When I walked into Andrew Strauser’s office, the man who created the TLC reality series “Cake Boss” and who has worked with Jennifer Lopez, I was expecting a true Hollywood executive, macho man demeanor and complete cockiness. Instead I got a calm presence and a welcoming open door. I congratulated him on getting married and he immediately took out his phone to show me all of his favorite wedding pictures and videos.
Strauser, the Senior Vice President of Unscripted Content at Studio71, believes that being friendly and likable in the entertainment industry is what will get someone ahead of everyone else. He said, “One of the main things I learned is to not be emotional in business and to take your ego out of it. Earlier on in my career it was hard for me to do that because I was fighting to be noticed or be promoted and there were times where I let my ego take over and I should have stepped back and taken a deep breath. Now I’m a nonthreatening person in the work place and I am not trying to compete with people. People want to work with people that they like so checking my ego at the door has helped me a lot.”
Strauser wanted to be in the entertainment industry ever since he was little. He was born in New Orleans, Louisiana to two very loving and supportive parents. When he was fifteen years old his parents allowed him to move away from home to live with his aunt and uncle in Dallas, Texas so he could go to a better school and compete on a gymnastics team because he didn’t have the same opportunities in Louisiana. He believes that this is what gives him his drive today. He said, “I learned at a young age if you want to do something you have to put in the effort and make sacrifices. I don’t think I’d be where I am today if I hadn’t made that choice at fifteen.”
His move at fifteen gave him courage to make an even bigger move at nineteen, to Los Angeles, California. He first went to the University of Mississippi and then moved to Los Angeles where he worked for a year coaching gymnastics to become a resident and finished college at Cal State University where he studied Radio, Television, and Film with an emphasis in Television Production. He immediately started working upon graduation.
He worked as an assistant at NBC in the Promo Department and then started temping around in different places until he landed at a talent agency called SDP Partners as an assistant to three agents who represented actors in film, television, and theatre. He worked there for five years. “Working at the talent agency made me discover my love for the entertainment industry specifically working with talent,” he said.
Strauser shifted gears and became a freelance casting director. He went to Germany to work on Fox’s reality television show “Joe Millionaire.” After that he came back to Los Angeles and got the pilot of the show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” that became a massive hit on ABC and ran for ten years. He casted all of the original designers and hosts for the show. He changed from being a freelancer to becoming an executive after the hit of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” He said, “Once I did that everybody started calling me to do similar shows for them.I did about seventy shows in six years.”
After this, Strauser ran the talent development department at TLC where he first started as the director of talent development and casting, then moved to senior director, and then to vice president. At TLC, for eight and a half years, he developed shows where he would go out and find talent that he believed could carry a show and then would develop the show around them. “Cake Boss” was a perfect example of that.
At that time the president of TLC, Eileen O’Neill, wanted to have a show that had to do with baking. Strauser searched for good bakers all over and had tapes sent to him. A baker from Detroit sent him a tape that aired on Food Network, and there was a little clip on that tape that showed Buddy Valastro. Strauser then immediately went to go find Buddy. He said, “He was like a cartoon character and I had to track him down.”
Strauser then went to Hoboken, New Jersey and met Buddy as well as his whole family and the more he learned about them the more he liked them. He pitched the show during a green light meeting and O’Neill didn’t love it, so she scratched it. Then, two weeks after the pitch, she said yes to the show. After shooting the pilot, the show wasn’t getting the traction it was supposed to get, but TLC and Strauser kept going.
TLC aired the first episode right after “John and Kate Plus 8,” during a time when there was drama in that show, and “Cake Boss” was a huge hit. It had two to three million viewers. “Cake Boss” became the most successful show on TLC, Buddy became the most franchised person at TLC, as well as got the largest publishing deal of discovered talent ever, and became a global star.
One of Strauser’s favorite things about his work is getting the chance to change someones life. Strauser said, “Buddy wrote me a letter afterwards just thanking me and of how appreciative he was and that he will never forget what we did for him. He took off his chef’s coat and gave it to me and he signed it ‘To Andrew the man who discovered me, Buddy Valastro,’ and I have it framed in my place.”
Strauser also enjoys creating entertainment for people so that they can get their mind off of their everyday problems. He said, “I like being creative and creating fun shows that people will enjoy. When I’m on a plane or at Thanksgiving dinner and I talk to people or family and friends and they ask me what I do, and I tell them that I created “Cake Boss” and they say ‘Oh my God that’s my moms favorite show’ it’s really rewarding. The world is a big scary place and there are a lot of things happening in it and its just nice to be able to create entertainment that people can enjoy and watch to take their mind off of stresses or the crazy things happening in the world.”
