I'm watching this hilarious French farce...Each week, Pierre and his friends organize what is called as "un dîner de cons". Everyone brings the dumbest guy he could find as a guest. Pierre thinks his champ -François Pignon- will steal the show. It sort of what we did with lukeford.com... Have you ever had a dinner for idiots or for who can bring the ugliest girl?
Seeking Saul Zaentz
Jeff writes: Luke, have you tried to interview Saul Zaentz? He's one of the greatest producers of all time and he made it outside the Hollywood system (in Berkeley, California no less!) Give him a shot as he might like to talk to you, especially about how [he believes] both the Weinsteins/Disney screwed him out of millions on the English Patient (and you thought all Jews loved one another in Hollywood!).
Eyes Wide Shut
I couldn't keep my eyes off the first three-quarters of Stanley Kubrick's last film. Mesmerizing.
Chaim Amalek disagrees: Totally utterly unrealistic. Kubrick had lost it. Has none of the look an feel of New York.
Luke: But there are gorgeous chicks. Who cares about realism?
Chaim: But THAT'S exactly where he lost it. Consider the scene where a beautiful (white) girl, maybe 16, 17 years old, is seen working the street. Never happens. In New York she would be black or brown or a trannie, fat, and ugly. In fact, all the ho's here are UGLY.....but in the movie they all look like, well, like movie stars. If he had made it more realistic, the whores would all have been skanks. Also the "secret world of the rich and powerful" misses the mark entirely.
Khunrum writes: "I think Chaim has to be more specific. Ugly, druggie, lice infested street ho's yes. But what about the "escorts"? These are supposedly a better quality of ho and I would assume more attractive than the lowly streetwalker."
Interview With Movie Producer XXX
On February 26, 2002, I met XXX YYY at his mansion. We speak in his office, covered with pictures of him with famous people.
Khunrum writes: "And Luke...What's up with this malarkey "I met XXX YYY at his mansion"....You have added another twist to the Luke Ford cocktail, "Secret" Producer Interviews. Sorry buddy, I don't think this new ploy will bump your readership up past the 20 people per day mark. To do that you are going to have to interview more famous types. Say HHH FFF or even ZZZ TTT."
Luke: "Why did you become a movie producer?"
XXX: "Since I was six years old, I've acted in school plays. I wasn't going to come out here because I did not know what I wanted to do. Growing up, everyone says, 'Don't be an actor. It's a terrible business to go into. You're never going to make it.' Nobody ever says you're going to make it. I worked on Primary Colors. It was great."
Luke: "Why do you think that movie didn't work? [Made for $80 million, it grossed less than half of that in the US.]"
XXX: "The marketing. That movie came out the same time as the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The studio wanted to downplay that because it didn't want to exploit Clinton. You know Clinton exploited Monica. The ad could've been perfect. You could've seen Travolta hitting on a girl on one half of the screen and Clinton and Monica on the other. And it would've been the biggest movie ever. They didn't do any advertising. While I was living in New Orleans, I saw one advertisement on television for it. For an $80 million movie, you should've been seeing it every day. No one knew the movie was coming out and that's why it flopped.
"And it was probably too intellectual for the public and not enough sex and violence."
Luke: "Did you work with Mike Nichols?"
XXX: "Yeah, I got him coffee. I ran errands for him and for everyone else on set as well. All the PAs on the set had a relationship to be a PA. Everyone was Mike Nichols' cousin or John Travolta's wife's nephew. Everyone had some sort of hookup to get them the lowest job on the set. They had 12 PAs.
"It was a great experience to see how a set worked and what everybody's job was. To see how much the studio blew on a movie."
Luke: "Where did that $80 million go?"
XXX: "You want to know. Catering was $1.2 million. I could've made a movie from the catering budget. We had Chateau Brian for lunch. They flew in lobster from Maine for dinner. They had sushi chefs on the set. Travolta wanted all that. Travolta had three trailers and four meals every meal. He had four different platters of food he could pick and choose from. And a $20 million salary.
"The only problem that I saw on the set was when they shot a scene in Santa Monica. Mike Nichols was on his cell phone. And the First A.D. set up the shot and yelled, 'Action!' And Mike Nichols turned around and said, 'Who the fuck is the director?' Mike whigged out.
"All the actors were great. I spent half my time playing baseball with Billy Bob Thornton at night. That was one of my jobs - to play catch with him. Travolta never came out of his trailer. All the other actors were friendly with the crew. Travolta was aloof and private. He goes to the set and stays in his trailer. I don't think that's good. I think an actor should get more involved with the crew because the crew makes the film work. You want to love your talent because your talent are the stars.
