He was one of the most famous TV faces in the 1990s but Eden Gaha says he hated being famous, and longed to get behind the camera.
But while pitching stories to TV execs didn’t get him very far, Gaha is now co-founder of his own production company Mother Media in the US doing deals with American networks.
Gaha hosted music game show Vidiot for ABC in 1992 before being lured by Nine’s David Lyle for Animal Hospital. There he badgered Peter Meakin to report for A Current Affair‘s summer edition, eventually producing his own stories. It was a taste of what he really wanted.
“Your acting teacher says ‘If there’s something else you could be doing, go and do it.’ I found my something else. I was never completely comfortable in front of the camera really. I didn’t love it. I mean, you know, I had a gift for it. I was fortunate enough to be able to talk underwater.
“I didn’t like being famous. I didn’t like the process of television”
Vidiot was fun but I don’t necessarily love the attention and you have to want to be a part of that.
“I didn’t like being famous. I didn’t like the process of television which was all shot in different scenes, out of context. What I liked was experiencing an emotional journey and the immediacy of an audience.
“I did enjoy acting on stage a lot more than I ever enjoyed doing things on camera. That’s probably what I miss the most, but no regrets.”
Although he made the documentary series The Ties that Bind Gaha was also pitching projects to Nine execs Michael Healy and David Leckie without much success. At the time he felt he was being seen as a star looking to for his own vehicle.
“Whenever I would pitch a show at Channel Nine I got this sense they thought ‘He’s just trying to find another on-camera role for himself,’ which wasn’t the case,” he recalls.
“So I thought that maybe being on-camera talent was getting in the way of my producing career. So when I went to the States, I said ‘That’s it. No more on-camera. I’m just a producer.’
“It’s funny because probably the reverse is true there. If you’re big on camera you can pretty much produce anything you want because you are a known quantity.”
“I was that naive young producer making shows that you want to do as opposed to making shows that the network needs”
Now as a seasoned exec himself, time brings further context to the pitching process.
“I was probably wrong in my perception. They were pretty raw ideas. I was that naive young producer making shows that you want to do as opposed to making shows that the network needs,” he suggests.
“Not really understanding their audience or understanding what their specific needs are. Moreover, Australia is a format-driven business where they’re going to take on formats from other territories before they take on new ideas.”
Gaha landed a producing role on Survivor under Mark Burnett which led to work on The Contender, Pirate Master, Rock Star and 5 seasons of The Apprentice with Donald Trump. He rose through the ranks to become president of Reveille Productions, then President of Unscripted Television, at Endemol Shine North America, overseeing MasterChef, The Biggest Loser and more.
“This is my show, this is what you bought, I won’t change it because I know it works”
He also made the US adaptation of The Block for FOX, which ultimately did not succeed. But there were inherent lessons he says can be passed on to Australian producers.
“We were forced to make so many significant changes that it wasn’t even that format anymore,” he explains.
“If you look at shows like The Block or Thank God You’re Here there’s this perception Australian shows don’t work and that’s not necessarily true.
“If we have the stones to stand up as ‘This is my show, this is what you bought, I won’t change it because I know it works’ I think we’d have greater success in other territories.”
Gaha says the Australian territory is particularly good at renovation shows and good at stripping shows across multiple nights.
“Where you see MasterChef stripped across three nights in Australia, that same content will be pushed into one hour of content per week in the US. So Australia’s just very good at that,” he explains.
“My good friends Jules & David created The Block and I’ve stayed in touch with them over the years and it just gets better because of the characters. They happen to be renovating apartments, but the characters are so good.”
He also recognises increased diversity on screen.
“I think I was the only wog on TV presenting shows back then, and it’s really leading into it’s really holding a mirror up to society saying ‘This is who we are today.’ I think that’s a good thing.
“There’s been a lot of talk about that in the United States and I don’t want to be critical of the industry but sometimes it can just look like tokenism.
“You want people of colour to be a part of your team, but it’s going to take a generation because they’ve never been encouraged to be a part of this business.
“It’s nice to come home and see that and see different faces on TV.”
“If you have that diversity across your production entity, on screen and off-screen, it’s only going to make for a richer, deeper storytelling. I think Australians are really coming around to that. It’s nice to come home and see that and see different faces on TV.”
Lastly, I can’t resist asking…. does he have any juicy Trump stories?
“I’ve got plenty!” he laughs.
“The Donald Trump that is the President of the United States is indeed the same guy as I worked with. But as that guy, he was incredibly good television talent. He was professional, he was on time, he didn’t need cue cards, he had a photographic memory, he did everything in one take. He cared about the show. He was an agitator. He was what made that show great.
“Anybody who has tried to replace him hasn’t succeeded as a result. But I don’t know if that necessarily translate to running the free world. There’s a lot of editing, a lot of good producing from a fantastic team that made that show what it is.
“The Donald Trump you see on TV today is exactly who he is. But we had to make a certain kind of show and so a lot of stuff didn’t make the final cut.”
“People keep talking about the tapes. There’s no tapes.”
But it’s bad news for those expecting evidence in the form of Trump tapes from the Celebrity Apprentice.
“What’s interesting about Trump is, there’s nothing to hide. He tells you everything. It’s all out there for the world to see. My answer to that question is ‘What more do you want to see? What more proof do you need than what he’s already said?’ Gaha asks.
“People keep talking about the tapes. There’s no tapes.
“I mean look, there were things said throughout seasons of the show in the board room but nobody was curating tapes and saying ‘We have this smoking gun.’ It doesn’t exist.”