In Depth

12 to Watch: Chris Coelen

The Fox reality series “Secret Millionaire” premiered in December with little fanfare and low expectations—and turned out to be a surprise success. The same could be said for its producer, RDF USA.

12 to Watch

Three years ago this month, Chris Coelen left a comfortable gig running United Talent Agency’s alternative division to launch the U.S. offshoot of London-based RDF. He began with just one full-time staffer—himself—in a marketplace already crowded with Stateside subsidiaries of much bigger international players, including Endemol and FremantleMedia.

Now Mr. Coelen oversees more than two dozen executives and a programming slate featuring close to 30 series greenlights, from “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” (Fox) and “How to Look Good Naked” (Lifetime) to a Mike Fleiss-produced series premiering this spring on The CW. Fox Alternative President Mike Darnell told TelevisionWeek that he hopes to order a second season of “Secret Millionaire” soon.

While nonfiction programming will always be one of RDF USA’s core businesses, Mr. Coelen is planning a major push into scripted production for 2009.

“In the next year, we’re going to hire someone to come in and run our scripted business for us,” he said, adding that the fiscal prudence reality producers bring to projects is in high demand at the broadcast networks these days.

Mr. Coelen also is beefing up the role of RDF sibling Pangea Management Group, which represents clients in both scripted and unscripted programming. In a groundbreaking deal launched last year, Pangea partnered with Bravo to represent the careers of media personalities born from Bravo series. Pangea is close to announcing a similar deal with another network.

There’s also a good chance RDF will acquire outside companies as part of its expansion plans. “I think you’ll see a couple of interesting alliances,” Mr. Coelen said.

AT A GLANCE

Name: Chris Coelen

Title: CEO, RDF USA

How long in current position: Three years

Year of birth: 1968

Place of birth: New Brunswick, N.J.

What to watch for: RDF USA will try to duplicate its reality sucess in the world of scripted TV this year.

Who knew? Mr. Coelen’s mom first pierced his ears when he was in ninth grade. “It’s in honor of my Native American heritage,” he said.

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