"Even if you've been in this business for 20-30 years, hopefully you still get starstruck. Because that's why we're here. Because of the glitz and the glamor. And if it gets old, why be here?
"The funny thing about this business is that people at the top, or even going to the top, never want to help anybody else. Nobody wants to help anyone in this town. Everyone's out for themselves. It sucks because a lot of people work hard and never make it. It would be nice if once in a while you saw a star reach out and give a helping hand. You know how lawyers have to do pro-bono work. I think every star should have to do one cameo in a low budget movie every year. Because it helps producers get their films made. If I had Travolta for two weeks and do a small supporting role in my film, I could raise all the money I needed to make my film.
"There's no union for producers. There is, the Producers Guild of America, but it is not very strong. If they set up a picket, the actors and directors would just be producers. Now the agencies are becoming producers. It's getting crazy.
"I wanted to be a producer. I had no idea what the fuck I was doing. I needed a script. I decided to write a script, with a girl I'd met over the previous summer. It was a fictional account of my life with a lot of truth thrown in. I thought I should write what I know. And I fictionalized it to make it commercial.
"I had no idea how to write a script. And neither did this girl who'd never written or directed anything before. I submitted it to Universal and the comment that came back was: 'This sounds more like a psycho-analytical case study than a screenplay.' So that ended my screenwriting career.
"Do you mind if I smoke?"
XXX snorts and pulls out a cigarette. "I shouldn't even be smoking."
Luke: "It sounds like you are starting to establish yourself."
XXX: "I'm trying. It's really tough. Everybody wants to be in the business. I've gone further than most but I've had the benefit of my family who support me. It's hard to get anyone to listen to you.
"There are some producers who know development. There are some producers who just have relationships. There are some producers who just know physical production. I think a producer should know all those three.
"I was speaking to a 27-year old friend of mine at a production company with a deal at Warner Brothers. He says he wants to be a producer. I've sent him scripts for hopefully Morgan Creek to do. He says, 'We're looking for $30 million films, not $10 million.' I said, 'How do you know the difference? You've never produced a film.' He said, 'I just know.' I said, 'You've never worked on a set.' He said, 'I don't need to.'
"I said, 'What's a gaffer?' He said, 'I don't know.' I said, 'You want to be a producer and you don't know what a gaffer is? You are what's wrong with this industry. This is why producers end up overpaying and overspending. You could cut costs in half if top producers knew what everything costs and knew what everybody did. Then they'd know where they could cut corners.'
'Then you have producers who don't know development. They don't know how the story should work. And then there are those without the relationships, like me. Which makes it harder to get anything done.
"I read an article in the LA Times about a month ago. It was a hysterical article about this agency in Japan that breaks people up for a living. They break up couples. They go on covert operations. It's a non-confrontational country. They hire this agency to help them break up with their girlfriends.
"So I emailed the writer in Japan. He emailed me back, saying he'd had a few offers. 'Let me get back to you.' He gets back to me and asks what I'm going to offer. In the meantime, I pitched my friend at Gold Miller who represents this director Keenan Ivory Wayans. My friend passed. He said he already had something like it.
"I didn't know what to do. I didn't have a writer to develop the story. So I blew it off.
"Last week, I'm sitting at dinner with an assistant at ICM. He said he had a funny story to tell me. At the end of every week, all the assistants have to come in and pitch story ideas to the story department to show what we've learned and how to pitch... I was reading this article in the LA Times. It was the same article. 'I pitched it. They loved it. They put a writer on it. The option was for $50,000. They pitched it and sold it to Dreamworks for $500,000.'
"It's all about access. If I had that access, I could've pitched it and been a producer on it for Dreamworks."
Luke: "What type of access would you have needed to make that deal?"
XXX: "I would've needed access to a writer, who would read it without me having to call their agent and wait three months to get the writer to look at it. And I would've needed someone to make a call to Dreamworks to get me a meeting. I don't know anyone at Dreamworks.
"I submitted a script to CAA four months ago. They said they really liked it and they were going to help me package it with a director and an actor so I could get it made. They haven't done anything. I'm a little producer."
Luke: "What type of movies do you want to make?"
"I want to do big concept movies. I want to make movies that are released on 2000 screens and that everybody in America wants to go see. Movies like Armagheddon, Independence Day, American Pie, There's Something About Mary.
