There is a great woman behind every man, even Simon Cowell

Without the creative input of Cécile Frot-Coutaz into his American reality shows the TV mogul's fame and fortune would be considerably diminished, reports Stephen Foley in New York

You might be surprised to find a woman as highly cultured and haute-coutured as Cécile Frot-Coutaz running the television equivalent of a McDonald's franchise.

This, after all, is a woman who screws her nose up when describing the Los Angeles restaurant scene, and its dearth of good cuisine.

Yet the chief executive of the production company FremantleMedia North America is the woman who reimagined Britain's Pop Idol for a US audience, who brought the ... Got Talent format to American television, and who is about to launch The X Factor Stateside, too (minus Cheryl Cole, it now turns out). All three come from "a recipe book you can apply" in almost any country, she says, and you won't find her apologising for it.

These shows are well known for turning Simon Cowell into the most powerful reality TV mogul on the planet, but what many people don't know is that he wouldn't be there without Ms Frot-Coutaz's creative input over the past decade, without her ability to smooth ruffled feathers, or without her savvy in inking some of the most lucrative business deals television has ever seen.

It has been an up-and-down few weeks for the French-born, Insead-educated executive. Her American Idol juggernaut stayed on the road, confounding sceptics who thought ratings would crash without Cowell on the judging panel this year. But if Ms Frot-Coutaz wanted time to celebrate after the season finale at the end of May, it was not to be. Instead, she was having to deal with a major crisis at The X Factor, where Cowell had just fired Cole because of tensions between the British poplet and fellow judge Paula Abdul and problems getting American audiences to understand the thick Geordie accent.

So much for Ms Frot-Coutaz's prediction just three weeks earlier that "America will fall in love with her beauty, her accent and her incredible chemistry with Simon Cowell".

While Cowell is undoubtedly the driving force of The X Factor, and his company Syco takes the lead, Ms Frot-Coutaz is heavily involved as executive producer for Fremantle.

Back in March, when she shared her day's diary with The Hollywood Reporter, her mornings were already taken up with planning for The X Factor, including a phone call with Cowell – and this was even before auditions had begun.

The diary revealed that by the time meetings started at 9am, she had already had breakfast with the family (she is married with two children) and an hour-long session with a personal trainer. In the afternoon she was on set for rehearsals of the next American Idol show, and the evening involved a taping of America's Got Talent, where Piers Morgan took the Cowell role on the judging panel in 2006 and launched himself as a US television star in the process. And even amid all that juggling, there was time for Ms Frot-Coutaz to attend a parent-teacher conference for her seven-year-old daughter, Amelie.

Get your hands dirty, is her advice to upcoming executives. Staying involved in the production process is important, even when your job is high-level strategising, she once told the interviewer Leigh Henderson, and if you are a woman, "don't try to be a man. Use the fact that you are different as a strength." And one other piece of advice: "Don't forget to have children."

Ms Frot-Coutaz learned the business of television at the knee of Greg Dyke while the pair were at the UK firm Pearson in the mid-Nineties, when it owned Thames TV and acquired Grundy, the maker of Neighbours.

When Pearson sold its television business to RTL in 2000, she was already a high-powered European executive, and she followed her boyfriend (now, husband) to the US two years later. She has run the North American operation since 2005, putting her in charge of such august properties as The Price Is Right, the longest-running game show in the US, and new documentary successes such as Deadliest Catch, about Alaskan fishermen. In all, Fremantle made 872 hours of programming for US television last year, up from 705 the year before.

But it is as the queen of reality TV that she is best known in Hollywood. "Some think Idol is corny," she once said. "It probably is a little bit – but people like it."

The Idol franchise that originated in the UK has now churned out 43 different versions across the world, but American Idol remains its biggest banker. Some 38.6 million people in the US tuned in to see country baritone Scotty McCreery win the 10th season, and the show is sold around the world, including to ITV2 in the UK.

Few tasks are more important than selecting the judging panel for these shows, which is why the Cheryl Cole fiasco has taken up so many column inches. Ms Frot-Coutaz has said a show cannot survive with a "crap" panel, although she insists the format is strong enough to survive mediocre judges. The Idol judging panel was completely reinvented after the departure of Cowell and two others, with Jennifer Lopez and Aerosmith's Steven Tyler coming on board instead. Behind the scenes, for continuity, Fremantle and 19 Entertainment, co-owner of the franchise, brought back Nigel Lythgoe as another executive producer, and Idol is again flourishing.

In a victory lap of interviews, as the season posted better viewing figures than it had for several years, Ms Frot-Coutaz said: "It's like family. I spend more time on Idol than I do with my family, and there's that comfort that comes with those relationships. If something bad happened, they'd look out for you. They would."

On other occasions she has likened the relationships between the producers on these shows to a marriage, but one where divorce is not an option. Her relationship with Cowell is said to be occasionally explosive, since they are both forthright in their opinions, but it is based on a great mutual respect.

It is in no small measure down to Frot-Coutaz that Cowell has chosen to produce The X Factor and other Syco shows in partnership with Fremantle, rather than going elsewhere, or negotiating directly with the US networks.

Ms Frot-Coutaz is also the person closest to Fox, the Rupert Murdoch-owned network which picked up Idol and helped turn it not just into the most-watched show on American TV but also one of the most lucrative – thanks to comically ostentatious product placement deals, such as with Coca-Cola.

Now The X Factor is also racking up the sponsorship deals at a ferocious pace, with Pepsi and Chevrolet signing up, and Fremantle is expecting it to be a major hit on a par with Idol. The show will be shown on ITV2 when it starts in September, and it is being sold to many other territories, too.

Ms Frot-Coutaz always says you might as well take risks, since the worst that can happen is you can get fired. But, the little mishap with Cheryl Cole notwithstanding, it doesn't seem as if there is much risk with The X Factor. The recipe book is open at the usual page.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
music

News
Russell Brand at an anti-austerity march in June
peopleActor and comedian says 'there's no point doing it if you're not'
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
News
i100
Voices
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Arts and Entertainment
Sister Cristina Scuccia sings 'Like a Virgin' in Venice
music

Like Madonna, Sister Cristina Scuccia's video is also set in Venice

News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

Life and Style
The Tinder app has around 10 million users worldwide

techThe original free dating app will remain the same, developers say

News
news

Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

News
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Senior Pensions Administrator

£23000 - £26000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Corporate Actions Administrator / Operations Administrator

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: A Corporate Actions Administrator / Operations Admini...

Customer Service Executive / Inbound Customer Service Agent

£18 - 23k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Customer Service Executiv...

ASP.NET Web Developer / .NET Developer

£60 - 65k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a ASP.NET Web Developer / ....

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album