Darren Maddern :: Reality TV Producer

I hereby kick off the “People I love” series.

I’ve got the coolest friends doing the most inspirational and fun things.

I want you to meet them…all of them.  Ok?

If you like funny personal stories, and want to learn about different industries…and aren’t bothered with my stream of conscience writing style, you’ll enjoy this series.  I’ll include creative projects with photos these talented friends have produced toward the end of the posts, so keep reading!

First up:  Darren Maddern.

Darren Maddern

I’ve known Darren since my freshman year internship at Uni Music in the early 90s. Barbara Jones, now CEO of Blissful Media Group and One2OneNetwork, was my boss. She and Darren were good friends.  As an unpaid intern, I got to go to every concert, which meant sneaking into clubs with Barb and her pals.

My classic memories with Darren haven’t stopped since a fun-filled dance party at a 70’s-themed club called Saturday Night Fever in Hollywood in the early 90’s. In fact, fast forward almost twenty years later, I set him up with my good friend Sandra, and now they’re hitched and have a gorgeous toddler. So there – – Blind dates work!

Soon after the ’94 earthquake, when my apartment was demolished, I found a great rent-controlled apartment in Santa Monica. It was a studio in a high rise on the beach, overlooking the entire city. At $480, he and I both wondered why it was so cheap…he was suspicious, and being the big brother that he was, wanted to make sure it wasn’t some brothel.

We soon realized that I was the youngest person in the building….by 50 years! It was originally built by the government for the purpose of a convalescent housing high rise. My neighbors were 75 year old Henry and his 95 year old mother Annabelle.

A year after I moved in, a group of private investors bought the building with plans to turn it into a luxury apartment building within the next ten years.  Thankfully, Santa Monica is a very pro-tenant city, so there was no chance of me being evicted.  Because of the strict rent control laws in place, rents were capped as they passed on to new renters.

Thus, it was decided that Darren would live there, too! So he began his quest to get on the long wait list. He called Belinda, the building manager, almost every other day for about a year.

“Hi Belinda! Just checking….”

One day, she paused…. “Well, someone who has lived on the 9th floor for 25 years has just moved out to assisted-living…city view. Get here in 30 minutes with your deposit.”

This is a perfect example of Darren’s mantra: “Luck is persistence in disguise.”

And as luck would have it, with a rent controlled apartment, the occupant could do almost anything, at their own expense, to fix up their apartment. He revamped that apartment and made it so charming.

Custom refurbished cabinets he did himself, mono chromatic style new paint, charcoal colored carpet, cheap furniture and decorative pieces from Ikea blended with higher end stuff from Plummers and Restoration Hardware.  Picture a W Hotel suite and you can imagine what it looked like.

It was during that renovation that I realized how innovative, clever, and resourceful he was. He kept the apartment for the better of 13 years just to have as an office and beach pad.

Darren always uses his tenacious and creative spirit and was one of the early pioneers of what we know today as reality TV. He was at E! Entertainment in its formative years and was the very first producer for The Gossip Show with Downtown Julie Brown. Yup. Arguably one of the catalysts of reality TV as we know it today. 5 years of “Ok, that’s a great idea. Let’s shoot it tomorrow, edit on Friday and air it this weekend. We’ll see if it sticks!”

At a party, he overheard some colleagues dropping the name “Kerry McCluggage at Paramount.” The conversation was about the fact that Mr. McCluggage had some over-the-top programming concepts and liked these types of ideas.

Darren wrote down the name on a napkin (the proverbial napkin idea!) and when he got home he researched and found out McCluggage wasn’t just any executive at Paramount but was the Chairman of Paramount Television.

And so Darren’s persistence for a meeting started. He called, sent faxes and worked his way onto the Paramount lot. He negotiated his way to McCluggage’s assistant. Darren has this way with people. He’s funny, handsome, outgoing, yet very easy-going.

A month later, Darren found himself pitching a series to Mr. McCluggage. McCluggage loved the idea and said “I’m buying it!”

As soon as McCluggage said he wanted to buy Darren’s show idea, Darren stood up, reached out his hand to shake McCluggage’s and started to head out of the office. Looking somewhat puzzled, McCluggage said, “Wait a minute. Where you going?”

Darren responded, “I was always told when someone says yes, get the hell outta there as fast as possible before they have a chance to change their mind!”

