"I was making the burgers and the Egg McMuffins and the Sausage McMuffins."
Q: How did you make the leap from The Andy Griffith Show to
A: It's really funny, you're driving your car or sitting on the toilet or raking
the leaves and a thought enters your head and picks up velocity and moves
around like a dum-dum bullet and then sort of goes out the other ear. If it's
a decent thought, then it kind of sticks a little bit and you just keep working
on it. I can't explain where things come from. America's Most
Wanted came from seeing "Most Wanted" posters and just saying, "It's
time to do it for TV and not for print." That's a pretty simple thought. It's
not really that easy to go from a concept to a television show, but in the
end, with enough elbow grease, it works. Or it doesn't work. Sometimes
with enough elbow grease you kill an idea.
Q: What's your favorite TV program right now?
A: [long pause] That's hard.
Q: Well, what do you regularly watch?
A: MTV. I just like the art that's within the music videos. I don't like MTV
itself, but I love the music videos. I can't stand it when they have stand-up
comedy and stupid game shows on MTV. The music and the art that comes
out of the videos is incredible to me. I really feel violated when I don't get
to see the videos. If there was another station that just showed videos and
got rid of the comedy and games and people in bathing suits writhing and
dancing, I'd be perfectly happy.
Q: What can you tell us about your personal life?
A: I have a very simple personal life. There's a woman that I've been living
with for 10 years, and I have a boy and another child due in December. I
have a very normal, boring personal life.
Q: Do you get out much?
A: I always like to see what's going on. If I go to parties, I drag my kid
along. Things haven't changed that much. Having a kid does have an impact
though. Hopefully, I'm just as curious as before.
Q: I read an interesting newspaper report that you were working at a
McDonald's restaurant earlier this year. Is that true?
A: That's a true statement. I was just curious to do things that I hadn't
done before. Since I was unemployed and doing nothing, I just thought it would
be an interesting thing to do. My ambition was to satisfy my own personal
Q: How long did you work there?
A: About 3 1/2 weeks, not very long.
Q: So you were flipping burgers?
A: I was making the burgers and the Egg McMuffins and the Sausage
Q: Was this somehow tied into research for a new TV show or movie?
A: No. I eat at McDonald's about once a day. When you go in there once a
day for the last 20 years of your life, you get a little curious about certain
Q: What did you discover?
A: It's just an incredibly well-run organization. That kind of surprised me.
It's completely buttoned-down. I frankly was not aware of what minimum
wage was. What do you think it is?
A: That's close. It's $4.21.
Q: If you could do anything you want in the entertainment business, what
would it be?
A: I'm really doing exactly what I want -- movies and playing with this TV
realm called home shopping. I don't want to sound arrogant, but I was lucky
enough to have the opportunity to have a few choices.
Beverly Hills 90210 was one Fox mega-hit not conceived by Chao during his tenure as president.
Q: Why does one TV show work and another doesn't?
A: It's kind of simple: I don't know. Actually, it just has to do with defining
and refining and stripping an idea down to its most original core, and then
preserving whatever the idea is. In some cases it's a writer, in some cases
it's a concept. It can also be an actor or an actress. Once you do that, you
have a reasonable shot. It's hard to have a hit television show, but if you
can strip an idea down to its essence -- and preserve it -- then you have a
decent shot at an original representation on television. You know,
Rosanne is bottling Roseanne. Cops is bottling the point of view
of a cop, which was original to television. Jeopardy is the gray matter,
brainiac show. And then you have to pray for luck and an audience.
Q: Do you have any final words on the much-ballyhooed stripper incident
that led to your firing?
A: I never had much to say about it and don't have anything to say about it
now. It's just been well-enough publicized. I don't particularly choose to
add to it or exploit the moment. I didn't then and I don't now.
Q: Do you hold any ill will toward Murdoch?
A: No. I like the man, and I still talk to him regularly. It was a business
choice that was made. I hope he has no regrets either over any of that
Q: You were reputed to have engaged in some odd behavior while at Fox,
such as pretending to fall asleep during pitch meetings with writers and
producers. Is that true?
A: [laughter] I don't even know that one. I could be true, but I have no
recollection of that. Some of these urban myths are fun. I just find them
Q: What's ahead for Stephen Chao?
A: I don't know what the future will bring. I'm very happy with the
situation. I certainly love the increased independence that I have now. It
allows me to focus on the issues, the matters and the creative aspects that I
consider fundamental to the product. I like the fact that I can devote my
time to the things that I consider important and not worry about several
thousand people who work for me.