"I'm working on a movie now about a married guy who loses three-quarters of his testicles in an industrial accident on the day he's going to make a baby with his wife. He goes on a journey to try to buy his sperm back that he had donated when he was young at sperm banks all over the country so he could buy his wife a ring. It's like There's Something About Mary. He's outside a sperm bank one day after they'd tossed away a lot of sperm. And he falls into the dumpster. It's really funny and grotesque. And it's a cute story. It's all about his love for his wife. He wants to have this complete family because he was an orphan but he doesn't really understand what family values are all about. He could adopt a kid. It's a cute, fun, raunchy comedy.
"I'm working on a project about three guys who are cleaners. They clean up hits that have gone bad. And they get set up by the DA. When someone fucks up a hit, these guys come in and kill the hitman, clean up the area. They have specialty DNA where they can see all traces of DNA. A cool action comedy.
"I stay away from dramas and period pieces that aren't action based. They're hard to make."
Luke: "How would you compare New York society to Hollywood?"
XXX: "There is no society life here. The society consists of actors, directors and producers. There's no family society. There's no social register."
Awakenings - Why Didn't Anyone Prepare Me?
I'm not normally into movies about the ill and the retarded but this is a heartbreaking 1990 film. A new doctor (Robin Williams) finds himself with a ward full of comatose patients. He is disturbed by them and the fact that they have been comatose for decades with no hope of any cure. When he finds a possible chemical cure he gets permission to try it on one (Robert De Niro) of them. When the first patient awakes, he is now an adult having gone into a coma in his early teens. The film then delights in the new awareness of the patients and then on the reactions of of their relatives to the changes in the newly awakened. But eventually the drugs wear out and the patients return to their previous comatose state. Nothing works. (Imdb.com)
Down Under With Russell
I faxed an interview request this afternoon to the office of underappreciated Director Brett Leonard (The Lawnmower Man, Hideaway, Virtuosity). I got a call back saying he was "in Australia with Russell."
"Russell who?" I thought. Then I realized it was actor Russell Crowe.
Hollywood people keep tossing off the first names of celebrities as in, 'I talked to Bob the other day.' Bob means Robert DeNiro. Marty means Director Marty Scorsese. Steven is Director Steven Spielberg.
Ok, I can dig. I can catch up with the lingo.
Ego check. I go to Google.com. I put in 'luke.' I hit search. I find out that I am now the second most prominent 'Luke' on the internet, next to a Luke Martin. I'm slipping. I used to be number one. Lukeford.net gets 1/20th the amount of traffic of lukeford.com.
One way to check out how much pull you have in Hollywood is to call someone and leave a message. The quicker they call you back, the more pull you have. I don't have much pull.
Khunrum writes: Luke.... Is there just a tiny.....I mean a minuscule temptation to return to xxx and reclaim your lofty perch. I am sure it is there waiting for you.
A Monday Afternoon Conversation
A producer calls.
Producer: "When's your deadline?"
Luke: "I don't have one. I'm still researching the book."
Producer: "How do make money?"
Luke: "I sold some writing a year ago for XXX and I'm living off that for the next two years."
Producer: "Are you one of those English eccentrics who can get by on a piece of string?"
Producer: "When was the last time you picked up a meal for more than three people?"
Luke: "I can't remember."
Producer: "I'm the biggest producer you've got on your list [that I send to everybody when I ask for an interview."
Luke: "I've got Stephen J. Cannell, who's produced a billion dollars worth of TV programming."
Producer: "That's television s---."
Luke: "I interviewed Barnet Bain. He produced the $60 million Robin Williams film What Dreams May Come."
Producer: "Where's Sydney Pollock?"
Luke: "I haven't secured that interview yet.
"Marc Frydman, major motion picture producer."
Producer: "I want better names on the list before this book goes to press. You've got Edgar Scherick. That's a good name to list. People can't call him up and check with him about you because he's sick. You need some serious names. Now that you've got me, you can do better. Use me as your low point."
Luke: "You will be the rock upon which I build my book."
Producer: "Where's Peter Guber? Where's Steve Reuther at Bel Aire Entertainment?"
Luke: "I thought they'd run out of money."
Producer: "They're always in trouble but they still make movies. That's a great question. How come you are always in trouble yet you still make movies? He will say, 'Get the f--- off the lot.' Here, call this person and so-and-so."
Luke: "I'll use your name."
Producer: "Don't embarrass me now. Wear some clothes [unlike the Chabad 'I did a mitvah for Israel' T-shirt Luke wore to this particular interview]. Look like you know what you're doing and that you got a check recently. Good luck. I'll get back to you with a better version that what you sent me [transcript of our interview]."