McCluggage laughed and pulled him back into his office where he convinced Darren to start and head up a reality department at the newly created UPN Network. It was one of those “What would it take to get you?” discussions.

While at UPN, Darren developed a ton of shows and specials, including the wildly successful WWF SmackDown!, which was created specifically for UPN.  He spent almost three years at UPN, viewing his time there like an MBA program, where he would see, meet big time reality producers like Mark Burnett, (Survivor/The Apprentice) Mike Fleiss, (The Bachelor) and learn how to create and sell shows at the network level.

While at UPN he was poached by the head of reality of the William Morris agency.  The agent recognized Darren’s talent and in another, “What will it take to get you” moments, he left UPN to work with William Morris client, Vin Di Bona of America’s Funniest Home Videos. AFHV was the only series Di Bona ever sold and he wanted to expand to selling to other networks. Thru the William Morris agent, Di Bona hired Darren and within three months of his hiring, Darren sold Meet The Marks to Fox.

After its short run, Darren saw where the real money was, creating and selling one’s own series.

After Di Bona, Darren created The Cut with Tommy Hilfiger, which is essentially what Project Runway is today. Mr. Hilfiger was still running his business and Darren’s instinct told him that this type of show, if done with the right challenges and competitive angles built in, Hilfiger could get a much higher valuation for his business.

He was right.

In fact, that’s what the show did. Rather than a paltry $760M, which is where the business was valued prior to the show, Hilfiger sold the business for $1.3B after the one and only season of The Cut.

Brilliant.

Darren’s ideas always take a mediocre concept into overdrive, making them that much easier to sell and produce.

Since his UPN days, Darren has done a variety of producing, including Paula Abdul’s Bravo series, Hey Paula!, National Enquirer TV and current ideas he has thru his deal with Discovery Studios. But I can’t share any of them, else I’d have to kill you.

His advice for folks wanting to break into the industry is to network, have persistence, integrity, and kindness. It all goes back to how it started for him and almost anyone perusing their dreams – – “Luck is persistence in disguise.”

Darren’s creativity goes beyond TV and refurbishing a run-down apartment.  Check out this cool children’s book he wrote called Adopted Ed. Darren was adopted and had always wanted to write a book about it. It’s a very positive story, that at its core is about understanding, acceptance and empowerment. It’s a great one for all kids and adults to read!

Adopted Ed, by Darren Maddern

Adopted Ed is actually the first in a series of books that celebrates being different, and as you probably already guessed, he’s currently turning these characters into an animated children’s television series.

Class of Ms. Fitz, based on the Adopted Ed book series by Darren Maddern

And check out this incredible bedroom Darren conceptualized and created for his son. A Porsche bed WITH a garage and a tool box dresser? The carport shed over the bed is actually an Ikea loft bed. His son is too young for the loft portion, so using the box the car bed came in, he cut squares, painted them and fashioned a roof over the car port. He enclosed two sides of the car port with plastic polycarbonate roof siding. So clever!

https://www.imeeshu.com/2013/01/14/this-uber-creative-and-brilliant-friend-played-a-major-hand-in-what-we-currently-know-and-love-as-reality-tv/

garage shed over a race car bed. Made by Darren Maddern.

 

garage shed over a race car bed

red tool kit race car dresser

red tool kit race car dresser


red tool kit race car dresser

 

IMG_9302

Here’s the before photo of the dresser…

Broken dresser before transformation to cool red tool box red colored dresser

And check out this amazing light fixture Darren made! From Amazon he bought 3 different 1/18 scale Porsche cars. He made a base template out of cardboard and had an aluminum base made from it. The cable, various screws, secure anchors and light fixture pieces were all cobbled together from Home Depot. People would pay big bucks for this!

home made race car light for kid's room

Hope you’ve enjoyed this new series!

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  • I love this series, Meesh! So fascinating and inspiring!

    • imeeshu

      Thanks, Tricia! You’re next, so get ready to talk a lil surf! 🙂

  • Allan

    About 10 years ago I was pitching screenplay and was put in touch with darren, through a mutual friend and he was kind enough to take the time and take 4 of my calls and educate and mentor me on developing ideas for developing reality television….was so kind and willing to share his knowledge…hope he is doing well and is he still in the business?

    • meesh

      Hi Allan. So glad to hear your kind words. Yes, Darren is still in the business. 🙂

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