Hustling in Hollywood: Alumna is Executive in Charge of Countless Reality Shows
Gretchen Kinder ’94 ΚΑΘ produces television shows, hobnobs with celebrities, and could spend all day sipping Champagne and gazing at the iconic Hollywood sign from her balcony in Hollywood Hills, CA — if she weren’t so busy. As Executive in Charge of numerous reality shows, Kinder has spent 25 years since graduating from Westminster hustling in Hollywood. And the hustle has paid off.
The Jefferson City, MO, native has racked up more than 30 reality shows and numerous commercials, music videos, and independent films. Most noteworthy to many are the juicier, celebrity-filled reality shows that are her specialty, such as Project Runway, Fear Factor, The Bachelorette, and The Apprentice. But Kinder’s lips are sealed about her encounters with headline-makers such as Martha Stewart, Oprah Winfrey, Lindsay Lohan, Sean P. Diddy Combs, and President Donald Trump in his pre-presidential years. Contracts demand silence, but overriding the legalities are Kinder’s Midwestern work ethic and natural humility. A sprinkling of business sense also adds to the mix. These virtues could be an odd assortment of qualities for many but are perfectly reasonable for someone with an English degree from a liberal arts college such as Westminster.
“There are a lot of paths from point A to Z,” Kinder explains. “The majority of people I know who are successful did not go to film school, but rather majored in history, English, psychology, business, or other studies that gave them an understanding of character, story, or negotiation.”
And “negotiation” is the name of the game Kinder plays as Executive. “I’d say I spend 90 percent of my time negotiating, whether it be rates or shuffling budget money, time, and creative ideas,” she explains.
One might wonder how someone with an English degree manages multimillion-dollar television show budgets. The answer is Kinder sees the numbers in terms of character. “The numbers tell me a story, and each 0 and 1 represents a person, an action, or a location,” she says. “Honestly, it’s more like a three-dimensional puzzle, and I have to make sure all of the pieces fit to enable our team to create a show.”
Kinder, far right, wrapped up America’s Greatest Makers in 2016 before moving on to ABC’s Great American Baking Show and Netflix’s current reality hit, Westside. Pictured to Kinder’s right is well-known television host Mike Rowe, who was one of many celebrity hosts on the reality show.
Kinder sums up these reflections during a holiday break after wrapping up two recent competition reality shows: The Great American Baking Show on ABC, with English heartthrob Paul Hollywood and Spice Girl Emma Bunton, and Westside, a new Netflix series Kinder describes as “docu-follow” that concentrates on nine singer-songwriters who are struggling to succeed in Los Angeles.
Kinder, left, her spouse, Alexis, and 18-month-old daughter, Sterling Page, recently took a trip to Cancun on a rare break from shooting.
In between taking down Christmas decorations and chasing after her 18-month-old daughter, Sterling Page, with her spouse, Alexis Kinder, a doctor of physical therapy, Kinder remains energetic and positive about her career, despite a few bumps in the Hollywood highway to success. Reality shows such as The Mole and America’s Greatest Makers, sponsored by Intel, didn’t turn out as well as Kinder originally hoped. “But I won’t take for granted all of the experiences of each project,” she says.
The Mole was shot internationally, and Kinder adds she is grateful for opportunities to work in a number of locations, including New York, Hawaii, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Puerto Rico, San Francisco, and of course, Los Angeles. “Since I work behind the camera, for me, it’s really about the crews, locations, and adventures.”
One adventure Kinder never tires of is the first day of shooting, which she describes as similar to the first day of school or any shiny, new job. “There is a perfect moment when everyone shows up and the possibilities are endless,” she explains. “Then it all hits the fan. Someone doesn’t show up, and the celeb doesn’t like their dressing room … a transformer blows up, or some small part doesn’t arrive, and there’s no way you can shoot without it.” Enter Phase 2 of Kinder’s job: What she calls “Resolution and Make It Happen,” where she works overtime, pulls out the tools in her negotiation skills box, and smooths over the rough edges.
Never one to back down, Kinder recalls an incident at Westminster where she easily could have given up and let her degree slide. She overslept for an English final, which was crucial for graduation, and she woke to a phone call from Dr. William Bleifuss, who asked where she was. “I asked him what I should do, and he simply responded, ‘Come down and take the test!’” Kinder says. She adds that such personal concern for students was typical of her experience at the College.
Kinder also says she benefited from Westminster’s emphasis on research — a skill she uses every day on the job. “My professors pushed me to look at every subject from all angles and always find the original source,” Kinder says, recalling with fondness her favorite faculty members: Professors David Collins, John Langton, and Wayne Zade.
Heavy preparation, showing up, putting one foot in front of the other, working hard day in, day out, and a little bit of grit is the surprisingly simple formula for Kinder’s success in a complicated, competitive industry. Such fierce determination found the tall blond fresh after graduation from Westminster at Los Angeles International Airport — with no prior experience navigating six-lane highways or driving large trucks — picking up a New York film crew in a box truck.
The sudden encounter was the result of countless cold calls to strangers she heard were in the business. Then a chance meeting at LAX with someone who used to be a producer, and more phone calls and introductions, led to her first job as an entry-level production assistant, lost in a giant truck with a film crew on an L.A. freeway. Three days into the job, however, Kinder proved herself to be invaluable to the production. Fast forward 25 years, and Kinder has become a name in the competition reality television industry.
“I read a statistic that said only 1 percent of people make it in the entertainment industry,” she says. “The one achievement that I am most proud of is that I am still here.”
Ultimately, despite the hype, Kinder says Hollywood can be just like Anywhere USA, and she puts her pants on like everyone else. “I’ve lived here now for more than half my life, but no matter how big the town is, you still have the grocery store you go to, the dry cleaner, and the post office, the neighbors you like, and the neighbors you avoid,” she explains.
And the Midwestern girl turned Hollywood heavyweight says that although her Westminster days seem far away from where she is today, she knows part of the foundation for her success comes from her exposure to the liberal arts. “Everyone who is not a legacy starts in the mailroom,” Kinder explains. “It is true that who you know gets you the job, but it is what you know that lets you keep it.”
Fortunately for Westminster, what Kinder knows about Hollywood today makes her a legacy of the College forever.