Fenton Bailey | CEO, World Of Wonder Productions
Reality TV at its best should bring us all the wonder of the world. And in that spirit, we share with you our chat with Fenton Bailey, Executive Producer and CEO of World of Wonder Productions.
As a pioneer of docu-style programming, World of Wonder broke ground with this hot genre long before the “reality boom”, and have taken viewers inside other worlds of both the obscure, and pop cultures. “Million Dollar Listing“, “Tori & Dean”, “Being Chaz”, “Ru Paul’s Drag Race”, and dozens of others. With such an eclectic, yet specific taste in concepts, Mr. Bailey brings a much needed voice to television, and we’re happy to have him share his time with us.
Scott Manville: Thanks for being with us. How are things rolling out at World of Wonder this season?
Fenton Bailey: We are gearing up for Season 5 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Best season ever! We are also publishing our first book The World According To Wonder. It’s a big coffee table book of original portraits of some of the wonderful people we have been lucky enough to work with over the past 21 years. From Imelda Marcos, to Tammy Faye, from Monica Lewinsky to Pamela Anderson. It comes out Feb 5th and you can get it at amazon.com
SM: World Of Wonder has been a pioneer in docu-style content for a long time. Long before the “reality” boom. What was it that first drew you to the genre?
FB: It may be a cliche but truth is stranger than fiction and we were especially fascinated with the way cameras were having such a dramatic social impact. Los Angeles burned in the LA Riots because someone videotaped Rodney King’s brutal beating at the hands of police. When OJ took off down the freeway, the whole world tuned into watch. People were drawn to television and to participate in it – ourselves included. It was a seismic shift.
SM: You’ve been extremely successful in bringing programming to viewers that explores the obscure, or “fringe” of society and world, across an eclectic fabric, from the dark side of the world, to the pop side of our culture, and always deeply compelling to watch. How do you know what subjects will capture a viewer’s interest?
FB: If only we did know, we’d be zillionaires! If it interests us we just hope it will interest someone else. Sometimes it does – though not always. For example the kind of drag we saw at the Pyramid club in the early Eighties completely captivated us, and today it appeals to a world wide audience thanks to RuPaul’s Drag Race.
SM: Can you tell us about any new project you’re especially passionate about?
FB: We are going to be shooting a doc in North Korea. But we can’t talk about it! We are thinking of making a documentary about our amazingly unsuccessful prior career as a wannabe pop star duo. Fact is that most bands never make it, and we were no exception. It was hard to stand by and watch Madonna, The Pet Shop Boys, DeeLite all explode on the scene while we couldn’t get arrested. And what makes that story possibly worth telling is that Fame is a cruel taskmaster that actually seems to bring no one much in the way of happiness. The famous and unfamous have so much in common; discontent.
SM: How did you get your start in the Industry?
FB: Randy worked in an advertising agency on Madison Avenue and I worked in the film and video department of a Wall Street investment bank.
SM: What was the pivotal moment when you knew you had “arrived” as a Producer, and knew you were on the right path?
FB: In terms of arriving, there was no such moment. Never is and never will be. Unless perhaps it’s on one’s deathbed. But have you arrived or are you departing, is it the end or a new beginning? But in terms of making television and telling stories we just loved it.
SM: What has been the greatest challenge about Producing for television today?
FB: Network executives are always a challenge. They have so much to lose if they make a bad call and pick up a show that bombs. And because their jobs are on the line risk-taking and innovation are the first things to go, and developing shows takes forever.
SM: What do you love about Reality TV? Is there anything specific you don’t like?
FB: What I love about reality TV is that it is television’s first completely original genre. All the others came from cinema or radio or theatre. And what reality TV does more than any other genre is explode the myth of the ordinary. There is no such thing as normal. Everyone is unique and everyone is a freak. And for us there is no better way to celebrate that than working in non-scripted.
SM: In bringing new projects to the table for development, is there a specific mandate you have for WOW, or is it a “know it when you see it” process in discovering new projects?
FB: No mandate. We like to think we know it when we see it. But sometimes we don’t see it and sometimes we don’t know it!
SM: What advice can you give to new Writer/Creators who are pitching formats and projects for Docu-Style Reality TV?
FB: Do whatever turns you on and don’t stop doing it – which you wont, if you really love it.
SM: If you weren’t producing for Television, what other career would Fenton Bailey’s alter-ego have?
FB: It might be fun to be an heiress. Or an interior designer.
SM: If our readers want to tune-in and experience a World of Wonder, what show would you suggest?
FB: Hard to pick one. We like to think all our shows – from Drag Race to In Vogue, and Million Dollar Listings- show that it really truly is a world of wonder. Perhaps the best thing to do to get a taste is to go buy our book The World According To Wonder at amazon.com!
SM: Thanks for all of the great insight. We’re looking forward to your continued success with World of Wonder.