Luke: "We'll do lunch."
From www.rakemag.com: Years ago, my father told me a little rhyme he learned growing up in Mississippi. “If you are white, you’re alright. If you’re brown, stick around. If you’re black, get back.” This little ditty seems to capture what happens when Minnesota publishers of white mainstream publications put black people on the cover of their magazines. They simply do not sell as well.
In April 2002, The Rake put a Somali woman on the cover to highlight a top story about strained relations between blacks and Somalis. According to The Rake editor Hans Eisenbeis, the issue had nearly twice as many returns as the previous issue which had Bob Dylan on the cover. “That issue was one of our strongest issues editorially. The writing was great. But people just did not pick it up. Tom [Bartel, The Rake’s publisher] warned me that putting a black person on the cover could be a problem.”
Bartel admits that when he owned City Pages, he found that putting dark faces on the cover torpedoed the pickup rates. “We tried it enough times to know that we were taking a risk.” According to Rebecca Sterner, a Minnesota-based publishing consultant, “magazine covers with black faces just don’t sell as well. This is not just a Minneapolis problem. It is a national problem.”
Illustrating her point, Sterner spoke about a major national magazine that featured Cosby Show kid Raven-Symone on its cover. The photograph was “gorgeous.” Yet the issue bombed. “The magazine was very frustrated. They thought the issue would fly off the racks.”
Sterner believes there are two explanations—one harsh and the other a bit more politically palatable. “One could simply say these things happen because we are a racist society. The more charitable view is that people are more comfortable buying a magazine when they can identify with the cover subject.”
Bob Boden - Gameshow Guru
On June 14, 2002, I interviewed gameshow guru Bob Boden at his Game Show Network office in Culver City. He serves as Senior Vice President for Programming.
Bob: "I grew up in Flushing, Queens, New York. I was intrigued by gameshows. As early as the age of six, I went to tapings of gameshows such as Password. I knew instantly that it was what I loved and what I wanted to do. It's been a lifelong passion for me.
"When I was six, my mother took me to a taping of Password at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City. I remember sitting in the balcony and because the view was blocked, they had installed the largest television screen. I was so enamored by that screen, I wanted to go back all the time. I drove my mother crazy.
"Throughout gradeschool, junior high and high school (NYC's John Browne High School), I would regularly attend tapings of gameshows. I would watch them whenever I wasn't in school, from morning to night. During the summer, I'd sit in my pajamas at home and watch gameshows morning to night, about 30 hours a week.
"It's a fanaticism. I'm not hiding it. I'm not embarrassed by it. But there's an education along with the fanaticism.
"One day I refused to go to summer camp. I didn't want to learn how to swim or to ride a bike. I wanted to stay home in pajamas and watch TV.
"I organized "gameshow Night" at the school with recreations of the The Match Game and The Gong Show.
"My parents were registered nurses. They met in nursing school and got married. They had no interest in television. They respected my passion and allowed me to study and learn and watch as much as I wanted to. I tip my hat to them for not making me be like all the other kids."
Luke: "What did the other kids at school say about your passion?"
Bob: "I don't think anybody thought it outrageous. My friends were into it too. A group of us would go to tapings in New York City all the time. I was moderately popular. I hung out with some of the performing arts kids. When I first came to California, I thought I might have some performing ambitions. But once I understood what was really involved, and noticed the kind of people who relied on that for their work, I knew I was not cut out for it."
I notice a picture on the wall from Boden's high school yearbook that says that his number one interest is TV gameshows.
Bob: "I applied to Yale University. When the interviewer asked me about my career goals, I said I was interested in entertainment. Pressed for specifics, I said I wanted to be a gameshow host. His jaw dropped, and I knew the interview was over.
"I majored in Theater Arts at UCLA. I arranged my classes around my work schedule. In my sophomore year at UCLA, I got hired as a cue card boy. I did that job throughout the next three years of college and for several years after school. I'd take classes in the morning so I could go to the studios in the afternoon and learn all about production and television.
"Starting in my Junior year, I called up a gentleman at CBS. I was doing a project on TV ratings. I asked him if he would, each week, give me ratings for daytime programming so I could compile statistics. The project lasted about two months but I continued to call him weekly. He continued to talk to me. And ultimately I was able to get an internship working in the research department at CBS. There I got to know the people who did The Price is Right, which taped in the same building. I'd hang out at The Price is Right and watch how the show was done.
