From Ah-Ha! to Voilà!
For the masterminds of Chopped, inspiration is step one.
Creating a show is hard work, and in the view of producers Cleve Keller and Dave Noll, best done over cocktails.
To brainstorm, the partners in Keller/Noll typically run through potential ideas on Noll's front porch.
"Sometimes, for me, it's just hearing something that someone says," Keller explains. "Like, 'You said naked lunch?'" Over the years, she's built up a catalog of random thoughts and ideas — from trends she's noticed to New York Times clippings — "which can eventually lead you to places you didn't expect."
Noll likens the process to a muscle he's constantly exercising. "If you're creating shows every single day, you can eventually see the results," he says.
The results of their efforts are very visible. Since 2004, the pair has created shows like Food Network's long-running Chopped and its spinoff Chopped Junior, GSN's Winsanity and Fox's Punchline. And with the recent premiere of their cooking competition–meets–game show, Dinner Takes All, they're not slowing down.
Their partnership began in 2003, when Keller and Noll created and executive-produced AMC's Film Fakers. "Then we got a couple of other shows on the air, and in 2007, I begged Cleve to stop being a showrunner and team up with me to become a creator," he explains. Keller/Noll was born.
The firm has sold 2,400 episodes of unscripted content that's aired everywhere from Japan to South Africa and Turkey, but 2018, they say, was their "breakthrough year." Keller/Noll produced 50 episodes of Chopped, 30-plus of Chopped Junior and 40 of Winsanity, in addition to launching Stage 29 Productions/CBS Television's Face the Truth.
Following last year's debut of their game show America Says, GSN ordered 95 episodes for season two. "We are told that was the biggest order in the history of GSN," Noll says.
Of course, moving from that ah-ha moment to a record-breaking order is a multi-step process. After drafting a new idea, the duo wrangles friends to play-test the concept; that interaction spills over into their pitch.
"Our goal is to bring the show to life in the room," says Noll, who assumes the host role upon walking into a boardroom.
Selling America Says, for instance, involved creating a giant floor version of the game and posing questions, including, "When I'm in church, I'm usually thinking about… (The answer starts with an 'F')," to which someone replied, "Fooling around!" He explains: "It's a professional setting, but as soon as you say there's going to be a winning team, people get so into it!"
The opportunity to create something novel is what drives her, Keller says. "We encounter executives who are like, 'I have been pitched everything. You can't surprise me.' And then, when they lean forward and say, 'Oh, I've never been pitched that,' it's the best moment of your life."
Noll, meanwhile, says seeing people enjoy his content is what really keeps him going. "Being on a plane and walking down the aisle, realizing a bunch of people from all over the world are watching Chopped? That's crazy cool!"
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 6, 2019
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