Back in 2002, “The Iron Chef” cooking show was kind of a cult favorite amongst television programmers. It was on late night television and hadn’t amounted to much in the states, yet. Of course, in Japan it was a phenom. It was also my favorite show. The dub was terrible. The english voice overs were hilarious. The seriousness of the master chefs was over the top. It as operatic in tone. Chefs riding in on horses. Swooning sycophants everywhere. There wasn’t anything like it yet on American TV. Over the top cooking. I was mesmerized.
Around this time, an associate from pre-dotcom boom times called up said, “I have a meeting with the higher-ups at Viacom tomorrow. I know they are looking for shows for kids 14-19. They want fashion, music, celebrity, and humor. Got any ideas?” He went on to say that his meeting was with Judy McGrath and Brian Graden, He was going to pitch them dozens of shows, but he needed one more that fit an MTV, VH1 vibe.
These people meant nothing to me, so I Googled them. OK. So these were people in the stratosphere. These were real players. How did he get a meeting like this? Turns out my soon-to-be-partner was best friends with Mel Karmizan. He could get any meeting he wanted at a Viacom company, or anywhere else in entertainment for that matter. And now he had, and was asking me for help.
I remember where I was standing when I came up with the idea. I was walking between the bedroom and the bathroom at home. It hit me fast. The idea for a show that would fit my friend’s bill. I called him back on my cell right there in the hallway between my bedroom and bathroom. Kind of in limbo between the nap room and the crap room; an appropriate zone to talk television.
“You know, why don’t you do an Iron Chef type thing, only use fashion instead of food. Bring designers together, put some kind of material undercover, like a bolt of silk. Then reveal the material, tell them they’re going to make hunting outfits or evening gowns or swimwear, and let the designers design and cut and stitch like crazy for two or three hours, follow them with cameras, have celebrity commentators doing play-by-play and Voila’, you would have a show. So in other words, use the Iron Chef format but plug in everything these television companies are looking for: entertainment, models, celebrity, fashion, and music. (you could certainly have a DJ in the background)
My friend was ecstatic. He love the idea. Called me a genius. Asked me to tap out a one-sheet and send it to him. My first TV pitch one sheet. Took me about half an hour. I sent it. And that was that.
He called up a few days later and said we’d hit the jackpot. (operative word – “we”)
Graden and McGrath heard all his show pitches and had loved the Iron Chef thing, and only it. Turns out they too were fans of Iron Chef. They loved the idea of replicating it on some level. He now had their blessing and had meetings lined-up with numerous people down the Viacom food chain; the MTVs and VH1s and things like that.
He then offered me participation in the equity of the project. This surprised me. All I’d done was tossed an idea his way on one piece of paper. When I protested my innocence, he insisted I come along for the ride.
I hesitated. This could be a springboard into to getting an education in TV. A possible new channel of clients in a time when internet was limping along. TV is a legacy industry. It wouldn’t go away like the internet had. At least I could foster this until broadband came back. And even though I was primarily an adolescent media specialist, it would be interesting to see pop-culture machinations from the inside.
After some thought, this offer seemed like a life-line for my fledgling firm. And it was in a way. but it was attached to a speed boat without a driver, as I was soon to find out.