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Producer Stan Rogow

I sat down January 16, 2002, with producer Stan Rogow (TV shows State of Grace and Lizzie McGuire) at his offices on Cahuenga Blvd in Hollywood.

Goddess writes: "Hey! I watch Lizzie McGuire all the time with the kids...mostly *without* the kids. I love Lizzie and Gordo and Miranda. It's a very creative show without any nasty language or sexually suggestive garbage thrown in."

Like most TV producers, Rogow had numerous hot looking young women working for him.

Upon entering his room, I'm jumped on by one of the two large dogs who nuzzled my neck and licked my cheek.

Stan: "I have an eight year old boy Jackson who is the principle reason I got involved with children's television. There wasn't much of my work that he could see. I started watching the stuff he was watching and I thought that I could do better.

"I sat that there was stuff people were putting into these [kids] shows that I got that he didn't get. There was an episode of Rugrats where a character drops his head into his hands and goes, "the horror, the horror." My son has not yet seen Apocalypse Now [nor read the Joseph Conrad novel which inspired it, Heart Of Darkness). And we in Lizzie McGuire do stuff like that on a regular basis. We did an homage scene from the Great Escape where Steve McQueen is in the cooler throwing a ball against the wall.

"I found an opportunity in children's television to do more adventurous material. Mainstream television was afraid of fast cuts, jump cuts, throwing an animated character in, having digital stills and doing adventurous storytelling. Part of the visual inspiration for Lizzie McGuire was the movie Run Lola Run which had cartoons and jump cuts... Nobody could do that in primetime television though now they've started to copy Lizzie's style in primetime. There's a show on the WB network originally called Maybe I'm Adopted that extremely close to Lizze McGuire. When people first saw Lizzie, they said, 'oh my God, what is this thing?' Because we were aggressive in our filmic style and every week tried to invent some new way to be aggressive while still telling fundamentally human relatable stories that kids respond to.

"Great television is really about connecting to the audience at some emotional level that they want to experience on a weekly basis. Kids today have grown up with MTV, Instant Messaging while listening to their MP3 players while talking on the phone. The information bombardment is easier for kids to accept that it is for grownups."

Luke: "Is syndication still the goal for shows like Lizzie McGuire?"

Stan: "It's different in our case because the Disney Channel usually end up not syndicating, holding, and then running again. Now we're going to do a Lizzie feature. We're now on ABC Saturday morning. Now it's more about the different platforms you can use to exploit the show. And within the Disney company, there are plenty of those."

Luke: "How did you come up with Lizzie McGuire?"

Stan: "I've known its creator Terri Minsky for years. He'd written a script seven years ago which I'd thought charming and appropriate for the Disney Channel. It started out as a soft low-concept show about a girl and her family. Originally it was just a voice-over where she'd talk her inner thoughts. The network asked for a higher-concept. I said we could visualize the voice-over with pop-up videos where words come up, or we could do an animated character. They said let's do the animated character. Then when we went into the production, we amped up the approach.

"That was something that children's television never seemed to care about. My point of view is that kids do not only watch kid shows. They watch $100 million features, primetime television, great special effects... They're used to seeing good stuff. I come from that world and I didn't want to diminish my level of production."

Luke: "What's the story behind State of Grace?"

Stan: "It was created by Brenda Lilly and Hollis Rich, loosely derived from their own experiences. I was good match for the project because I too grew up during that period from the 1960s. It's a story about a Jewish family that moves to the South during the 1960s. My family didn't move to the South but my father always traveled there. The show was intended for teenagers but we've broadened its appeal to women 18-54. We've discovered that we've made a show that kids can tell their parents to come watch with them and parents can tell their kids to come watch with them. This is a show that brings people together. It's true family programming.

"The show has an original tone. It's a comedy that makes you cry. It's a show that probably would not have been bought by a network. It started in the niche market of the Fox Family Channel now owned by Disney.

"I was born in New York in 1950 and grew up in Brooklyn. I went to college and law school in Boston. I never wanted to be a part of this business except when I was five years old and someone wanted to put me under contract at Paramount because I could sing and dance. But I would've had to move to LA and my parents weren't interested. The president of Paramount at the time told me, 'Son, if show business is in your blood. Don't worry about it. It will always be there.'

"I was a radical lawyer in the '70s working in the ghetto in Boston doing poor-people law. I thought that would be my life. Bill Kunstler was an inspiration to me. But I discovered that I was changing the community and I wasn't changing the world. I became frustrated because poverty was so institutionalized. Nobody really want out of the institution, they just wanted the institution to work better for them. I would say, 'Wait, you can take control of your lives.' And they'd say, 'We don't want to take control of our lives. We've got you. You can straighten it out and get us more money.' There was no perception of a legitimate way out. And back then, there wasn't a way out. By the time you've frittered away most of your elementary and high school education, it's done. Unless you want to go back and do a lot of pick and shovel work and get your high school diploma. That's why there are more colored people in jail than there are in college.

