Julie Snyder: TV host dynamo and blockbuster producer

Dynamo TV personality and heavyweight producer Julie Snyder once wore a paper bag over her head to interview legendary actress Catherine Deneuve.

Dynamo TV personality and heavyweight producer Julie Snyder once wore a paper bag over her head to interview legendary actress Catherine Deneuve.

‘I’ve always been an anti-conformist,’ Snyder tells Playback in her typically candid manner.

The paper bag stunt was done to illustrate that Snyder felt ugly beside the French beauty queen – ironic given Snyder’s good looks. However, what it showed Snyder’s audience was her audacity – an approach that catapulted her to stardom in the early 1990s as host of L’enfer, c’est nous autres (Hell is us) on Radio-Canada.

Snyder continued pushing the envelope with her cheeky late-night talk-fest Le Poing J (1997-2000) – a play on the French terms ‘fist’ and ‘G-spot’ – on which she once infamously asked Hustler publisher Larry Flynt if he could still have sex although he’s confined to a wheelchair. (He answered positively.)

Today Snyder is one of the most powerful producers in Canada, and she maintains that her television strategy is innate.

‘I just follow my instincts,’ she explains. ‘I’m much more comfortable on television than anywhere else. I’m much more anxious in life than I am on TV.’

Snyder’s instincts have paid off in spades.

CEO and founder of Les Productions J in 1997, Snyder comprehends the uniqueness of the Quebec market. She knows that Quebec embraces its own people and loves to watch its own stars, quite unlike the rest of the current North American TV market, in which viewers get a kick out of shows such as American Idol, in which judges like Simon Cowell will shred a contestant as part of the entertainment factor.

‘In Quebec, the people who are on TV are like part of the family,’ confides Snyder. ‘American Idol couldn’t exist here because it humiliates people. Star Académie wasn’t like that. It was there to help family life, to get people around their televisions rooting for contestants from all over Quebec. It was like Sunday mass.’

Star Académie is Snyder’s own singer-star-search reality show which drew a staggering 80% audience share (3.2 million viewers) for the final gala episode in its first season (2003) on TVA. That broadcaster just happens to be owned by Quebecor, which is helmed by Pierre Karl Péladeau (see story, opposite), Snyder’s common-law partner.

Snyder’s $10-million-plus adaptation of Endemol Home Entertainment’s Star Academy music contest was also the dream vehicle for a media convergence experiment by Péladeau, which put the power couple (together since 2001) at the cutting edge of multimedia entertainment when the show took off like a rocket in 2003.

Promoted on Quebecor’s numerous media properties, Star Académie’s contestants seemed to be everywhere, all the time. Its subsidiary, Videotron, fed it to high-speed Internet subscribers who watched every move of the contestants, who were sequestered in Péladeau’s Ste-Adèle mansion and filmed in real time, 24/7.

Details of Star Académie’s contestants’ lives were also peddled ad nauseum in Quebecor-owned tabloids and entertainment magazines. Quebecor produced a Star Académie CD (that it sold in its own Archambault music chains), and the company’s publishing branch sold at least 55,000 copies of a Star Académie book.

Quebecor Media, the giant’s entertainment subsidiary that had experienced losses of $650 million in 2001 and 2002, reported a $32.2 million profit in the first quarter of 2003, an about-face that some analysts attributed to Star Académie.

Star Académie 2 in 2004 and the show’s third edition in 2005 were also top performers for Quebecor properties.

Also in 2003, Les Productions J launched the hit reality dating show Occupation Double, which drew nearly two million viewers every week in its first two seasons for TVA.

Snyder is currently planning the fourth edition of Star Académie and bringing back Le Banquier, Quebec’s take on Deal or No Deal. Le Banquier is another show that she adapted and hosted that garnered a whopping two million viewers per week.

One of Synder’s trademarks is to engage the audience in the shows.

For Le Banquier, 10,000 Quebeckers applied to appear on the 2007 edition. In both Star Académie and Occupation Double, contestants hail from all over the province. Special buses travel to communities across Quebec to select the contestants so that extended families and cheering hometowns become an integral part of the buzz surrounding each episode.

‘My shows are democratic,’ Snyder says. ‘I want them to have universal appeal.’

And while she’s constantly checking the pulse of her audience, she maintains her decisions are ultimately based on personal taste.

‘I always just go with things that I like,’ she reveals. ‘I’m part of the public and I always figure that if I like something, then so will the audience.’