Jimmy Smith: What I Learned from Judging a Reality Show
Jimmy Smith -- the head of Amusement Park Entertainment and former TBWA creative -- has spent a considerable amount of time behind the camera on branded content projects like Gatorade's "Replay" and Nike's "Battlegrounds." He recently traded places, making his TV debut as a reality-show judge. Every Wednesday night, Mr. Smith appears on VH1's new series "Model Employee," in which women fashion models vie to become spokesmodel for Las Vegas' Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. Here, he shares some reality-TV secrets, and what it's like to be caught -- temporarily -- in the Hollywood glare.
1. In the ad world, concept is king. In the TV world, Nielsen is king.
If you're a dope ad creative, you believe the recipe for a smash hit is a big idea that's executed to perfection. If it's been done before, you kill it. But if you're a reality TV show creative, there's a powerful force pushing you towards what's tried and true. It's called Nielsen. Whatever brotha Nielsen says is gospel. So if it worked once, you'd better do it again and again until the wheels fall off. Often, I sympathized with Madwood Media's Michael Flutie, EVP/creator of "Model Employee." He had a vision for his show (which I can't elaborate on because it'll reveal what's going to happen in the show) but sometimes it seemed like his vision was falling prey to brotha Nielsen.
2. If you're batting .200 in TV, you're considered a Major Leaguer.
That's right. If you connect on just two of your 10 new shows, you're a successful TV show producer. Dudes and dudettes, could you imagine if eight of every 10 commercials you produced for a client bombed, and the client didn't fire you, but dumped more money on you to make more? Hell, some clients fire agencies after just one flop. In other words, your odds are better in TV than they are as an agency creative.
3. In TV, talent is different from being the lead producer or creative.
I can't tell you how many times I wanted to say, "Yo, why don't you try this?" But I didn't want to be one of those dudes, so I kept quiet. I was talent, and therefore, I was supposed to stay in my lane. Case in point, they asked me, "Jimmy, how do you want your title and introduction to read?" I said, "Jimmy Smith is the chairman and CEO of Amusement Park Entertainment." They asked several times over the course of shooting, and I responded the same way. Finally, someone asked, "Can we just say 'chief creative officer?'" I told them I'd prefer chairman and CEO. What do you think wound up happening? Mmmhmm. If you've watched the show you've seen that I'm only referred to as the "chief creative officer" at Amusement Park.
4. The lights screw with your head.
When you're sitting in the makeup room next to the host, model Chrissy Teigen, and fellow judge Vanessa Branch [singer and Orbit gum spokeswoman], you can't help but get a bit paranoid. Not because you want lipstick or fake eyelashes, but because Chrissy, 'Nessa and the makeup artists notice and point out stuff you wouldn't notice in a hundred billion years. Things like nose hairs . . .or the couple of hairs between my eyebrows. They made it quite clear that this was being filmed in HD, and HD picks up EVERYTHANG. Of course, I know what HD does. I just never had to be in front of the camera! In the beginning, I'd only spend about 15 minutes in makeup. Then I found myself spending 30, then 45 minutes. Chrissy and 'Nessa would literally be in there two hours. No exaggeration. Just as I was about to hit the 60-minute mark, my wife Smoke reminded me, "JIMMY RODNEY SMITH, YOU'RE FROM FRICKIN' MUSKEGON, MICHIGAN!" Then and there, I snapped out of it. I was like, "No, Maurice, I don't want to wear that colorful shirt. And where are my Jordans, dawg?"
5. I took all of what I'd learned over the years and left it in the office.
Even though I've created and produced a few shows, even one nominated for an Emmy [Gatorade's "Replay"]. The most valuable time I spent was sitting with the executive producers, Eli Holzman and Troy Searer, and co-EPs Kevin Bartel and Larissa Matsson was picking their brains on why they did this and why they did that. I made like a sponge and soaked it up. When you have a company name like mine that ends in "Entertainment," that kind of information was invaluable. The king of the entire thing was my judging brotha Patrick Miller, former vp-marketing at Mandalay Bay. He and his fellow execs had the guts to approve an advertising campaign, that was NOT a :30 second spot, but a TV reality show. Now, Patrick and Mandalay Bay have been rewarded handsomely. You can visit Patrick at the Monte Carlo Resort & Casino where he was promoted to general manager. Tell him Jimmy sent ya and he'll hook a brotha and sista up.
The next episode of Model Employee airs on VH1 tonight at 11pm.