An Exec Who Loves Variety on His Plate

Arthur Smith is not the type of producer who pays much attention to the word “no.” When his A. Smith & Co. was launching Fox’s ‘Hell’s Kitchen’, people doubted a cooking show could work outside a niche cable channel. But Smith has years of experience in virtually every aspect of the business, and a vast knowledge of what makes a successful television show. And on July 18, Hell’s Kitchen premiered its ninth season.

“When we did Hell’s Kitchen, people said, ‘Food shows don’t work on network television. They just don’t. People have tried.’ We just shot season 10—God bless, you know?” Smith says. “It always comes out to quality storytelling and all the right elements that television shows should have.”

Some get the bug to work in television from living in the heart of the entertainment industry. Smith, who grew up in Montreal, was not surrounded by the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, but he always knew he wanted to work in the entertainment business.

“As a child, I was so addicted to television and media and so fascinated by it,” he says. “And the more I got into it, the more I learned.”

Smith began his career in front of the camera, acting in situation comedies, commercials and feature films in Canada. But his heart always told him to go behind the scenes. After graduating from Ryerson University in Toronto with a degree in communications, Smith joined the Canadian Broadcasting Co.’s CBC Sports, where his ambition ultimately landed him outside a senior executive’s office in order to get “10 minutes of his time.” The conversation carried on for 90 minutes and resulted in a job offer as a junior producer.

That exchange catapulted Smith into the world of production, where he executive produced three Olympic Games and eventually moved on to head up the sports division at the age of 28. His success at the CBC led headhunters to seek out Smith’s expertise, and he was lured away to Dick Clark Productions.

During his four-year stint at DCP, Smith executive produced or produced When Stars Were Kids, Caught in the Act and Universal Studios Summer Blast for NBC, as well as ABC’s Battle of the Bands, The Jim Thorpe Pro Sports Awards, USA Music Challenge and The Great 18 Golf Championship. Smith left Dick Clark Productions in the mid-1990s to join Universal as senior vice president of the television group, after the company created a job allowing him to jump from division to division to develop projects.

Not long after, Smith received a call from Fox Sports CEO David Hill, which led him back to sports as head of programming and production for Fox Sports Network. In that job, Smith launched 22 sports networks and executive produced much of Fox’s national programming. It also fueled his ambition to work with a more varied palette, and in 2000 he founded A. Smith & Co. with longtime friend Kent Weed, where he serves as executive producer on all of the company’s productions.

“One of the reasons I wanted to start my own company was that I like so many things… guys’ shows, girls’ shows, makeover shows, talk shows, reality shows, music shows—I really do love the full spectrum,” Smith says.

The company produces television for 35 different networks, including TLC, Spike, truTV and Fox. The larger broadcast networks, of course, allow Smith to produce shows that the cable nets cannot afford, but Smith says he does not favor one over the other.

“The interesting thing about cable networks is that you’re playing to a very passionate audience that you have to be focused on,” he says. “I would never say that I [have a preference]. I fall in love with the show. They’re all important to me.” Smith’s series include Kitchen Nightmares (Fox), The World According to Paris (Oxygen) and Full Throttle Saloon (truTV).

Most recently, A. Smith & Co. joined forces with U.K. media producer Tinopolis Group, becoming Tinopolis’ leading North American television production entity. As his company had previously worked with Tinopolis’ Mentorn Media in producing America’s Worst Driver and Paradise Hotel, Smith felt it was the best fit. The agreement followed numerous offers that Smith turned down, citing his concern with the cultures of the suitor companies.

“We have been approached by a number of entities, including financial institutions, media companies and international production companies,” he says. “I love what we do so much that I was always concerned with the environment of what it’s like at A. Smith & Co.”

Smith’s care for his company is reflected in the personal relationships that he cultivates in the business. Mike Darnell, president of alternative entertainment for Fox, with whom Smith has worked, says, “He’s just a really professional producer, and a really lovely guy. That’s a very rare combination in this business…I’ve been working with him long enough that I would say that he’s my friend. That’s very rare.”

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