"I started calling them asking for an internship. Up to that point, they'd never had an intern and they didn't want to do it. I kept calling them every week for six months until they finally let me become an intern. And that was a dream come true. I still get goosebumps when I go to see The Price is Right. I just went to a taping two weeks ago.
"I fully expected that my internship on The Price is Right would lead to a job on The Price is Right, since they loved me and I loved them. But I found that nobody ever leaves a job on the staff of The Price is Right because it is the best job in Hollywood. The hours are reasonable. They get a lot of time off. They're well compensated. The excitement, environment and fun of that show is unbeatable.
"I graduated from UCLA in 1981. I kept the cue card job going for several years. I got a job as a production assistant on a revival of Queen for a Day. In 1982, I visited the Career Placement Planning Center at UCLA to look at their listing for entry level jobs. And there was a listing up there for a research analyst at Paramount TV. I got the job and I worked there for a year. Then I moved to CBS and replaced the guy who I'd called every week for the ratings. I became the manager of research for CBS TV.
"That started a wonderful journey that took me through five years at CBS. When I was there a year, a memo was sent around to all employees about a training program. It was a way for people outside the company, at selected colleges around the country, to get entry level jobs inside the network. A year prior, they'd opened it up to internal employees as well who wanted to move up and get into programming. I looked at the application and thought, 'They'll never pick me for this. There have to be thousands of people who want it.' I tossed the application in the trash.
"An associate of mine in the next office said, 'Hey, did you see that memo? You've got to apply for that.' I took it out of the trash, filled it out and sent it in. I got a call from Personnel. I was selected in a field of 400 people as a quarterfinalist (out of 6000 applications). I interviewed. A few weeks later, I got a call saying that I was a semifinalist (in a field of 17). Eventually, I was one of three people selected for the training program, and the only internal selection.
"For a year, I got to travel through every area of CBS to learn everything that everybody did in the whole company. I went through all the areas of programming from comedy to drama to news, sports, daytime, movies... I went to New York for six weeks and learned about sales and affiliate relations. They offered two of us a chance to create an area we wanted to work in and they would choose a job for us. I chose daytime programming. I was made responsible for some of my favorite gameshows including the $25,000 Pyramid show. I worked with The Price is Right and some of the soaps including The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful.
"After a couple of years on this job, I was contacted by Barry & Enright Productions. It was one of the premiere gameshow production companies. The man who contacted me was Dan Enright, renown for having been the mastermind of the Quiz Show scandal in the 1950s. He was played by David Paymer in the 1994 movie Quiz Show."
From PBS.org: "The show [Twenty One] went on the air in 1956 and we felt that it had such great quality and content to it that we would not have to rig it," Enright recalls. "In fact, the first show of "Twenty-One" was not rigged and the first show of "Twenty-one" was a dismal failure. It was just plain dull."
The next morning, the show’s sponsor, Pharmaceuticals, Inc., which produced Geritol, called Enright and Barry, telling them "in no uncertain terms that he never wanted to see a repeat of what happened the previous night," remembers Enright. "And from that moment on, we decided to rig Twenty-one"
Enright and Barry believed they could attract more viewers if they could find guests that the audience would want to root for or against – and then choreograph these guests' involvement. The plan became reality with the appearance of an affable, 30-year old English professor from Columbia University named Charles Van Doren. Van Doren’s reign on the show would stretch for 14 weeks and his appeal would turn the show into one of the most-watched television gameshows of the 1950s. "Twenty-one" became such a success that NBC bought it from Enright and Barry for $2.2 million.
Van Doren’s first victory came at the expense of Herbert Stempel, whom Van Doren replaced. Stempel was bitter about his loss and Van Doren’s meteoric rise and national fame. He began to haunt Enright’s office, saying he would expose the rigging that took place behind the scenes unless he was given more money or a steady job. Enright put off Stempel with the promise of future opportunities.
Finally, Stempel, frustrated with Enright’s broken promises, went public with the charges that he had participated in a fix. Enright denied all charges and participated in a cover-up. In his book about the scandal, "Prime Time and Misdemeanors," Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Joseph Stone recalls Enright’s initial reaction to the early reports. When Enright came to Stone’s office, the "Twenty-one" producer said that "unsubstantiated allegations like Stempel’s, if not repudiated, could seriously damage the reputation of the show and destroy it." Stone adds that Enright portrayed Stempel as "a disturbed person and a blackmailer." According to Stone, Enright looked him right in the eye and denied ever giving Stempel prior answers.
