This article is written by Jessica Hilo:
When I first spoke with Clinton’s Robert McLeod, he was, as I imagined of most Hollywood producers, jet-setting to Aspen, Colorado.
But McLeod wasn’t off to enjoy the world of the one percent. He was preparing for what would likely be one of those insufferable vetting sessions of American Idol that we, the consuming public, clamor to watch.
McLeod serves as a supervising producer at Fremantle Media—the company responsible for such family-oriented hits as, The Price is Right, Family Feud, America’s Got Talent, and, now, X Factor.
Though his credits are vast, this prodigal son tributes the town of Clinton with giving him the gumption for bright lights and big cities.
McLeod, a mild-manner father of two, caught the Hollywood bug at an early age.
“My older sisters were involved in the musical productions at The Morgan School and I used to go,” he said. “I was always fascinated and in awe of the kids in the productions. When I got into high school, I definitely wanted to get involved.”
McLeod joined Morgan’s choral and theatrical groups. “It was a big part of the school when I was there,” he said. “It wasn’t too geeky—it used to be kind of cool to be a part of it.”
Acting chops developed through college—Boston’s Tufts University, where McLeod majored in theater. As such, he participated in summer programs located in Maine and New Hampshire. Later, the pursuit of acting took him, as with many hopefuls in the trade, to New York.
“I always thought I was going to be an actor or a director—or something big like that,” said McLeod. “I performed in a lot of off, off-Broadway things, had extra work in Law & Order, and all the while I was working waiting tables and whatnot.”
McLeod relocated to California in 2000, where he enjoyed minor success with roles in Gilmore Girls, Judging Amy, and NYPD Blue. Though the parts trickled in, they weren’t substantial enough to support his livelihood. McLeod took odd jobs to makeup the difference—working as a freelance contributor for ABC Sports and filling in at various film production companies.
“I was always behind the camera and behind the scenes;” McLeod said, “and slowly that became a little more interesting to me - a little more steady work.”
Soon, McLeod joined the staff at Extra, working his way up the food chain towards segment production. He made his first leap into the world of reality television through Celebrity Justice, a show McLeod described as the prelude to TMZ with Harvey Levin.
Though his work continued to center on reality and celebrity television, McLeod created avenues for his interest in the arts. In 2006, he joined NBC in the production of America’s Got Talent—a varietal, competition show that highlighted the unique artistry hidden across the country. The show became a sweeping success—having recently completed its sixth season.
McLeod also produced Osbournes Reloaded, a short-lived lead-in for American Idol, which consisted of sketches, celebrity cameos, and musical performances.
“The acting became less and less and the producing became more and more,” said McLeod, of this period in his career.
Now a senior supervising producer, McLeod is engaged in all aspects of a show.
“I’ve mostly been involved in the taped video packages that are in the show,” he said of his reality television work. “We start off in the casting process, where I’ll oversee camera crews and producers; I’ll direct in the field; I work with the hosts of the show—like with Nick Cannon. We’ll also do field location and b-roll shoots.”
“Last spring, I was on the very tippity top of the space needle,” he continued, “shooting those types of wrap-arounds that open up shows.”
With McLeod and crew at the helm, America’s Got Talent captured the hearts of the American audience. Since its inception, AGT viewership has jumped to nearly 16 million.
“You know there’s the talent and competition side of it, but there’s also the storytelling involved—getting to know these people and where they come from. That’s a huge part of my interest,” said McLeod. “That’s probably the most rewarding and fascinating part of the job.”
AGT is, in some ways, emblematic of McLeod’s career in whole. At its core, is the belief that talented individuals who work hard deserve the opportunity to shine and a means for which to do it—the show celebrates big dreams as much as big dreamers. Through AGT, McLeod can revel in the thrill of performance and, as he put it, enjoy the infectious high of taking a risk when chasing down a dream.
“Clinton is where it all began,” said McLeod. “The teachers who worked at the school—Edward Byrnes, Bob Hale, Bill Gagnon, and a whole host of teachers—gave me that background of spotting talent and knowing when something is good and not so good.”
“That gave the foundation of being able identify and find talent;” he continued, “to open up your world to what is out there and available.”
“I’m not directing Brad Pitt or working with Steven Spielberg right now, but I’ve certainly had a lot of fun along the way and have learned a lot,” he said. “I feel very fortunate to have grown up in Clinton and gotten an amazing foundation to start off my life.”