Bailey, 47, and Barbato, 46, first met in the early Eighties when they were attending film school at New York University. They immediately began collaborating on everything from student films to the management company they started that helped make RuPaul famous. The two also became romantically involved but broke up six years ago (“after some incredibly successful couples therapy,” quips Barbato), a few weeks shy of their 20th anniversary.
In 1994 they moved to L.A., just as the cable universe was exploding. But when they launched World of Wonder in 1991, the idea was to make just enough TV shows to pay for documentary projects. “Randy and I started out wanting to make films, but our ideas were always considered too crazy for anyone to produce them. We realized that in order to make anything, we’d have to produce it,” says Bailey. Now, as prolific producers, they struggle to find time for their documentaries. “It was supposed to be the other way around,” Barbato says.
But Bailey and Barbato are hardly ashamed of their TV work. “Randy and Fenton pick iconic outsider pop-culture subjects that are immensely relevant to the insider nature of their audiences,” says Lauren Zalaznick, the NBC Universal president in charge of Bravo and Oxygen. “They are camp sophisticates.”
In fact, they think it may be time to retire the self-serious notion of documentaries. “What is reality television other than documentary?” asks Bailey. “It’s been a complete renaissance. Certain people think it’s some sort of abomination, but actually [reality TV] has been an amazing explosion of documentary making. And it’s documentary film that people want to watch. What people might think of as trashy is simply visceral stuff that is the opposite of cerebral.
“Cerebral might be labeled highbrow,” Bailey continues. “But in TV terms, cerebral is dull."