In Reality, a Nice Guy Finishes First

When the Dutch reality television producer John De Mol approached David Goldberg about launching an American outpost of his production company, Endemol International, in 2000, De Mol had misgivings. Although the two hit it off in their first meeting and agreed to pursue a startup plan, Goldberg soon learned that the Dutch mogul “had a strong gut reaction that I was too nice of a guy.”

Goldberg persuaded De Mol that he had the sand for the job, telling him that one “can be a nice guy and still be a fair and tough businessman.”

It didn’t take long for the new president of Endemol USA to prove he was no softie. Riding on the Survivor phenomenon, Goldberg sold unscripted series to all six broadcast networks, cable and syndication within a year of the company’s September 2000 launch.

A New Deal

In revamping CBS’ voyeuristic series Big Brother and selling the gross-out competition show Fear Factor to NBC, Goldberg cemented Endemol’s position as one of the leading suppliers of reality TV. He has kept it in the game with Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Deal or No Deal and three new entries capitalizing on the Deal-propelled game-show resurgence. But while Goldberg expects Endemol to remain a big reality player, he has been looking to diversify.

Born in New York and reared in Connecticut, Goldberg grew up watching Charlie Chaplin movies. With his love for the outdoors, he considered becoming a landscape architect like his father and went to Cornell University. But California beckoned, and Goldberg left after a year to head for Hollywood.

He landed a job as a production assistant at Lorimar-Telepictures, later becoming a stage manager and associate director on various projects. He finished his B.A. at the University of Arizona and returned to Hollywood in 1991 to become director of development at Quincy Jones/David Salzman Entertainment.

Goldberg moved to Telepictures Productions (now a part of Warner Bros.) as VP of programming three years later, developing and overseeing network reality series and first-run shows, including Extra, Street Smarts and Temptation Island forerunner Change of Heart. But Goldberg chafed in the studio environment and wanted to do his “own thing.” Telepictures President Jim Paratore, an old colleague from Lorimar, agreed to let him out of his contract early, in 2000.

Goldberg has enjoyed his autonomy at Endemol, although he shudders when he recalls one clunker he was stuck with when he arrived. Chains of Love, an unscripted UPN show about five men chained to a woman, was mercifully short-lived. “It was not one of the higher points of my career,” he says.

Not All Bugs and Games

During Goldberg’s tenure, Endemol has hit on winning formulas (comely contestants and cockroaches on Fear Factor) and trends (the “feel-good TV” of Home Edition). Snagging Home Edition host Ty Pennington from TLC’s Trading Spaces—before the show was on the table—was prescient indeed.

Recently, Endemol scored a hat trick, selling prime time game-show projects to three networks within a week: 1 Versus 100 to NBC, Show Me the Money to Fox and For the Rest of Your Life to ABC, for which the company also is readying a music-related show.

1 Versus 100, another Dutch import, pits one contestant against a hundred in a trivia match for a cash prize. “We’ve heard hundreds of pitches on game shows since Deal or No Deal became a hit,” says Craig Plestis, senior VP of alternative programming and development for NBC, “But this was truly the first one that knocked my socks off. Knowing this is the same team that made Deal clinched the deal for us.”

Not content to plow the same field, Goldberg has sought to move Endemol into scripted fare. In 2003, it acquired the scripted/unscripted production shop True Entertainment (Gastineau Girls), boosting its cable presence. Goldberg also has opened a Miami office to pursue the increasingly valuable Hispanic audience.

“If you only concentrate on one genre of this business,” he says, “you can be left behind.”

And Goldberg is one nice guy who won’t be finishing last.