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Worldwide Idol

Cecile Frot-Coutaz, CEO of FremantleMedia North America, is not only a big-time corporate boss. She also has the title of executive producer at none other than American Idol—and she's not afraid to make her opinions heard.

“I have no problem giving notes, especially when I see something that needs fixing,” she says. “Our clients would have the same view; our viewers would have the same view.”

She weighs in on everything from game shows like Family Feud to Idol, and whatever comments she and her Fremantle crew have given creatives, they seem to be working. While TV experts—even those at Fox—assumed Idol would slip in the ratings, it grew 10% in 2005 and 13% this year. “Every show has a life cycle,” she says. “We were pleasantly surprised [by the growth]. We manage to keep it fresh.”

But while FremantleMedia is a producer on the mega-hit, the company's everyday business is a little more mundane. Much focus is on its longtime business, such as format deals. With such deals, the format of a successful show—typically, a game show—is re-created in another market, such as The Price Is Right in Japan.

Frot-Coutaz, 40, says such deals are more important now than ever. “You don't want a 30% chance of success; you want 80%,” she says. “You want a track record—to buy something where there is a blueprint, where someone has worked the kinks out.”

Under her leadership, the format business continues to flourish. “It took Price Is Right 10 years to get into 15 countries,” she says. “Millionaire and Survivor took three to four. Idol took three.”

Mark Itkin, executive VP/co-head of worldwide television of William Morris Agency, which represents FremantleMedia, isn't surprised by Frot-Coutaz's success. “She is amazing at multitasking and is extremely collaborative,” he says. “She does extremely well in a difficult business.”

Executives say her strengths come from her worldwide view of the TV world—and her solid business background to complement her creativity. She has been with FremantleMedia for 10 years, holding numerous positions in both London and the U.S., including COO and executive VP of commercial and operations.

Born and reared in France, Frot-Coutaz started out as a consultant to European networks. But she found consulting a bit too passive. “What I enjoyed the most was doing, not advising,” she says. “I like it in the trenches.”