Slowly, though, Enright worked his way back into the television business. In the 1970s he joined up once again with his old partner Jack Barry. The two returned to what they had done for so long: They produced gameshows such as "The Joker’s Wild" and "Tic Tac Dough," which was popular on the networks and in syndication as well.
Bob: "Dan Enright asked me to be his director of development and try to sell gameshows to the networks. In 1988, I left CBS to take that job. I worked with Dan and learned about producing and development. Then my mentor at CBS, Michael Brockman, had gone to ABC, where he was in charge of daytime and latenight programming. He asked me to come to work for him. I did. I was the Director of Daytime Development for about a year. We put on a new version of Match Game which now runs on The Game Show Network. I worked for him for a year and then Michael left the network.
"I was recruited by Disney to manage the development of a gameshow to be based on state lotteries. It was going to be a live show every night that would give away a million dollars per show. It was a big idea. I was put in charge of recruiting the producers. Two months into my time there, Disney pulled the plug on the project. I had a one year contract to complete. I worked with Disney on the development of numerous gameshows including Class Clowns.
"For 18 months, I went into a freelance mode which was frustrating. I worked with PBS to produce a primetime gameshow based on Nova [science show]. I was a consultant to a new cable channel that at the time was just an idea. It was called The gameshow Channel. Sony was a co-owner along with United Video and Mark Goodson Productions.
"And the folks at Mark Goodson called me and asked me to work with them. They were developing a lottery show in Illinois called Illinois Instant Riches. It was the first of many lottery shows the company would do.
"Some friends of mine from high school had our pictures taken outside this studio where they did the $25,000 Pyramid for this gameshow magazine. When we went there in high school, we would hang around backstage to try to get Dick Clark's autograph. I got his autograph many times."
Luke: "How did you get the name 'the gameshow guru'?"
Bob: "I don't know. It's an unofficial title. In college, I did get the XXXname TV Bob, which has been my license plate since I got my first car in 1982. I have a production company called TV Bob Productions.
"I got a job on the Game Show Network. I was director of programming services. I was in charge of the live production we did every day. We had a four-hour live show in the morning of interstitial material, and a primetime show. I was here morning to night every day. They were live interactive shows, the first of their kind. After a year, I left and went on a journey through more of gameshow land.
"The first step was the Family Channel. I was hired as the executive in charge of the new daytime show called Home & Family, which was hosted by Cristina Ferrari and Chuck Woolery. It was a two-hour a day live talkshow done at Universal Studios.
"The Family Channel started to build a block of three hours of gameshows in the daytime. They made me vice-president of daytime programming. I was doing five gameshows and a two-hour a day live talkshow at Universal Studios. It was wonderful and exciting. I ran from studio to studio.
"In 1997, the Family Channel was sold to Fox and Haim Saban. I decided that I needed to move on. I didn't want to be involved in more management changes.
"I went to work for F/X cable network. I was put in charge of development and production. The network was still doing live daily programming from a studio apartment in New York. Our biggest show was our collectibles show. The network wanted to get away from that New York apartment deal to more of an edgy male-oriented network. They asked me to find product that would satisfy that need.
"I got a pitch from Stone Stanley Productions to do a gameshow based on a theatrical experience they had done called 'The Real Live gameshow.' What made it a big idea was when they added the talent to it - Bobcat Goldthwait. It was called Bobcat's Big Ass Show. Not the most shining moment of my career but a helluva lot of fun.
"We did that show for about six months. It was a raucous latenight party atmosphere. Stone Stanley was producing [the TV show] Loveline at the time and they used the same kind of studio energy and young excitement. The games were bizarre and outrageous.
"The F/X show I'm most proud of is a variety show - Penn & Teller's Sin City Spectacular. I also did the first strip improv comedy show with the Groundlings called Instant Comedy."
Luke: "And how far would they go?"
Bob: "They went pretty far. We had some edgy material on there."
Luke: "How far did they go with the stripping?"
Bob: "No, no, no. A strip means that it is on five days a week.
"Then my boss Mark Sonenberg left the network. His successor came in and wanted to go in a different direction than I was going. He kindly and generously escorted me out.
"For the next year-and-a-half, I was freelance again. I had a production deal at Telepictures. Then I learned that the current version of Family Feud was coming back. I called over to the production company and asked if they would allow me to work on it. I was hired as a supervising producer. I did that for six months and then a show called Who Wants to be a Millionaire? came on. And that changed my life. That was the rebirth of gameshows on prime time after a 40-year absence.
