Ken Fuchs – Shark Tank – ICG Magazine
Kenfuchs 1.jpg

Ken Fuchs modestly attributes part of his long career The scriptless television, which includes the industry's biggest franchises – Shark Tank, Family Feud, The Bachelor, and The Bachelorette – is said to be "a pretty nice guy people enjoy working with." But that three-time Primetime Emmy nominee, five-time Daytime Emmy nominee (and a Daytime Emmy winner for Family Feud), and two-time Directors Guild of America nominee breathe diluted air in the blank world. His skills span many different genres – reality house shows, game shows, and hybrids that don't fall into any category (like Shark Tank). Fuchs has worked his way up through various production roles and is a favorite among the local 600 camera crews, both for his creative respect and for his ability to confidently adapt to any changing situation. (See his thoughts on Shark Tank's Season 12 COVID-19 logs below.)

Fuchs called me from an "unknown location" while filming season 25 of The Bachelor, a show he describes as "good for a bladder" as he travels a lot in a typical (non-COVID) season spent and housed together. Fuchs obviously took pride in having safely returned to three different scriptless franchises in an ongoing pandemic, a "reality" he attributes to an industry based on accountability and production teams that are more families than coworkers.

ICG Magazine: Can you give our readers background information on your path into non-written television? Ken Fuchs: I was born and raised in New York through high school, and then my family moved to Palo Alto, California. I went back east to college at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, where I did many of the critical film studies that the school is famous for thanks to renowned film scholar Jeanine Basinger. For my senior year, I did an internship at Connecticut Public Television in Hartford. That's where I got the TV bug for the first time. The great thing about working at the Hartford TV station is how much I could see so quickly – they made me sit at the desk and the mixer with the lights and camera close by. I got a good look at what it took to do a TV show.

ICG Magazine: What do you remember about that first P.A. Job? (Laughs) It was my brother's show called Faerie Tale Theater for Showtime. I remember very well them saying, "Here's a walkie. Go to the end of this block and stop the cars if we scream we're rolling. If we scream" cut, "let them through . "I was in heaven because I understood these instructions very clearly – and I was good at them! I came in at the end of the day and they said, “Great job. We will see you tomorrow. "

ICG Magazine: So did the production suit you? It did. I had reasonable problem solving and organizing skills and soon became a production coordinator. I teamed up with Marty Pasetta's Dick Clark Productions and Don Mischer, who were all the hit men in the strain world. I got promoted to line producer because I was very good at dealing with budgets – my actual degree was in economics. I was working on a game show where I realized I wanted to be more involved with the creative team and I asked if I could direct and join the Directors Guild. They made this possible because I was with the company for several years. Shortly after that first opportunity, I started ADing and stage management. And when the calls for line production kept coming in, I declined them. I've been happier in the AD / Stage Management world, knowing enough that if you're happy to do something, you're probably much better at it.

ICG Magazine: What was your first directorial assignment? A show called Later with Greg Kinnear, a half-hour NBC talk show late at 1:30 pm. I had started the show as an AD and one day for the director – and frankly – I never looked back. The fact that I was able to run these long-standing franchises like The Bachelor, Family Feud, and Shark Tank early on is more than a godsend. I can't even describe how grateful I am almost twenty years later. I am indebted to the executive producers, production companies, studios, and networks of these shows for their collaboration, friendship, and loyalty.

Fuchs is rare among unscripted directors and can handle any genre or size show. "Family Feud and The Bachelor represent the extremes of the shooting relationship – minute shot to minute broadcast," he explains. "In the middle of those two is Shark Tank (above), with no host or audience, but it's multi-cam and I can do a line cut." Photo by Christopher Willard / ABC

