The Business of Television: Rob Long

Recently on The Business, host Kim Masters talked with Rob Long, a television producer with CBS of Cheers fame, and his efforts to save the sitcom Kevin Can Wait, Kevin James’ return to television, after the previous showrunner’s exit. Most of the talk is dedicated to how a producer goes about running a television show, specifically, how the different elements work together.

Long, on the problems with Kevin Can Wait:

“The problem was there was a bunch of people doing a different show, and you can feel that way when you’re in pilot production, but you can’t when you get to the episodes…I think there’s no room for error.”

“It’s not a business known for its decisiveness; and when you’re faced with some of these issues, you have to be decisive. Making a bold choice is almost better than waiting and making a slightly  better bold choice. The trick is making a choice and get moving.”

This is a common theme among television shows, but particularly sitcoms, as most are filled with different clashing personalities and opinions, all wanting the same thing. Given the recent tension among the WGA however, it is unlikely that Kevin Can Wait, will have much luck on CBS. Until the negotiation are resolved, Long’s job is mostly going to consist of juggling internal issues, like fostering up synergy between the crew and cast. Given his past experience, it shouldn’t be an issue, as long as he makes the choice to move forward.


The Failed Management Practices of Paramount and Why Disney, Universal, and Warner Bros. Succeed

The Business, this week, released their podcast focusing on the issue of pay-to-play auditions as well as taking some time for the Oscars. But what is even more interesting from a business perspective, is not the pay-to-play audition practice (illegal) or the endless machination that has become the Academy Awards, but their brief discussion on Brad Grey, as head of Viacom. Kim Masters makes the point:

“What we’re looking at is sort of a cultural thing…to many people nowadays these jobs of running studios are not about having a tremendous vision that you really want to bring and green lighting these movies, it’s about managing up.”

Matt Belloni of The Hollywood Reporter chimes in:

“If you look at the way Paramount was managed they weren’t  releasing a lot of films which can juice the numbers for a year…they weren’t creating these franchises that can move on to the next level. If you’re just doing another Star Trek, you’re not making enough movies to have that hit that generates a franchise; and they didn’t have the investment from the parent company to really invest in the top tier talent that can do that stuff. I think it’s an example of how you’re seeing the movie business bifurcate into this have and have-not system.”

Masters and Belloni make an excellent point. The reason why Paramount is falling behind in terms of the other major studios, and why Grey ultimately left the company, is because of poor management technique and the inability to make a franchise. The issue involves much of what Guy Kawasaki (The Art of the Start), Eric Reis (The Lean Start-Up) and most entrepreneurs caution in the corporate world. Management techniques are often very by-the-book and focus more on getting results fast and profit margins than on efficiency  and doing things right. They also do not address corporate synergy and fail to adhere to their mission and vision statements, which should be like their Bible in terms of operations. Poor management techniques are what drove companies like Big Idea Entertainment (the makers of the popular children’s show VeggieTales) into bankruptcy in 2006. While more information is needed in regards to the future of Paramount and the direction they follow, it would be wise for the new managers to focus on the lessons of Reis and Kawasaki- take things slow, develop corporate synergy, focus on efficiency instead of mass production, listen to your audience, and step back from previous projects to find the flaws and improve on them. That is the some of the steps of the learning process and explains the success of Disney, Warner Bros., and Universal; not because they made better films( which they did) but because they were able, and willing, to go back to square one and learn.

Why the Oscars Mattered

The 89th Academy Awards, the biggest night in Hollywood, will undoubtedly draw a crowd, and that crowd will mostly be people looking to see who won Best Picture. However, the Best Picture nominee is not the only thing that is interesting about the Oscars; if it was, the multi-million dollar production would be over with in five minutes. So, the question is, why, on the most basic of levels, do the Oscars matter? Here’s a hint: it has absolutely nothing to do with film-making and everything to do with people.

On Saturday February 25th, Bill Paxton, after complications with a heart surgery, died. The Hollywood Reporter, taking a break from the Oscar hype, decided to report Ron Howard’s tribute to the late actor:

“Bill was playful — yet dutiful — in his work as an actor, and likewise capable of being a strong and serious leader when directing a challenging scene on a movie set.

He loved adventure, and no one was happier than Bill when we were filming our zero-G scenes for Apollo 13 out over the Gulf of Mexico in NASA’s KC-135, nicknamed The Vomit Comet. For the record, Bill never lost his lunch through all those weightless scenes.”

The tribute, which can be viewed in its entirety on THR’s website, makes an important and often overlooked piece of the Oscars and the movie-making experience in general; one that now is only ever recognized in the In Memoriam section- the people who make films in the first place. Today, it is difficult to find a celebrity who doesn’t voice their political opinions for the entire world to see, and politics, frankly, are exhausting and incredibly divisive, especially when from an ideological standpoint Hollywood alienates half of its viewing audience every single year whenever politics are brought into the Oscars.

The day that the Academy rediscovers the reason behind the Oscars, will be a day that Hollywood will be forced to take a long look at itself and its values.