"Millionaire came on. Dick Clark had the foresight to know that that show was going to be a hit. And he wanted to develop his own show in the same category to sell to another network. He called me to work with his team to develop a show which ultimately became Greed.
"One week after Millionaire premiered, on August 16, 1999. On August 19, Dick called me. On August 23, Dick brought me in. We invented the show. On Tuesday we pitched it to Fox. We sold it on Tuesday. We pitched it again on Wednesday to Doug Herzog, the president of Fox entertainment. He gave us money to develop it.
"We did a run through and five weeks later, showed it to the management. They gave us a greenlight. Four weeks later, on November 4, we were on the air. We were Fox's big sweeps show. The ratings were good. It skewed young.
"I was hired by Dick as an executive producer. We did 44 episodes of the show and then it was canceled. Shortly before it went off, Dick offered me a contract to work for him as Senior Vice President of Development for Dick Clark Productions to help him sell other product.
"I worked with Dick until last September. That was another dream come true. He's a childhood idol. He's been a true hero and a gentleman to me."
Luke: "Why do you have an invoice framed on your wall of Dick Clark refusing to reimburse you for lunch?"
Bob: "One of the jokes about me in town is that I never pay for lunch. It is well know that if you go out to lunch with me, I won't pay. Dick knew that. I took out one of his development executives and picked up the tab and then put it in for an expense reimbursement. I was reimbursed. But when I was leaving the company, the guy that I took out, Barry Adelman, tracked down through the accounting the receipt for that lunch and had Dick sign this invoice asking me to reimburse the company for the lunch they picked up."
Bob: "No. I don't pay for lunch."
Luke: "Where did you come up with that?"
Bob: "I don't know. When I got into television, I realized that food was plentiful. When you work on sets, it's all over. So I got into the thought, 'Gee, I don't have to pay for food because wherever I go, there's food.' When I worked at CBS, my counterparts would send me down to the different sets in the building to bring up food. I'd go to The Young and the Restless to get donuts. I'd go to The Price is Right to get bagels. I'd go to The Bold and Beautiful and get muffins. I was always getting food for the executive floor. Over time, it developed into a routine.
"Ask any producer in town about me, and I hope they'll say that I know gameshows. But what they'll say before that, and louder than that, is that I never pay for lunch."
Luke: "What else are you known for?"
Bob: "There's not much else in my life. I have a beautiful little girl who's eleven years old. Her name's Micki. She loves gameshows. She's been with me on every set that I've worked on. And she's sat in the control room since she was three. She understands gameshows and has a passion for them, maybe not as strong as mine. She's my passion. She's my reason for living."
Luke: "Are you married?"
Bob: "I'm remarried. Her mom and I divorced several years ago. I have a new wife and we're hoping to start a family."
Luke: "Were gameshows the reason for your divorce?"
Bob: "No, and you don't want to know.
"Last June, I got a call from Rich Cronin, who was the newly appointed president of the Game Show network. That gentleman who I had worked with prior had just left. Rich called me and said, 'I've been talking to a lot of people in town and all the roads seem to lead to you. Would you talk to me about coming to the Game Show network?'
"I said I'd be delighted to talk but I am happy where I am. I was already at the Game Show Network and it was a difficult experience for me. I'm not sure I wanted to come back. He said, 'I understand. But let's meet.'
"We met. He bought me breakfast. He's got my allegiance right there. We had a great meeting. I liked him. I started to believe that it would be a better experience working here. Then he bought me lunch. I thought, 'If he buys me dinner, I'll take the job.'
"He made me an offer. I went to Dick and said, 'I don't want to leave you. I hope you don't want me to leave. But I've been made this offer. It's attractive and it's exciting for me.' He put his arm around me like he was my dad and he said, 'You have to do what is right for you. And if this is your dream, you have to chase it.' So he let me out of my contract and I came here.
"I'm in charge of current programming, development and production. I love what I'm doing. We're putting new shows on the air all the time."
Luke: "Are there any gameshows that disturb you?"
Bob: "I'm not wild about the trend towards mean. When we did Greed, and we put the terminator into it - an element where two players who were previously partners now face off - I thought that was mean. But that's what Fox wanted - an edgy, contemporary element. That idea spawned much of what you see today - the voting off philosophy. Survivor did it first. Then The Weakest Link came about, which is all about eliminating the players. I think the industry went too far with shows like The Chamber and The Chair.