"While living in Wellesley, Boston, there was a 15-room mansion with a ballroom to rent. The people moving out were video freaks who were using computer graphics and doing documentaries and taping rockn'roll groups. I hooked up with them. I did three movies with them including 1980's Playing For Time about the Oxford Auschwitz starring Vanessa Redgrave."

From the IMDB.com: "This is not your usual stereotype Jewish holocaust movie: It goes much, much beyond any ideological rhetoric, to deal with the human condition. You have the Concentration Camp as a background for one of the best contemporary playwrights to create and develop his masterpiece. Arthur Miller persisted in his demand to put Vanessa Redgrave in the the leading role, in spite of all the threats and protests of JDL. Here, she presents one of her most magnificent performances as an artist trapped in the most dehumanizing conditions one could imagine. A must see."

Stan: "That was incredibly controversial because of her anti-Zionist statements at the Academy Awards."

Luke: "Did you know about her anti-Zionist statements?"

Stan: "Absolutely and we also knew she was a great actor. The day I closed the deal, I called my parents. I said, 'Guess what? Today we closed the deal with Vanessa.' They said, 'Which movie?' I said, 'Playing For Time.' They said, 'Are you crazy?' I said, 'What do you mean? She's fabulous. She's the best actress on the planet.'

"They said, 'Apparently you don't understand.' Apparently not. 'Nobody is going to like this.' It hadn't dawned on us. She's an actor, who cares about her politics. At the end of the day, she certainly isn't anti-Semitic. Why would she take this role if she was anti-Semitic? She has issues with how Zionism is playing itself out but that is not the whole of Judaism. So the movie became infamous and we had our offices attacked by the JDL. They came up to our offices and threw paint all over our offices. And I was standing there saying, 'Now wait a second. I understand. I used to be the guy who broke into offices in college and do all this but I've never been on this side of the thrown paint.'

"The final answer to that one was that Vanessa won an Emmy, Jane Alexander won for Best Supporting Actress and Arthur Miller won for Best Screenplay. The other two were Hardhat and Legs and Mayflower: The Pilgrims Adventure. Then I moved out to Los Angeles and produced the pilot of the TV show Fame. I wasn't interested in doing series television. I wanted to do movies. I was a snob and I didn't watch much television. During a good hunk of the 1970s, I didn't even own a television.

"I asked John Sayles to write the 1986 movie The Clan Of The Cave Bear. I optioned the novel by Jean M. Auel. John had the ability to write with simplicity and meaning. The people in the movie weren't able to talk so the voiceover that guided us through had to be economical and to the point and touch the same chords as the book touched."

From the 1997 book Hit & Run: "There is nobody in town that can move a project faster than Peter Guber," says Stan Rogow, who was associate producer of the disastrous Clan of the Cave Bear at Guber-Peters in the mid-eighties. The adaptation of Jean M. Auel's caveman bestseller starring Daryl Hannah had been dropped by Universal. "Guber set it up the next day at Warner Brothers. Before we were asked to leave the Universal offices, we had new offices at Warner," says Rogow. (pg. 120-121)

Stan: "I did ABC's first Sunday night movie that Michael Eisner introduced - Help Wanted: Kids. Later I did Rock 'n' Roll Mom.

"I started watching episodic television and saw there was some good stuff. I called John Sayles one day and proposed that we do a series together. Brandon Tartikoff at NBC heard we were cooking something up.

"John flew out here and I spent all day talking about my experiences as a lawyer for poor people who never wants to go to court because he knows he will lose. And we invented a different back story than mine about a guy who had done the corporate world and done some horrible things like representing people on the wrong side of the pollution issue and gambled away his life, his family and his career. And we find him down at the bottom starting over again.

"We did a two-hour movie Shannon's Deal which got great reviews. It was called the best show on television."

From the IMDB.com: "I remember seeing this show when I was a kid. I was just starting to get into books written by Nelson Algren and the films of Martin Scorsese. This show really reminded of those great storytellers. And since I was living in Chicago at the time, I could really relate to the gritty urban environment and the hard boiled but sympathetic characters. I was disappointed as hell when they canceled it after something like 10 episodes. It was the first of a long string of series that I fell in love with only to have them yanked by the bloated, greedy, scum-sucking networks ("EZ Streets" and "Under Suspicion" among many others). If you can find the pilot episode on video(written by the great John Sayles) I encourage you to see it. Then you could see what American TV could be like if it wasn't under the tyranny of the networks."

Stan: "The television critics nominated us for best new show. It was my first experience with episodic television. Then when Brandon left NBC, his successor canceled the show. I went to Paramount with Brandon and did his first movie, (1991's) All I Want For Christmas. I stayed at Paramount for six years. I did another show Middle Ages.

