People are Dan Smith’s business—specifically, entertainment people. As creator and producer of Fox Backstage Pass, his goal isn’t just to get the biggest celebrities onto his weekly entertainment program: it’s to get those stars to look at what he can offer and definitively say, “Yeah, let’s do that.”
“There are a lot of things we do that are different,” Smith says in his seventh-floor office just south of Harajuku. “But, in all honesty, I had to do those things because I had to do something where we stood out.”
It was Smith who leveraged his experience as a former U.S. Air Force public relations superintendent to get Will Smith (no relation) on a Blackhawk helicopter ride from Nishi Azabu to Yokota Air Base and back to promote I Am Legend in 2007. At the time Smith was producing entertainment segments for Japanese networks with his independent Access Television LLC, and the stunt caught the attention of Fox.
Smith subsequently got the principal cast of 2012’s Battleship onto an actual U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, and when Tom Cruise came to promote Edge of Tomorrow, the Japanese distributor naturally approached him to find out what he could do to help promote the film.
The feather in his cap was when the promoter for Michael Jackson himself sought Smith out to cover what would have been the King of Pop’s final Japanese tour. “That’s when I started thinking, oh, maybe I’m kind of successful at this,” Smith says.
Now his only problem is the high bar he’s set. “I’ve got to make it better than what people would expect,” he says of his centerpiece show. “That’s the challenge that comes with me, and that’s the challenge I stress for our series: let’s not make it good; let’s make it greater.”
That can only get harder as Fox Backstage Pass approaches its 300th episode in 2015. While the show has had a few hosts since first airing in 2009, it’s presently fronted by Matthew Ireton, Ryohei Suzuki (star of Tokyo Tribe), and Maria Theresa Gow, better known by her stage name, Gow. “We made a conscious decision with Ryohei, Gow and Matthew that we wanted to upscale it a bit,” Smith says, noting that he offered Suzuki the show as a vehicle for expanding his own personal brand. While the hosts introduce each broadcast in Japanese, 70 percent of the program is actually in English, and even Japanese stars prefer to display their multilingual chops when in the interview chair—or limo, or helicopter.
It’s that variety that keeps Smith going. “I get up every day excited that I am never going to have the same day—never,” he says. “It’s never going to repeat itself. That in itself just gets me charged up to go out there and kick some ass. I love that aspect about my job, and I love that aspect about my programs.”
He’s currently fired up about Fox’s impending Halloween creep-fest, the Walking Dead Horror House, planned for October 10-12 at Obaken Haunted Mansion near Honancho station. Last year, Smith enlisted nearly every student at Yamano College of Aesthetics to orchestrate a 1,000-zombie invasion of Tokyo Tower that went viral around the world. “We don’t just think of it as a TV program,” Smith says. “We think of it as our communicative tool to everybody out there. It’s our stamp. It says who we are.”
As big fans of Halloween, we’re hoping he can raise that bar yet again.
Fox Backstage Pass premieres Saturdays at 1:30am on Fox Japan, with repeats Sundays at 8:30am. It also airs on Fox Movies Premium and the Fox Sports and Entertainment channels. http://tv.foxjapan.com