Chances are you never heard of me before picking up this book. I’m not exactly a name-above-the-title kind of guy. However, I am a name-below-the-title kind of guy.
I didn’t set out to become one of the top producers in television. My goal starting out was straightforward: I wanted to work in the entertainment business. I loved television most of all. I was a child of the ’60s and ’70s, and I used to sit for hours in front of the set, watching reruns, game shows, and old movies. I watched everything: Gilligan’s Island, Happy Days, All in the Family, Dallas, and as an avid fan of all sports, I especially loved Hockey Night in Canada—but also, strangely (especially for a ten-year-old!), a steady diet of 60 Minutes and national news.
Television kept me informed—and just as important, it kept me company. I tore through the Montreal Gazette every Saturday for the syndicated “TV Times” supplement and planned my viewing for the coming week. This was back before VCRs and DVRs, before on-screen programming guides and search functions. You had to work to make sure you didn’t miss anything. If two shows you wanted to watch were on at the same time, you had to do a kind of triage to determine which show might be repeated sometime soon so you could maybe watch it at a later date.
My parents were naturally a little concerned about my excessive television watching, but as long as I did my homework and got good grades, they never put any restrictions on what I watched and, for the most part, left me alone to do my thing. In this, I suspect, they were unlike most parents of that generation, who saw the medium as an invasive, pervasive influence. They never told us kids to sit six feet from the color television—house rules in most households where mothers and fathers had been conditioned to believe their newfangled color sets could cause radiation poisoning or sterility . . . or something. From time to time, my parents would even sit down and watch with me— my father most often, when our beloved Canadiens were playing—or maybe my sisters would join me if we could all agree on a show. I spent an inordinate amount of my childhood watching prime-time entertainment shows with my head resting on my mother’s shoulder. And as I watched, I imagined myself working in some way to amuse or engage or enlighten some family in some other part of the world at some other point in time.
I made a run at acting professionally toward the end of high school and into college. I thought I could ride a couple early successes to a career in front of the camera. However, the more I worked in front of the camera, the more fascinated I became with what was happening on the other side of the camera: producing, directing, writing . . . creating. I was drawn to the many ways television was made, and I set out to learn what I could about the business—from the ground up, if that’s what it took, although I wasn’t exactly inclined to pay my dues. I wanted to hit the ground running, bypass the grunt work that comes with most first jobs, and jump straight to the top. This wasn’t arrogance on my part so much as ignorance. I didn’t know how the business worked—or how it didn’t.
I only knew that I wanted in. That led me to a lifelong career in television. I’ve produced a few thousand hours of prime-time (and lately, streaming) television. Prior to that, I produced tens of thousands of hours of live sports programming, first for the Canadian Broad- casting Corporation (CBC) and later for FOX Sports. I produced entertainment programming for Dick Clark Productions—variety programming, special events, awards shows. I even worked briefly as a senior studio executive at MCA/Universal. So even though you might not know my name, it has come to mean something in my corner of the entertainment industry, and I bet you know some of my work: Hell’s Kitchen, American Ninja Warrior, Kitchen Nightmares, Paradise Hotel, Trading Spaces, The Swan, The Titan Games, Mental Samurai, Pros vs. Joes, Welcome to Plathville, Ellen’s Design Challenge, I Survived a Japanese Game Show, American Gangster, Unsung, UFC Countdown, The Floor is Lava, and many more . . .
Watch at the end (or the beginning) of any of my shows, and you’ll see my name. You’ll also see the name of my production company, A. Smith & Co., which I started in 2000. Since then, we’ve produced more than two hundred shows for more than fifty networks and plat- forms. Along the way I’ve learned a thing or two about what it takes to connect with an audience, overcome a variety of obstacles, collaborate with some of the biggest stars and most creative minds in the entertainment industry, produce a body of work that has come to define a genre, and, ultimately, reach beyond what I ever thought possible.
From Reach: Hard Lessons and Learned Truths from a Lifetime in Television by Arthur Smith. Used with the permission of the publisher, Blackstone Publishing. Copyright ©2023 by Arthur Smith.
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