ICG Magazine: Nice start to my next question: Those two shows that you mentioned, along with Family Feud, are all different formats in non-written formats. Can you describe your approach to each one? This business tends to pigeonhole you so I've been very lucky to do these different types of shows which, by the way, are all mutually informative – I can carry over things I've learned from one to another, despite them are very different. Live with multiple cameras is kind of a holy grail for directors without a script because when it's really live you make a lot of creative decisions in the air. This is still my favorite. A game show like Feud is live-to-tape games. So you can overshoot to have more editing choices and there's a live studio audience. Bachelor came about in a strange way. I heard about it from a friend whose kid played soccer with my kid. He made Trista's year, Bachelorette One, the third season of the franchise – and now we're in the 41st season of the franchise which I did about 37 of that. Insane! They told me about those rose ceremonies with multiple cameras. The reality was new at that time, so directors came from all areas – editing, DPs, documentaries, producers. But for a multi-cam live studio director like me, the format was frustrating because there are no traditional brands, actors, or controls that we were used to on stage. This genre works best when it's spontaneous. I embraced this lack of control early on and thought this was a different form of storytelling. These are the two extremes of the recording ratio – minutes recorded to minutes aired – a live show or live-to-tape is close to one to one, while with a show like The Bachelor the ratio is much larger. In the middle of those two is Shark Tank – no presenter or audience, but it's multi-cam and I can do a line cut. This line cut is basically a roadmap for the editors, but nowhere near as intense as The Bachelor, where the story and episodes are mostly created in the editing room.

ICG Magazine: You mentioned (director / producer) Don Mischer who was the subject of our exposure in February (ICG Magazine February / March 2020). Growing up wanting to be a cameraman on television news, he maintains a special relationship with the operators on all of his projects, which he often selects by hand. Is that your approach? It's the same for me. I want to create a family atmosphere with my crew, with love and respect that only emerges when you break through the boundaries set by titles and salaries. It's easier on a show like The Bachelor because we travel and live together. We're on stage with Feud and Shark Tank and everyone goes home at the end of the day. But as we always say with Feud, the key word is "family". And the very successful shows create a family atmosphere; There must be loyalty, trust and respect for every single member of the crew. The key is to make sure everyone on a project is valued and knows their work is valued. As a director, I might take the blame or the blame, but we're all together, 100 percent. And that's why I tend to have good continuity with my crews from show to show. My motto is, "There is a chain of command, but not a chain of respect."

ICG Magazine: Shark Tanks lighting designer is Oscar Dominguez, with whom you have worked consistently on various shows. How is this working relationship? Usually it's a close partnership between me, the lighting designer and the production designer. Often this process starts with the vision of the producer. And then I come in with camera positions and blockages and we go through what the audience will and will not see. Once we're in front of the camera, I work side by side with the designers – every shot has to be painted in a nice light, and Oscar and Anton Goss are two of the best. Coming from the AD world, I tend not to micromanage the LD – I'm a lot tougher on ADs and stage managers (laughs).

ICG Magazine: Is the goal to achieve a more cinematic look? Or is there a TV look that the audience expects? Some of it is technology based. When the medium switched from SD to HD, there were so many more options with lenses, filters and lighting. It sounds simple, but the goal is to serve the story. If that's an open, straightforward look, then that's what we'll do. In The Bachelor we strive for that cinematic, hyper-real feeling. In Shark Tank, it's easy to imagine people sitting in a boardroom that is inherently static. With the jib, the steadicam and the dolly, I try to keep things moving for visual interest – even if this is unconscious to the viewer. The content itself is great. However, the addition of movement, lighting, and design all help keep people coming back again and again.

Fuchs works closely with Emmy award-winning Local 600 Lighting Designer Oscar Dominguez and production designer Anton Goss on various franchise businesses, including Shark Tank (above). "As soon as we're in front of the camera, "explains Fuchs," I work side by side with the designers – every shot has to be painted in a beautiful light, and Oscar and Anton are two of the best. "Photo by Christopher Willard / ABC

ICG Magazine: How Have The New COVID Security Protocols Changed Your Work On Set? It changed things a lot, especially from a storytelling perspective. The Bachelorette was done in a single resort in a real bubble. We're used to traveling for long periods of time and being together, so it went well together in that regard. Feud was more difficult because it is essentially a comedy show that relies on a give and take from a live studio audience. So we had to find a solution to COVID and we were pretty successful. Another big problem is talent on set and the need to be three feet apart and redesign sets. There have been COVID shelters that we did on Shark Tank and Feud – and they certainly affect how the show is shot.

ICG Magazine: And on a practical level, for the safety of cast and crew? I'm so impressed with how well the production has responded in this area as all of these shows are completely safe: everyone is tested, everyone wears masks, everyone follows the protocols with meals, crafts, travel, etc. It was a feather in the cap Prove that production teams are built to do this – problem solving, following protocols, mutual safety on the set. The proof is that we have managed to return more successfully than other industries. And unscripted was one of the first TV formats to get back to work successfully – we're all very proud of that.

