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Alum puts the business in show business

August 05, 2009

A degree at Arizona State University can lead a Sun Devil just about anywhere. The following is part of a series that shows how ASU's young alumni are already making their mark on the state, nation and world.

Are you smarter than a 5th grader?

If you’re reading a university alumni magazine, it’s a fairly safe bet. But are you smart enough to come up with a game show based on the concept, call it “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” and see it become a success?

John Stevens is. The Arizona State University graduate is one of the executive producers of the Fox network show, hosted by Jeff Foxworthy, in which contestants are asked questions taken from textbooks. (That’s harder than it sounds.)

It’s not Stevens’ first show. He’s also been the executive producer for the “Mandy Moore Show,” “Redneck Dreams” and “Busted,” among others.

Yet when he was at ASU, Stevens wasn’t working behind a camera. He was a business major – a choice for which he’s grateful. Television is, after all, first and foremost a business. “For me, the idea in business school, of taking concepts and deconstructing them and figuring out how they work … prepares you for the real world better than any other degree,” he said.

Stevens, 37, is a founding partner of Zoo Productions, based in Los Angeles, which produces “5th Grader.” He sold commercial real estate after graduating, but memories of an internship on “Late Show with David Letterman” brought him back to TV.

While ASU’s image as a “social” school in decades past is something some might seek to downplay, Stevens doesn’t. He saw it as an opportunity.

“I think the social climate at ASU, the number of people and types of people all over the country I got exposed to was really good training to prepare me for the business world,” he said. “It was the perfect place for me.”

By Bill Goodykoontz