Reality-TV Titans at Magical Elves: Our 10 Fave Episodes We've Produced
Bands on the Run (Season 1, episode 1; aired April 2, 2001)
One of EW's 20 Best Reality Shows of all time. Three unknown bands (including the pictured Flickerstick) are given vans and sent from L.A. to San Francisco to play in three separate venues on the same night to see who could make the most money. We had no idea what we were doing or what we were getting into. One band member found out his father had died. He chose to stay with the band and play their show, which showed how powerful their bond was. Across the series we had fights, hookups, infidelity, heavy drinking, and ridiculous challenges. Has any other reality show ever done a beer-drinking race as a challenge?
Project Runway (Season 1, episode 1, ''Innovation''; aired Dec. 1, 2004)
A cast of talented and passionate fashion misfits led by Jay McCarroll, Wendy Pepper, and Austin Scarlett received their first challenge from Tim Gunn outside a Manhattan supermarket: Make a dress using only materials available in the store. When we saw Austin Scarlett's cornhusk gown we knew we had something. We thought Wendy Pepper would be the relatable single mom who dreams of a career in fashion as she sews dresses in her basement. She turned out to be a memorable villain, and Tim Gunn turned into a star.
Top Chef (Season 6 - finale Part 2; aired December 9, 2009)
Cain and Abel, Noel and Liam, Michael and Bryan. The finale came down to two brothers — two of the most talented chefs ever to compete in the competition. A lifetime of sibling rivalry came to a head over three courses, with their mother as one of the diners, and younger brother Michael (right) won the title and the prize money. As a consolation prize their mom gave Bryan the Camaro that both boys had coveted growing up. This was the episode that won the Emmy and broke The Amazing Race's winning streak. Bryan's restaurant Volt is fabulous, and Michael's eagerly awaited L.A. restaurant Ink is about to open.
Project Greenlight (Season 3, episode 1, ''Box Office or Bust''; aired March 15, 2005)
We were lucky enough to work with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck on one of our first series, and despite their star status they were so down-to-earth and inspiring in their dedication to this project. Out of that passion, John Gulager (center), the most unlikely reality star, was born. John was a talented shambles of a man who Matt, Ben, and Chris Moore championed to direct a comedic horror movie called Feast. His car conked out at the valet stand, and his credit cards were refused when he checked in to the hotel for his interview. Feast was a success and Gulager never misses a Magical Elves holiday party. He is currently directing Piranha 3DD, written by Feast scribes Patrick Melton (left) and Marcus Dunstan.
Top Chef All-Stars (Season 8, episode 12, ''Give Me Your Huddled Masses''; aired March 2, 2011)
The chefs traveled to Ellis Island and were handed a complete genealogical breakdown tracing their families' roots from the time their ancestors arrived in America. Mike Isabella (second from left) not only learned that his fierce rival Antonia Lofaso is a distant cousin, he also learned how to embrace the Italian roots he'd always been afraid to use as a chef. All the chefs were inspired to cook the food that is their heritage, and the results were so good that for the first time ever, the judges truly couldn't pick one chef to send home.
Work of Art (Season 1 finale, ''The Big Show''; aired Aug. 11, 2010)
The episode began with mentor Simon De Pury traveling to the snowy wastes of Minneapolis to visit hot favorite Miles as he worked on his final show. The dapper Swiss dispensed with his trademark double-breasted suit and arrived in a parka. He also improbably revealed that he had last visited the Twin Cities to see a performance by Prince. Guest judge David LaChapelle was moved to tears by Abdi's sculptures that had almost been abandoned after being damaged in transit. Abdi (pictured) went on to win the prize money and a very successful show at the Brooklyn Museum.
The Real L Word (Season 2, episode 6, ''Baby Batter Up''; aired July 10, 2011)
Kacy and Cori's difficulties in conceiving were an ongoing story line, but in this episode, Whitney decided to help plug an apparent gap in the market for lesbian couples: The girls had not been able to find a strap-on that would allow the partner who would not be receiving semen the opportunity to participate in the conception. Whitney's well-endowed male friend agreed to be cast for the contraption with hilarious consequences. Timing the preparation of the molding mixture with the perfect moment of male tumescence proved to be more difficult than anticipated. But the final result sits proudly on Kacy (right) and Cori's mantelpiece.
Last Comic Standing (Season 2, episode 5, ''Into the House''; aired June 22, 2004)
The comics moved into the house and faced their first challenge: performing for a late-night crowd at a Laundromat. This was a real comedy show performed at a real Laundromat for real customers who didn't know they would be getting a comedy show. And didn't care. At the time this was a huge show, and a big break for us. We're most proud of one particular bit of casting. There has surely never been a more unique reality talent-show contestant than Jay London (far right). ''You may remember me. I'm the third guy on the left on the evolutionary chart.'' All the comics (from left, Tammy Pescatelli, John Heffron, Gary Gulman, host Jay Mohr, Alonzo Bodden, Kathleen Madigan, and Jay London) are still working.
Braxton Family Values (Season 1, episode 3, ''It's My Birthday''; aired April 26, 2011)
A drunken cruise in Miami for Toni's birthday turns into a conversation about relationships that ranges from spicing things up through role play (''You mean you act like your husband don't cheat?''), to masturbation, and back to infidelity (''Like Mama said, 'All black men are unfaithful — except Obama'''). The Braxtons are a wonderfully talented and utterly hilarious group of women who always speak their mind and are not afraid of being vulnerable regardless of the consequences.
Top Chef Just Desserts (Season 2, episode 4; not yet aired)
This may be the ultimate episode of Just Desserts. Since it hasn't aired yet, we don't want to say too much about it, but it involves one of the greatest children's movies set in a chocolate factory of all time. The contestants cry when the challenge is announced, and it's one of the most creative and dramatic episodes of any show we've ever done.