From Down Under to Reality's Top Tier

Not many TV executives have experienced as many sides of show business as Eden Gaha, president of international production and distribution company Shine America.

Though he’s now an executive producer on The Biggest Loser, MasterChef and The Face (which premieres on Oxygen Feb. 12), Gaha, 44, started as an onair host in his native Australia. As a kid, he sang and danced in holiday specials and did TV commercials. He dreamed of being an actor and spent years on the audition circuit (he met his wife in a production of West Side Story).

After high school, Gaha worked at a Sydney radio station for three years before getting a break as a kids’ game show host on Aussie public broadcaster ABC. That led to network gigs hosting a musical program, the documentary series Animal Hospital and work on a newsmagazine, which spurred his interest in production.

“I started to see that I could stand here and make noise and reflect light for the rest of my career, but I’m only going to get older, and what I really want to do is what everyone else is doing,” Gaha says.

In 2002, he left hosting behind and moved to the U.S. (a character reference from the Australian prime minister helped get him a green card) to reinvent himself as a producer. Though Gaha had produced a well-received documentary series in Australia, The Ties That Bind, once in the U.S. he had to start from scratch.

So Gaha and his wife, who halved their savings with the unfavorable exchange rate, slept on friends’ couches and got a gas card to build credit, while Gaha landed a job as a lowly production assistant on the VH1 Divas concert, where he looked after the dressing rooms.

“He was not the only on-screen talent to say, ‘I’d like to produce my pieces,’” says National Geographic Channels CEO David Lyle, who worked with Gaha at Australia’s Nine Network and gave him an early job in the U.S. when he was at FremantleMedia. “But he was one of the very few that actually knew what was involved and was prepared to work at it.”

Gaha luckily arrived in the States at the beginning of the boom of unscripted television. He worked on short-lived shows for producers including Simon Fuller, Nigel Lythgoe and Simon Cowell before getting a producing job on Survivor, where he met Mark Burnett. He stayed with Burnett for seven years, working on such shows as The Contender, Rock Star and Pirate Master, and served as showrunner on Celebrity Apprentice for five seasons.

At Shine, Gaha looks to emulate Burnett’s success. Gaha’s first order of business after joining in 2011 was taking all of Shine’s shows—which often outsourced production to third parties—in-house, where they can be made continually relevant. That helped season three of MasterChef improve its ratings 15% last summer amidst a weak reality TV climate.

“It refocused our attention on who we put on these shows,” Gaha says, while underscoring the importance of returning Jillian Michaels to The Biggest Loser this season. (Loser’s rating is up 9% on Mondays compared to last year’s Tuesday run.)

Burnett credits Gaha’s success as a network producer to being diplomatic and smart, as well as an adeptness for managing talent that comes in handy when juggling more than a dozen celebrities— not to mention Donald Trump—on Celebrity Apprentice.

“Eden’s handled big-scale, big pressure and has a spark of excellent creative instincts and is able to be flexible and roll with the punches,” Burnett says.

Those skills likely served him well on The Face, which stars model-mentors Naomi Campbell, Karolina Kurkova and Coco Rocha. Oxygen hopes the show is the breakout hit the network needs, scheduling simultaneous airings on Bravo and Style for its premiere. Gaha says he welcomes the pressure to succeed and appreciates all the marketing the show is getting as a top-priority launch.

Going forward, Gaha hopes to move Shine to a “fewer, bigger, better” strategy for its slate. Helping in that effort is Shine’s recently inked exclusive production deal with Lythgoe, who lends credibility in entertainment formats.

“The big shows on TV in every territory are still the talent competition shows, and we definitely want to be in that space,” Gaha says.

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