"I came to Brandon's office one day and he said, 'Let's do a show about guys our age.' It was the first television show a spec script was written on. Brandon said, let's not sell it to anyone. Let's just write it and then we'll go out and sell it.' We wrote the first two episodes and sold it to CBS. It was a great show and a personal show. William Russ played me and Peter Riegert played John Byrom. We took our lives and threw it up on the screen. The critics embraced it but the audience didn't show up.

"Then the network came to us and asked us to do a genre show, which was the 1993 PI show South of Sunset starring Glen Frey. It was a fun show but I didn't know what we were doing. It didn't have the heft I was used to. I'll never do that again. It'll have to be something that makes me want to wake up in the morning.

"In 1994, Disney and I took over Nowhere Man. The network didn't renew us because they thought they could do a lot better than a seven share at UPN. As history has indicated, I think they would take that seven share today."

Luke: "Though you've worked through the network system, you don't seem terribly cynical?"

Stan: "I'm realistic. It is what it is. It doesn't necessarily bring the best out in anything. Do I have a collection of unbelievably stupid notes I've been given over the years [by network executives]? Yes, and they're all the same because they are all based on not knowing how to make anything. As Brandon Tartikoff taught me, all you can ask of a network is at bats. Maybe I'll strike out. Maybe I'll hit a single or a double or even get lucky and hit a home run. Most stuff fails. If we only knew how to make hits, we'd only have hits. Please, just let me take my best swing and if I fail, I fail. But at least you will have the benefit of my vision, and that might just be the thing that works. But I don't know if a collective group of people ever made great anything. Certainly not great art, if we pretend we are doing art. And I keep some illusion that that is what we're doing. There are moments when I want out of the business and go back to New England and teach.

"I was lucky enough to make a series of TV movies based on the classic TV show The Defenders, which was the show that made me want to be a lawyer. I remember lying there with my father and want to be like those guys. I got to sit next to A.G. Marshall reprising the role he did 30 years ago. It was the last thing he ever did."

Luke: "How long have you been married?"

Stan: "Nine years."

Luke: "First marriage?"

Stan: "I was kinda married in law school."

Luke: "A lawyer says kinda married?"

Stan: "Back then, it was so uncool to be married. We were just living together, in the '70s in Boston. Our parents started getting on us. So we said, 'For their sake, let's get married. But let's not tell anybody' because it will be a colossal embarrassment to tell anyone we're married. So we got married and didn't tell anybody. Then people started hearing we were married. And we said, 'No, no, no. We only did it for our parents and we got divorced.' And quickly we did get divorced."

Luke: "Is it tough staying married and raising a kid in Hollywood?"

Stan: "I think it is tough staying married and raising a kid, period. I'm fortunate that at this stage of my career, I get to be home for dinner. I don't partake in the Hollywoodness of it all. I like my job. I get to live a mundane life with soccer games, basketball games. I've also made it a point to shoot in Los Angeles. Everything else comes second to my being a husband and a father.

"A couple of weeks ago, I was channel-surfing. And The Man In The Grey Flannel Suit was on, which is all about can you have both family and career. And it is difficult. It's why I was a selfish bachelor for all those years. For Clan Of The Cave Bear, I was mostly away for three years. We were scouting locations around the world. I couldn't do that today. I couldn't attempt to be this good of a husband or a father 15 years ago."

Luke: "Did you have a Bar Mitzvah as a kid?"

Stan: "Yes."

Luke: "Is your wife Jewish?"

Stan: "Madeleine has an interesting background. She was born Jewish and ended up going to Catholic school, which is exactly what happens in State of Grace, a Jewish girl ends up having to go to Catholic school. What is she? She doesn't know. But Jackson's Jewish. He knows he's Jewish. We certainly celebrate Chanukkah. We celebrate Christmas and Easter. We celebrate everything.

"My Bar Mitzvah was such a mixed thing. I learned more about Judaism in college when I took a class in the Old Testament than going to Hebrew School learning for my Bar Mitzvah. If it is something that he wants, he can be Bar Mitzvahed. If he doesn't want, he doesn't have to. I struggle to find a way because we've never belonged to a temple. The rabbi that married, Don Singer, in Malibu... It's Judaism meets Buddhism. I called him right before 9/11 to say that I've got to find a way to get Jackson some information about his heritage.

"My mother kept a kosher home. My father was much more secular like me. We went to an Orthodox synagogue for the high holidays. I went to Hebrew School four days a week from age eight to thirteen, and was thrown out almost on a daily basis. For being a wiseass... It was fine with me so I could get out and play stickball. My parents would always get called in and the rabbi would complain, 'He's trying to kill me.'"

Luke: "Is the Jewish girl in State of Grace going to have a Bat Mitzvah?"

Stan: "We're talking about that. In 1965, there won't Bat Mitzvahs, at least not in the South."