Paul Gilbert | Sr. VP International Formats
CBS Studios International
The Television Writers Vault is pleased to have Mr. Paul Gilbert, Senior Vice-President of International Formats at CBS Studios International, as our latest personal interview in a continuing series of conversations with key Industry executives.
Mr. Gilbert began his career at Merv Griffin Productions, eventually producing such syndication hits as “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune”, before moving to work with A-list companies such as Merrill Heatter Productions and King World Productions where he headed up International Program Development for the syndication giant. His work in format development and distribution continued with Sony as he pioneered their ventures into the format business, ultimately serving as head of International Development and Sales.
As Senior Vice-President of CBS Studios International, he is responsible for the development, production, and distribution of some of television’s most successful programs, including; “Wheel of Fortune”, “Jeopardy!”, “America�s Next Top Model”, “I Love Lucy”, “Hotel”, “Dynasty”, “Taxi”, “Family Ties”, “Numb3rs”, and other branded shows handled by CBSSI.
Mr. Gilbert is an Executive Member of the Television Writers Vault, and was kind enough to share his thoughts with TV Writers Vault founder, Scott Manville.
Scott Manville: Thank you for taking time out from your busy schedule for us. I know that many in the industry, including our Writers and Producers at the TV Writers Vault, will find your perspective invaluable.
Paul Gilbert: It�s my pleasure. Your service is a very valuable asset for anyone involved with production and programming.
Scott Manville: Thank you very much. We’re fortunate to contribute to the marketplace and the television community. Your background and contributions to programming and the television industry are extremely impressive. You must possess that unique combination of having both an acute business and creative sensibility to have handled so many hit shows. Would you agree?
Paul Gilbert: As much as I would like to agree, I have to admit that as a kid I watched way too much television�.and to this day, nothing much has changed. I really have to get a life.
Scott Manville: Years before the Reality TV boom, you pioneered Sony’s entree into the TV format business, ultimately heading up international programming and development for them. Did you have any idea of the reality format craze that was to follow, or were you concentrating more on game formats at that time?
Paul Gilbert: When I worked at King World I was asked by Michael King to work with King World�s then International President, Fred Cohen, and try to figure out �this format thing.� I wasn�t familiar with it at all but with Fred�s patience as a teacher I was able to figure it out. By the time I left, we had Wheel and Jeopardy! formatted all over the world. I left King World to get Sony in the format business and at the time, my mandate was to exploit their library of game shows. Once we had the world blanketed with the Sony game shows we started acquiring third party formats of which included reality formats. One of our most successful reality formats was a show from Nippon TV called Dragons� Den which we formatted in over 20 countries. That format eventually found its way to ABC TV where it was renamed “Shark Tank“.
Scott Manville: Is reality-based programming a good thing for the industry? I know that many of the Hollywood brass were concerned that it delivers too many one-off programs, and wouldn’t generate the long running branded shows that studios and syndicators need for security and longevity. Do you trust reality TV in this regard?
Paul Gilbert: I disagree�.Cable is having a successful time re-running their reality shows.
Scott Manville: Where do you see the future of reality TV content heading?
Paul Gilbert: Its going to keep getting stronger as producers try and push the envelope to higher levels. As a viewer, I would hate to see them push it too far.
Scott Manville: In Reality TV, there’s a wide variety of sub-genres; docu-series, game/competitions, elimination series, make-over shows, wish fulfillment series, court shows, and countless hybrids. In your experience, what type of content or formats hold the most potential for becoming an international franchise?
Paul Gilbert: Some of the genres that you referred to are difficult to format. Docuseries’ are difficult to format since the distributor has nothing to offer to the licensee that would constitute the show as a format. Court shows have not been formatted since the justice system is different in most countries. Bottom line: All of the other genres have the potential to become worldwide hits…[game, competitions, elimination series, make-over shows, wish fulfillment series].
Scott Manville: I�d like to touch on game show formats. Earlier in your career you produced some of television�s biggest hit game shows, such as, �Wheel� and �Jeopardy!�. How are the hit game shows that are generated today (�Millionaire�, �Deal or No Deal�, �Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader�) different from those created before the Reality TV craze? Or are they?
Paul Gilbert: There are many factors with the shows of today that make them very different�.like 60 min format shows of today vs 30 minute shows of yesterday. I assure you that if Merv Griffin created Wheel today there ain�t a chance he could sell it. I�m sure of that. They�re too traditional.
Scott Manville: What makes a great game show?
Paul Gilbert: It�s a very tough question to answer because I don�t think there is a correct answer. Years ago I would have said a great game show is one where the viewers can play along. However, if you take “Deal or No Deal” there is no home play along. The Creators/Producers have done a terrific job of making that show entertaining.
Scott Manville: In 2000, you helped found FRAPA, (the Format Recognition and Protection Association) whose mission is stated as “to ensure that television formats are respected by the industry, and protected by law as intellectual property”. With many shows being derivative of each other, and often seeming to be “cookie cutter” versions of proven formats, what advice can you give to our writers and creators who are working to deliver original concepts, but fear intellectual property theft or conflict in the marketplace when pitching?
Paul Gilbert: If it�s still possible, be creative and original and then you won�t have to worry about FRAPA pounding down your front door.
Scott Manville: With your finger on the pulse of programming trends in the U.S., do you find that foreign territories such as the U.K. or Australia share the same tastes in entertainment? Do you see areas in programming where they’re more progressive than us?
Paul Gilbert: For the past several years the UK has been a hotbed of successful formats. We�re all looking for them to create the next big show as they did with “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”, amongst others. I am frequently asked what kind of shows are successful around the world. My answer is always the same: They watch the same shows that we do. I could blindfold my wife, take her abroad, turn the TV on without the sound and she would have no idea of where she is since today all TV seems to be the same.
Scott Manville: I understand that you Sheppard the sales and distribution of an incredible library of U.S. shows to the foreign markets. Are you ever scouting formats in other countries for exploitation in the U.S., or is that left to other global production outfits like Endemol, or Granada?
Paul Gilbert: Our group at CBS is always looking for 3rd party formats to distribute. We acquired two game show formats this year. One is a show called “Catch 21” which is now in its third very successful year on GSN and the other was a pilot we acquired called “Every Second Counts” that we have sold in many territories in the past two months.
Scott Manville: Being so immersed in television as a business, do you still truly enjoy it as a form of entertainment, or is it difficult to not look through the show you’re watching and see only the strategy and choices behind it as a project? Does being part of the machine kill the magic?
Paul Gilbert: Not at all for me! I still love watching TV and appreciate what it has to offer. I just wonder some times what it would be like to read a book.
Scott Manville: What advice can you give to the aspiring format creator and writer starting out in this Industry?
Paul Gilbert: Be a leader and not a follower. As Michael King used to say to me all the time �we have to zig when everyone else is zagging.�
Scott Manville: Thanks again for engaging us with some great insight, Paul.
Paul Gilbert: Thank you Scott! Keep up the good work.