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Looking back on ''America's Next Top Model''

Looking back on ”America’s Next Top Model” — Tyra and the team behind her hit reality series reminisce about the show’s first season

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Tyra Banks I brought the idea to my agent at the time. He would say, ”Nobody is interested in that.” He told me models are unsympathetic characters. So I went to my best friend who was a writer. He connected me to his agent, who also represented Ken Mok.
Ken Mok, executive producer Tyra and I met, and we hit it off. We sat for about two hours and broke down all the aspects of Tyra’s career. We took something mysterious and demystified it for people.
TB We pitched it to Ghen Maynard at CBS. He said, ”I’m [also] in charge of UPN and I think this could be a really good flagship for them.” At first our feelings were a little hurt. Why do we have to go to the smaller network? Then he was talking about demos, and CBS is older. He brought it [to UPN] and I’m so happy he did because it was nice to be a big fish in a small pond.
Dawn Ostroff, former entertainment president of UPN, current entertainment president of The CW It was kind of a courtesy pitch. Many times people have ideas who haven’t worked in television, and you always take the pitch because you never know where a hit can come from. Tyra totally understood how to entertain when she pitched the show.

UPN wanted to get ‘ANTM’ on the air as quickly as possible. Preproduction began in the fall of 2002 in New York City. The casting team had only about a month to scour the nation for contestants. Banks did radio interviews to spread the word.

KM We didn’t know what we were doing. We were prepping the show basically between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which was the worst time of year.
Michelle Mock-Falcon, casting director Tyra trained me in a really quick model boot camp. In New York I don’t even think we hit 100 people. Probably half of the cast came from video submissions and then people we met on the road.
Shannon Ratliff, ANTM runner-up American Idol had just come out and I was like, ”If they had this for models I would enter!” So I wrote Fox but, of course, I didn’t hear back from them. I told my dad that they should have this for models, and he saw [ANTM mentioned] in the newspaper.

When it came to finding judges and experts to populate the show, Banks turned to some old friends from the modeling world as well as Janice Dickinson, a fellow supermodel known for her past hard-partying ways. (Dickinson declined to be interviewed.)

TB I read Janice’s book and was blown away. She had worked with all the people I had worked with 20-something years later. I needed somebody on that panel that had lived the same life as me but had gone the other route.
Kimora Lee Simmons, season 1 judge I might have been a little bit skeptical because that was in the beginning of reality TV, but I would always do anything to help Tyra.
KM Tyra said, ”We’ve got the perfect runway teacher. His name is J. Alexander. He’s a black, gay man from the Bronx who teaches girls how to walk.” I was like, ”You can do that as a career?”
J. Alexander Tyra’s mother called me and said, ”Tyra has this idea for a show.” It was just another job. No one had any idea the show was going to get this big.
Jay Manuel I was working with Tyra [as her makeup artist] at the time. When she came up with the idea, she called me in the middle of the night. I was so intrigued.

Shooting lasted a fast and furious eight weeks, and it was done on the cheap — relatively speaking, that is. (The budget for each episode of season 1 was about $500,000. Today, an episode costs over $1 million.) Banks outfitted the contestants with her own wardrobe, and Mok negotiated a deal with Manhattan’s Flatotel to house the cast and crew in exchange for television coverage.

KM We lived in the hotel. The girls’ apartment was three suites that were put together. We had to find a room in the hotel [to be] the judging room. It was so tiny. It was probably like 12 feet wide by 14 feet long.
JA The s— was painful. You were stuck up on that panel like sardines.
TB I have a stomach condition, IBS, and I had a minor attack every single day on production. Every. Single. Day. Just the stress.
KM We didn’t have enough crews, so I had to shoot the first season. When people had gone home, I would pick up the camera at like 11 p.m. and start shooting the girls. My producer would be, like, holding a boom mic.
JM Tyra cared about the process on every level. Even when the set was going up, Tyra did a walk-through and said, ”No. This isn’t right.” She literally started picking up the glue gun.

Season 1 ended with Adrianne Curry winning the title of America’s Next Top Model. (Curry declined to be interviewed.) Now in its 10th cycle, ‘ANTM’ is the highest-rated series on The CW and has the potential to keep going. But for how long?

TB I feel like there may be a day when I’m not going to do it. I think it will live on with other supermodels hosting it. But forever? No. I don’t think it’s The Price Is Right.

Wondering about Mercedes, Naima, Jaslene, and more? Go to ew.com/topmodel