ICG Magazine: Nobody has a crystal ball, but if the COVID logs continue through 2021 how will this change production without a script? As you said, nobody really knows. But I would assume that the large audience shows will have challenges – a live event spectacle that requires this enormous scope. And then also the comedy / variety shows. The Bachelor is currently in a bubble and could well be for the next season. What I can say for sure is that no one loves working 10 to 12 hours with a mask on, or operators wearing cameras with PPE, and we will all be relieved to be able to shoot safely without them. But the unions are doing a great job working closely with the producers to get people back to work and make sure everyone is safe on set. This company has a very high standard of accountability … and that goes back to your family question. These crews are handpicked and we feel responsible to each other – not just because we don't want to screw up our paychecks. If you really care about the people you work with, you will be more careful.

Fuchs says it was "a feather in the cap" to prove production teams were built for filming amid COVID-19. "Protocol-based problem solving and mutual security on set is why we managed to come back," he says. "And unscripted was one of the first TV formats to successfully go back to work. We are all very proud of that." "Shark" prepares Kevin O’Leary for shooting. Photo by Christopher Willard / ABC

ICG Magazine: Filmmakers in the unscripted world often cite this adrenaline factor as the main driver. Any chance to get it right? Are you in this camp 100 percent! (Laughs) I never knew my ADHD would be a career path. People ask how I can look at 50 monitors and 100 people at the same time, and I tell them that the only time in my life that I am not bored (laughs again). It is not for everyone. I've done AD a bit in the storytelling world and that has its merits, but that pace just wasn't for me.

ICG Magazine: What about the reality of having to live with mistakes – sometimes in front of the camera? You have to be familiar with imperfection. You have to accept that reality as you say. For example, some of the most memorable moments on The Bachelor are when it went off track. We designed and lit this beautiful set, and one performer is going to get upset, run away in tears and sit outside by a dumpster – and that's what people will talk about the next day! Of course, those moments should make it clear to the audience that we don't control what's going on. But as a perfectionist yourself who wants everything to look nice and right, these events are like a toxic spill where you are just trying to hold it all together. They are actually fun (laughs). Or at least that's what you tell yourself to make sure they don't undermine your trust.

ICG Magazine: You have won and been nominated for a number of major peer judged awards – Primetime and Daytime Emmys and the DGA Award. What do you honor from the point of view of your craft? I'm not sure. I think they're a bit of a popularity contest, and I do well with these nominations because maybe I get along with people at some level and they like me. Or maybe it's longevity, and when they see my name enough times they think I must be pretty good. (Laughs) Ultimately, I hope that all the crews and departments know that it's really a reflection of all of their hard work. I'm glad the Emmys now have a category that defines reality because they haven't in a long time. But ultimately, like the year I won Family Feud, the show won too. Perhaps the director's fate rises and falls with the show itself. It's hard to say. Maybe one day the Bachelor will get some Emmy love …

ICG Magazine: Unscripted is a very mature format now, but there still seems to be a perception that the “reality” part of reality television is anything but that. How do you answer that In terms of content, this is more the realm of the producers. But I can say that the shows that have been successful for over 20 seasons are the exact opposite of rigged storytelling. "Authentic" is a word that swirls around a lot, but that's what appeals to viewers – the shows that don't feed viewers with overproduction, overprocessing, and forced storytelling. In 18 years at The Bachelor and Family Feud, I can tell you – it's real! We don't do things twice or always know what will happen next. Shark Tank is a perfect example. The sharks do not have access to the companies they referred to earlier and that is a critical aspect of their success. This discovery process from the moment they hear the pitch to the time they make a deal – or not – is the "reality" of the show.

Fuchs, who met his wife, four-time Emmy Award-winning producer Kate Ryu, on Shark Tank's second season, says the reality shows, which have been around for more than 20 seasons, are exactly the opposite of rigged storytelling. "Authentic is a word that swirls around a lot, but that's what appeals to viewers – the shows that don't feed viewers with overproduction, overworking, and forced storytelling." Above: Fox On the Shark Tank with Ryu and the couple's "baby shark", Bella. Photo by Yulli Ryu / Courtesy of Fuchs


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here