He wanted a new creative challenge after working at TLC. At first he thought he was making a big mistake. Strauser said, “I struggled a lot whether or not I should leave TLC because it was a dream job and I loved it, but I needed to push myself and to grow and to move past it.”
He took a completely different route and started working for Jennifer Lopez. Jennifer Lopez has a company called Nuyorican Productions and they wanted Strauser to run her unscripted programming. He wanted to be a part of this because he got to do more with unscripted by working with production, development, and talent. He mainly worked on “World of Dance” which Lopez produces. However, after a year of working with Lopez he decided to leave. “It was obvious to me that she wanted to focus more on her scripted projects rather than unscripted, so after the year I didn’t want to stay, and I came to Studio71,” he said.
Studio71 is a leading company in digital entertainment where they sign influencers and help them become bigger stars through getting brand deals, production assistance, management and optimization help, as well as other things. Strauser loves working at Studio71 because it combines the two worlds of entertainment: traditional and digital. Strauser said, “What’s cool about Studio71 is that I can develop shows specific to Youtubers and Youtube channels to sell not just to digital but also linear and I can also develop outside of our Youtube channels, so it’s a nice position because I can have my foot in both doors. I can have a linear television door where I can sell shows to big networks while also selling to digital outlets like with Facebook and Snapchat.”
Stephanie Torres, the Development Coordinator for Unscripted Content at Studio71, has been working for Strauser for around six months. She said that when leaving her prior job at High Noon every executive told her that she was in good hands with Strauser. She emphasized that Strauser gives her creative freedom which most development coordinators don’t get and that throughout the six months of working with Strauser she is amazed with his talent and is constantly learning from him. Torres said, “Everyday I watch him when we are meeting with other executives or on calls with buyers and the way he talks and how he pitches is very eloquent. Tucker Simmons and I can pitch something to him or brush him up on a show idea in thirty seconds and then we will go hop into a meeting and Strauser will sell the hell out of that show.”
Tucker Simmons, the Senior Manager of Development for Unscripted Content at Studio71, says that one of his favorite things about Strauser is how calm he is when it comes to handling stress. He said, “Other people I worked with, when crisis mode hits, it’s like screaming and yelling and people getting cursed out.”
Both Torres and Simmons agree that Strauser stands out from other executives because he has an open door policy and is super accessible and open to new ideas. Simmons said, “He is fun and a sweetheart and is really good at making it comfortable where I am not afraid of even sharing some bad ideas because its a brainstorming environment. He is such a nice person and is from Louisiana so he has that southern hospitality in his blood.”
Strauser has already planned his future goals. He said, “My ultimate goal one day is to run my own studio or network and work more internationally and live abroad. I just want to keep creating content that I am proud of.”
On his free time Strauser is a fitness guru, loves yoga, and is a big traveller. Traveling is what gives Strauser his inspiration. He said, “I have been to forty-five different countries and I get so much inspiration from traveling. I am dyslexic and I felt that I was never book smart and traveling helped me gain a lot of knowledge.”
Strauser’s next big trip is his honeymoon where he will be traveling to South Africa, Dubai, and London. Scott Jones, Strauser’s husband, is excited to be a part of Strauser’s traveling obsession. Jones emphasized that Strauser is always in the loop of what is happening in the world and wants to share its entertaining stories. Jones said, “He has a genuine curiosity about people from all different walks of life and he’s interested in telling their stories in unique and interesting ways. He’s so good at taking the seed of an idea and nurturing it through the development process. I think he finds a lot of satisfaction shepherding an idea from inception through completion.”
Strauser also shared that one of his role models throughout his career path was Eileen O’Neill. He said, “She is a member of the LGBTQ community as am I and it was really nice to have a boss and network president who was LGBTQ. In this industry that is not always the case and to be in that high of a level.”
However, Strauser himself is definitely a role model to the people around him. Strauser is known as someone in the entertainment industry who creates a friendly environment that is open to new ideas and is great to work with. He believes in being nice to others and creating a strong team in the workplace. Instead of being boastful and having an ego, Strauser wants to have a good reputation. Like Jones said, “He’s a great listener and a great problem solver. He’s always willing to help anyone and everyone and he’s very generous with his time. He’s someone you know will be there for you when you need him.”