"It's one thing to have fun at the expense of a contestant. It's ok for contestants to be cutthroat with each other and eliminate each other. What I don't really buy into is the idea of people going on a show just to be tortured. I think that's wrong. To put people in a situation where they are physically in danger doesn't sit well with me. I think Fear Factor is a fine show because the contestants choose to do daredevil stunts. And although the eating stuff is on the gross side, they signed up for it and they can always pass."
Luke: "How about shows like Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? and The Bachelor?"
Bob: "I watched Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? and I was totally captured by it. I loved it. I thought it was great TV. I cried when they got married at the end of the show. I thought it was beautiful. I'm sorry that it was not well-researched and that these people turned out to be not who they said they were because I think that put an unnecessary cloud over what could've been a special form of television.
"I loved The Bachelor. I watched all the episodes. I thought it was well produced and engaging. I was really involved in the story. I don't see that as a gameshow. I see it as more of a reality show with a storytelling throughline. Just because it has a competitive element and a winner doesn't make it a game to me."
Luke: "What did you think of the movie Quiz Show?"
Bob: "It was interesting to me because I knew Dan Enright. Before he passed away, he knew they were going to make the movie. He wanted to write his own script, telling the story from his point of view. He died before the movie came out. He left this world thinking that the true story was never told. The movie had extra meaning to me. I think there were parts of the portrayal that were dead-on and there were parts of it that were glorified for the movies. It was a great movie."
ET's Mary Hart
From Sunday's New York Times profile of Entertainment Tonight host Mary Hart:
LOS ANGELES: HER natural effervescence enhanced at 5:30 a.m. by a 20-ounce nonfat latte, Mary Hart sat in her pale pink office in the Mae West Building on the Paramount lot, surrounded by silk flowers and pictures of herself interviewing some of America's most famous people, like Cher and Billy Graham.
It was sweeps week in early May, and Ms. Hart, 51, was promoting that evening's installment of "Entertainment Tonight," the syndicated daily Hollywood news show that she anchors. Advertisement In nine back-to-back interviews, disc jockeys from radio stations across the country asked questions like "How's life in la-la land?" "Where does Tobey Maguire live?" and "How's Kirsten Dunst?" They told Ms. Hart that she was a babe. They sang the "Entertainment Tonight" theme song.
The D. J.'s addressed Ms. Hart with a mixture of forced familiarity and star-struck awe, a combination that seemed oddly appropriate. On one hand, Ms. Hart is not altogether unlike them: she's a working member of the broadcast industry. On the other, though she's not an actress or a Hollywood power broker, she's a celebrity all the same — a relatively new kind of celebrity that perhaps only a media-saturated society could produce. She's famous for reporting on the famous.
The Wasteland of TV Pilots
Austin Bunn writes in Sunday's New York Times:
Every television show starts as a phrase called a log line. Typically, it has the word ''young'' in it and doctors/lawyers/detectives fighting the system/one another. This phrase will be polished to perfection and then sold to agents, to the networks and -- assuming months of unbelievable luck -- to audiences via TV listings.
As investments go, television shows are long shots. So the risk needs to be divvied up. Studios, like Warner Brothers or DreamWorks, make the shows, and networks, like ABC or NBC, license them through an improbable system called ''deficit financing,'' in which the networks pay a fee for the program that amounts to 70 to 80 percent of the cost of making it. The studio covers the remainder. If, for example, a 30-minute sitcom costs about $1.6 million a week to produce, the network might pay $1.2 million to run it, with the studio fronting the other $400,000. (The studio's costs could go up to $700,000 a week for an hourlong drama.) It works like this partly because it works like this -- It's an age-old system, and it's not going to change,'' one executive told me -- but also because it's the best technique to coerce the studios to develop good shows and not just mindless fodder.
Studios see no real rewards for their investment until four years out, when a show hits its transfiguring 88th episode. This is variously referred to as ''the mother lode,'' ''the jackpot'' or ''Valhalla'' and is why everyone gets involved in television. With 88 episodes available to sell, studios can syndicate the show to local stations and overseas. A successful comedy can garner $2 million an episode, and a single hit underwrites years of failures.
Leslie Bibb of ''The Capital City'' tested ''off the charts,'' not because she's a smart actor with good comic timing but probably because the show features the former model in a shower scene. Even the quickest flash of skin sends the dial upward. The technology can track male versus female responses, and a scene in which one senator slaps another rated high with men -- All the guys went up; they loved it,'' Lurie says -- and not with women, who much preferred Bibb's first kiss.