Around the time he was hosting the kid’s game show Vidiot for the ABC, Eden Gaha was on the cover of magazines with the likes of Dieter Brummer, Alex Dimitriadis and Craig McLachlan.
But he eventually turned his back on being an on-air presenter to pursue his dream of Producing.
Having worked in the US for 8 years, he is now so high in the realm of Mark Burnett Productions that he is Executive Producer on The Celebrity Apprentice. It was a bold risk to shun the spotlight, but a move without regrets.
“It’s been a great ride,” he tells TV Tonight. “Anyone who knows me from Australia will recall that I was more of a television host, although transitioning into producing interested me at the time with Channel Nine and my own projects. I got a Green Card and decided to try my luck over here so I packed up the wife and we moved and literally started again.”
After presenting Vidiot, Animal Hospital and Take 40 Australia, Gaha says even in Australia it was hard to be given the chance to produce.
“I started by producing my own stories on Animal Hospital, and I begged Peter Meakin (then) at Channel Nine to give me a job on Current Affair‘s Summer Edition just to prove I knew how to craft a piece.
“And they were on a one-day turn around too. I really enjoyed my time at Nine because you learned how to cover a lot with very little.”
Gaha’s first gig was as Dressing Room Production Assistant on a VH1 Divas concert.
“I pretty much took any job I could find because as much as I’d achieved in Australia it didn’t mean anything creatively,” he says.
“I was using the little bit of producing I’d done as a calling card and showing it to as many people as possible. I met one person who would introduce me to the next and one thing led to another. The real important part was getting a gig as a producer on Survivor season 8.”
With the show having “gone off the boil” in Australia, he was suprised to learn how popular it remained in the US.
“But that soon changed when I got to the beach and there was a crew of 400, helicopters at your disposal. And as a producer of those episodes you really do have control editorially over what’s going to happen and how to tell the story,” he says.
“It was as great learning curve and got me in with Mark Burnett. That led to Rock Star, The Contender, Pirate Master and ultimately Celebrity Apprentice where I am now as the Executive Producer.”
He also worked on the US version of The Block, known as The Complex: Malibu and maintained Australian links with Rock Star when he knew INXS were involved. Gaha even had a hand in Cameron Daddo landing the host role on Pirate Master.
“Cam and I are good friends,” he says. “The network exec at the time wanted a host with an accent and Cameron came in the room and blew everyone away. That concept in hindsight might have been a day late, a dollar short but we’re still proud of what we did. At the time too The Apprentice was winding down.”
On Celebrity Apprentice fellow Aussie Curtis Stone is also a participant, but Gaha says his Producer hat is first and foremost his priority, rather than giving anyone a leg up.
“It’s great having a mate on the show but I’ve got to be impartial,” he insists.
Gaha is one of a number of Australians working behind the scenes of Burnett productions, which began with Survivor: Outback in season two.
“You’d be surprised how many Heads of Departments are from Australia. Mark recognises the work ethic of Australians, their willingness to work hard in difficult environments. Survivor is the circus that comes to town. When you’re working in remote locations you’re in tents and caravans and Aussies just don’t mind that.
“I really enjoy the way in which Mark Burnett works and the way in which he cares about the stories. His success is no accident. The best of the best people work there. It’s an environment that brings out the best in their work,” he says.
“Survivor chugs along steadily here as a really high-rating format for CBS. Mark never lets it get tired. They keep the format fresh without bastardising it. And you’ve got to give it up for Jeff Probst too.”
These days Gaha and his small family visit Australia about twice a year, from his base in Los Angeles.
“It’s good to come back but it’s hard to leave when you do. The weather is beautiful and they know how to enjoy themselves. LA’s a great town, but it’s hard to get away from your own career sometimes. You go to a party and everyone’s talking about the week’s Box Office or whatever.
While his peers still continue to pursue roles in front of the cameras, Gaha gets a kick from piecing together the stories that make Reality TV succeed. He has no regrets about turning his back on a successful role as a TV celeb.
“I think in life you make very clear choices about who you are and what you want to do,” he says. “One of the things I realised was I was never going to be taken seriously unless I just became a Producer. It was important to divorce one career to start the other. I’m not saying I’d never ever do it again. Ryan Seacrest is successfully doing both and making a very nice living out of it. But honestly my focus right now is as a Producer,” he says.
“I love what I do. I don’t miss the performance aspect of being a Host and for now that’s where I’m staying.”