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
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: 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
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
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
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
Scott Manville: What advice can you give to the
aspiring format creator and writer starting out in
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