Reality TV: THR's 50 Most Powerful List
To get to the conference room at the new 16th floor headquarters of Magical Elves in Hollywood, one has to pass through a trophy case of sorts.
There are the standards: a placard acknowledging Top Chef ’s 2010 Emmy for outstanding reality competition, magazine covers and a Peabody for Project Runway. And there’s the more exotic: the dried remains of a floral gown designed by Runway alum Daniel Vosovic, signed chef coats and all manner of elf-related tchotchkes.
Inside the development meeting led by executive producers Dan Cutforth, 45, and Jane Lipsitz, 43, however, there are no acknowledgments of past glories — only a ticking clock and a packed agenda that covers the details for a YouTube series, the premiere of Bravo’s Around the World in 80 Plates, an ongoing host search for a new CBS dating show and maybe a moment’s respite to watch a particularly absurd casting tape for an unscripted project they can’t discuss outside of the room.
On the heels of last year’s gargantuan film endeavor, $98 million global grosser Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, Cutforth and Lipsitz have now taken on the notso- easy task of a directorial debut. It’s another theatrical 3D concert venture with Paramount, Katy Perry: Part of Me.
“It’s a huge move for us,” says Lipsitz, noting the good working relationship that was fostered with Paramount during the Bieber film. “Our heads are swirling right now because it is a really quick turnaround.”
Less than five months, to be exact. It’s a job the duo, who’ve been working together since 2001, actively discuss from their adjacent desks. Like siblings who weren’t ready to abandon their bunk beds after moving into a bigger house, Cutforth and Lipsitz still share a his-and-hers corner office, with a small table between them for conference calls or when brainstorming demands they be fewer than 15 feet apart.
It’s a closeness that has inspired a lot of inside jokes from their decade-plus career. The jokes seem to pepper their conversations — like the rare moment they thought they could share their success with Cutforth’s two daughters and Lipsitz’s son at the starpacked Never Say Never premiere.
“They were six at the time,“ says Cutforth, while a larger-than-life-size cardboard cutout of Bieber lurks just outside the door in the hallway. “I thought it would be the greatest memory of their lives so far. Instead, it was way after their bedtime and within an hour they were literally both in tears saying, ‘When will it be over?’ It was a terrifying experience for them.”
“It was kind of scary for us, too, by the way,” adds Lipsitz, laughing. “It was a really emotional thing. Sitting in a theater that size with people around you responding to a film is a whole different experience from television. But we love both.”
Their office, with expansive views of the Hollywood sign and the Eastside, hosts a large dry erase board with their respective schedules. A quick glance has them attending a screening together that night, and Lipsitz has a 9 a.m. Pilates class planned for the next morning. “I’ll just dream about that,” she says wistfully.
On top of their film obligation and continued work with stalwart hits Top Chef, Braxton Family Values and The Real L Word, 2012 finds Magical Elves with their biggest network docket to date. NBC’s Fashion Star, greeted with solid reviews if so-so numbers, and CBS’ upcoming 3, an adaptation of an Israeli dating show, mark the first time they’ve had series on multiple broadcast networks at once. Fashion Star, in particular, is an interesting homecoming for the Elves — and, already renewed for a second season, one of their most notable successes of the past year.
Rising to prominence with Project Runway, which they departed in 2008 when it left Bravo for Lifetime, the Elves find fashion familiar territory. But they’ve used the NBC series, a collaboration with Ben Silverman’s Electus, as a chance to play with the real-time marketing opportunities that reality competitions present. Winning designs promptly go on sale (and sell out) online and at participating retailers after the episodes showcasing them air.
“It’s hard to say where reality is going, but we feel like harnessing the marketing potential of television is a really interesting way to go,” says Cutforth. “It’s about giving the audience ways to interact. Fashion Star is a much more tangible way to play off of that experience.”
Magical Elves remains committed to its culinary crown jewel, Top Chef, which Bravo recently renewed for a 10th season, in addition to Chef’s third spinoff, Life After Top Chef. They’ve also brought in a strong online component with secondary competition Last Chance Kitchen, which pits cast-offs against each other to win a spot back on the show — one way they’re working to keep Top Chef from feeling stale.
The location for the 10th cycle is a topic of discussion in Magical Elves’ own kitchen, a homey nook in the middle of the office with a cool coffee-house vibe. Two different markets are vying for Top Chef’s attention — the Elves are regularly pitched by mayors’ offices, local film commissions and state publicity groups — and several members of the development team are going over the finer points while simultaneously planning a going-away party for their intern.
“This is actually the first time I’ve ever seen Dan,” the intern says as he shakes Cutforth’s hand with a mix of appreciation and slight embarrassment, the delay in their meeting due most likely to Cutforth’s manic schedule and workload over the past few months.
The chosen spot for the Elves’ meeting today — the kitchen — seems to be one of both comfort and necessity since their work space is in a constant state of commotion. “We decided that this is how much we’d need,” Lipsitz says of the 2011 move that united their post-production team and main offices under one roof. She adds with a laugh, “And then we outgrew the space in a week.”