just Not That Into You” in 2007, then-exec VP West Coast Pam Healey, now general manager at Shed Media, zeroed in on the Wards. “VH1 pitched back: ‘What if we make it a love rehab element?’” she says. “People needed brutally honest feedback about what they were doing, right and wrong.”

Breakthrough Moment: According to Healey, it was the pilot. “Steve has a gift, he and his mom, of matching and working with people,” she says. The show started out with single women, and the authenticity of Steve’s advice had immediate appeal.

Legacy: “Tough Love” eschewed the then-popular format of people living in a home together, with one going home each week. “Having a big, bold voice at the center of it, there wasn’t a lot of that on the air. But it wasn’t confrontational: We were trying to change people’s lives. I was trying to bring romantic comedy to unscripted,” says Healey.

More TV

  • SDCC TV News Roundup: Syfy Releases

    SDCC TV News Roundup: Syfy Releases 'The Magicians' Season 5 Clip (Watch)

    In today’s SDCC TV news roundup, Syfy shares a clip from “The Magicians” Season 5, and Amazon sets the Season 4 premiere of “The Expanse.” CASTING Julie Gonzalo and Staz Nair have joined the cast of “Supergirl” for its upcoming fifth season. Gonzalo will portray iconic DC character Andrea Rojas aka Acrata, a polished businesswoman [...]

  • Doom Patrol -- Ep. 101 --

    'Doom Patrol' Renewed, Season 2 to Stream on DC Universe and HBO Max

    “Doom Patrol” has been renewed for a second season and will soon be available outside of DC Universe. At San Diego Comic-Con, series executive producer Jeremy Carver and star Diane Guerrero announced not only that the show will be back for another season but also that it will be available on HBO Max, the upcoming [...]

  • Teyonah Parris

    Teyonah Parris Cast in 'WandaVision' at Disney Plus

    “Mad Men” and “If Beale Street Could Talk” actress Teyonah Parris has been cast in Disney Plus’ “Wanda Vision” series. She will play an adult version of Monica Rambeau, a child character introduced in the film “Captain Marvel.” The announcement was made at Marvel’s Comic-Con presentation. The forthcoming Disney+ series about Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth [...]

  • Zachary Quinto as Charlie Manx - NOS4A2

    'NOS4A2' Renewed for Season 2 at AMC

    AMC has renewed “NOS4A2” for a second season. The news was announced during the show’s panel at San Diego Comic-Con and ahead of the Season 1 finale. Season 2 will consist of 10 episodes and is slated to air in 2020. The series, which is based on the 2013 Joe Hill novel of the same [...]

  • Gabrielle Carteris

    SAG-AFTRA Signs Netflix Deal With Expanded Coverage

    SAG-AFTRA and streaming giant Netflix have agreed to a new three-year contract with expanded coverage for union performers. Netflix has previously employed SAG-AFTRA members under the union’s standard master contracts for television and film and had been signing on a production by production basis. The union announced Saturday that the new deal recognizes performance capture as covered work [...]

  • Cara Delevingne'Carnival Row' TV show photocall,

    Cara Delevingne Says Her 'Carnival Row' Character Is Pansexual, Explains Defending Taylor Swift Against Justin Bieber

    Cara Delevingne and Orlando Bloom’s love affair may be at the center of the upcoming Amazon Prime Video series “Carnival Row,” but the British actress doesn’t want viewers to assume her faerie character is heterosexual. “I’m a pansexual faerie,” Delevingne told Variety during an exclusive one-on-one interview at Comic-Con adding that there are other queer [...]

  • 'Russian Doll' Star Charlie Barnett Joins

    'Russian Doll' Star Charlie Barnett Joins 'Arrow' Final Season

    “Russian Doll” standout Charlie Barnett is joining the “Arrowverse.” Barnett, who is having a busy year having also appeared in Netflix’s “Tales of the City,” comes on board in the series regular role of John Diggle, Jr., son of David Ramsey’s character. News of his casting was announced at the show’s farewell Comic-Con panel where things [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content