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November 29, 2018

The Natural

Keep reality TV "as live as possible," says a director who's seen it all.

Neil Turitz
  • Ken Fuchs on the set of Family Feud

    Courtesy of Ken Fuchs

Pop-culture historians studying reality TV need look no further than the career of director Ken Fuchs.

He's spent the 21st century helming live studio game shows like Family Feud, location-based unscripted soap operas like The Bachelor and that near-perfect hybrid of the two, Shark Tank.

"The jobs are very different," Fuchs observes, "but whether there's a host or an audience, you're storytelling. That doesn't change. Whether you're doing a live cut from a studio audience or on some tropical island for The Bachelor, you're after the same thing."

After starting his directing career on Greg Kinnear's late-night talk show, Later, in the mid-1990s, Fuchs worked on a series of other projects, including Roseanne Barr's short-lived daytime talk show, The Roseanne Show.

As the century turned, and Survivor took off and essentially started the reality TV boom, Fuchs hooked up with FremantleMedia, which hired him to direct its Family Feud relaunch. Another connection brought him into contact with Mike Fleiss, who had just created The Bachelor. In 2003, early in the show's third season, Fuchs became one of its primary directors.

"I met Mike and we hit it off fabulously, and that started this new journey," Fuchs says. "I had to figure it out as I went. Real people, not actors or hosts, not scripted, no monitor or cue cards — it was a different animal. I found it challenging and fun to go between these two types of shows."

He also applied lessons from the live shows to the new reality paradigm.  It occurred to him that what set a good reality show apart was authenticity. 

The best way to make something more authentic was to make it, he says, "as  live as possible." That meant fewer cameras, less equipment and crew, no repeating of lines or moments, and just allowing things to happen naturally.  It's hard to argue with the results. He's brought that approach to more than 75 episodes of ABC's Shark Tank and earned two Emmy nominations along the way.

"It's such a fun show to do," he says. "It's the combination of an extreme reality show like The Bachelor with a more live show like Family Feud. The thing about Shark Tank, though," he adds with a laugh, is that "when you leave work, you actually feel smarter than you did when you went in that morning. Not many jobs you can say that about." 

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 11, 2018

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