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The Obstacle Designer: Kent Weed
David Becker / NBC / Getty Images8/17

The Obstacle Designer: Kent Weed

What I Do:

As co-founder of A. Smith & Co. Productions, Kent Weed is one of the most innovative TV producers in Hollywood, behind such shows as Hell’s Kitchen, Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge, and American Ninja Warrior, which is currently ramping up for its ninth season. For Weed, designing obstacles for American Ninja Warrior is something of an art. “You want success, but you also want failure,” he says. “The obstacles won’t play well if they’re too hard — or even just too hard the first time. If it takes too long to figure them out, it doesn’t make for good TV, and it’s not fair to the athletes.”

Experience Required:

Sure, to be the show-runner for a hit show like American Ninja Warrior, you need a lengthy television resume. You also need to be fit. Believe it or not, Weed himself was one of the primary testers of the new obstacles in the early seasons. An avid triathlete and surfer, he is indeed a very fit mid-fifties and uniquely suited to helm a show like American Ninja Warrior. “I don’t do as much testing as I used to, but I’m still pretty athletic,” he says. “It’s all about the pull-ups.”

The Real-World Inspirations for American Ninja Warrior Obstacles:

Coming up with new ideas for obstacles is becoming a challenge for the production team. While they were able to recycle many from the original Japanese version of the show — crowd favorites like the Jumping Spider, Salmon Ladder, and Warped Wall — they ran out by about Season Three. “We all come up with the ideas, prototype them, test them, tear them down, and refine them, often right up until the minute we shoot — literally, minutes before we shoot we’re tweaking things.” Given this, ideas for new obstacles "come from all over: [while at a] playground, [from]  a dream one night, or even on location,” says Weed. “I’d be out with my kids and see something at the playground and think, ‘If we can combine that with this other thing, that could be a great balance obstacle.’ ” A couple seasons ago while shooting in Pittsburgh, Weed noticed a steel girder on set. “I immediately thought it would be great to see guys climb it, but upside down,” he remembers. -Will Cockrell

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