Shepherd of 'Survivor' Now Is Making the Third Screen a Reality for CBS

Ghen Maynard Brought Hit Reality Programming to TV, Now Eyes Web

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NEW YORK ( -- For those who think reality TV is brainless, meet Ghen Maynard. He studied social psychology at Harvard and worked in the literary world for Houghton Mifflin before catapulting to the top echelons of CBS after he recommended "Survivor" to network chief Les Moonves. Mr. Maynard is about as thoughtful as they come.
Ghen Maynard
Ghen Maynard

Future of video media
In June, Mr. Maynard was given one of the longest titles in the business, overseeing a broad swath of on-air and new-media concepts for CBS and the CW after a brief sojourn at NBC. His title is exec VP-alternative programming and entertainment content for new media at CBS Paramount Network Television Entertainment Group.

In short, the 40-year-old is someone whom every marketer concerned about the future of video media should be watching closely. Mr. Maynard's role involves finding the next "Big Brother" or "America's Next Top Model" and working to extend those concepts from the TV screen to the third screen. What's he looking for in a new script or pitch (he gets around 30 calls a day)? Often, it's simply a nugget that can be developed.

Fan of YouTube
"We're looking for fresh ideas that can be applied to all levels of society and all people," Mr. Maynard said, adding that he uses YouTube as a place to see what's sparking viewer interest. He also spends time reading TV-themed sites such as, which features episode recaps of popular shows and blog postings from fans. CBS reality show "Big Brother" is one of the most popular shows at the site. As a wink to fans, sometimes Mr. Maynard will build in an element they've suggested online.

Mr. Maynard's road down the reality genre began when, as head of alternative programming at CBS, he went to bat for what was then a new, untested format on U.S. TV. The result was the 2000 debut of "Survivor."

Championing 'Survivor'
Friend and "Survivor" creator Mark Burnett said of Mr. Maynard: "If it wasn't for Ghen, Les would have never heard the 'Survivor' pitch because it had already been rejected [by network executives]. If a creative executive feels strongly enough, they'll stick their neck out with the big boss."

It was a groundbreaking moment in TV, in concept and also its use of product placement. Mr. Burnett said Mr. Maynard worked closely on how the product placement in the reality show would work. "In 'Survivor,' [product placement] relates," Mr. Burnett said, explaining that a slice of pizza or a soft drink becomes so much more valuable when the contestant has been living rough.

Nancy Tellem, president of CBS Paramount Network TV Entertainment Group, said Mr. Maynard is unusual in the entertainment business in that he's reserved. "He's very internal, very analytical," she said. "He's extremely bright." While everyone else in a pitch meeting is usually talking, Mr. Maynard is quietly assessing the idea. She added that it's easy to get the impression he's sizing you up.

From NBC to CBS
Mr. Maynard rejoined CBS two months ago, and his jump from NBC was not without controversy: It's unusual for creative executives to switch networks since they're often privy to development details. Heading prime-time development, for example, he oversaw NBC hit "My Name Is Earl." Media reports suggested that a realignment inside NBC may have prompted the move. Mr. Maynard declined to discuss it.

It's all worked out for the best. Mr. Maynard said he was disappointed when "The Class," from "Friends" creator David Crane, didn't go to NBC and is happy it's on the slate for CBS come fall. For someone who used to circle listings in TV Guide in sixth grade and decide what would work and what wouldn't, he's come a long way.

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Just Asking
Ghen Maynard, CBS

What was your biggest break? Persuading CBS CEO Les Moonves to take a chance on "Survivor."

Current reality-show projects? "Singing Office" at CBS. "Search for the Next Pussycat Doll" at the CW.

Favorite TV shows outside of the family? "The Sopranos" and "Big Love," both HBO.
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