Five Minutes with TV A-Listers

 

 

BY CATHY CORCORAN

 

In a testament to the creativity that inspired Brandon Tartikoff in his breakthrough TV career, this year’s Tartikoff Legacy Awardees represent not only traditional TV production, but infotainment, standup comedy, distribution, digital content, reality series and more. You name it, they’ve done it and done it brilliantly.

 

The 2015 awardees include Linda Bell Blue, Gustavo Cisneros, Adriana Cisneros, Jay Leno, Jonathan Murray and Ted Sarandos. Each is a star in his/ her own field, and each has worked to expand the traditional boundaries of TV programming to truly deliver “Content Without Borders.”

** Bell Blue was the producer of Entertainment Tonight for 19 years.

** Jay Leno made The Tonight Show a ratings leader for NBC for more than 20 years.
** Gustavo Cisneros built one of the largest privately held media, entertainment, telecommunications and consumer products organizations in the world. And Adriana Cisneros has re-structured the company’s digital initiatives, establishing RedMas and Adsmovil as leading online and mobile ad networks in the Americas. She is now the company’s CEO.

** Jonathan Murray is widely credited with inventing the modern reality TV genre.

** Ted Sarandos has led content acquisition for Netflix since 2000, creating the world’s leading internet TV network with more than 50 million members in nearly 50 countries.

 

EXTRA EXTRA wanted to get beyond the accolades and find out what makes these people tick. EE spent five minutes with each of them and learned a few things that don’t appear on their official bios.

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                   

 

 

 

                               

When I turned the assignment in, Mrs. Hawkes said I ought to think about being a comedy writer. I came from a little town in New England. It wasn’t like L.A., where kids grow up wanting to be lighting designers. I had never imagined there were such things as comedy writers, but all of a sudden it sounded good to me. She changed my life.

 

If you were not pursuing a career in media, what would you be doing instead?

Probably something in sales. My dad was an insurance salesman.When he got promoted to manager, he used to put together funny shows once a month to motivate his sales- people. He’d sing popular songs and change the lyrics. I figured maybe sales would be cool ‘cause once a month you’d get to be funny.

 

What mistake did you learn from the most?

One time I was sitting in class, staring straight ahead and daydreaming.

The teacher—not Mrs. Hawkes—said,“The way you’re staring at me, I can tell you’re paying attention.”

“No,” I said,“I was just daydreaming.”
That was the day I learned to think before speaking to someone important.

 

What is one thing that most people don’t know about you?

I hate that question! It’s so Hollywood! I’m a comedian—people know that. If they want to know more about me, they’ll find out themselves. I don’t need to tell them.

 

If you were just getting started in your career today, what would you want to know now that you didn’t know then?

Nothing.The journey of discovery is what makes life interesting and fun. If I knew everything that was going to happen, I wouldn’t do half the things I’ve done.When I was just getting started doing standup, I used to go into a bar, put $50 on the bar and tell jokes. If the guys around the bar laughed, I’d get my $50 back. If not, I’d lose it.

One night after I got to keep my $50, I asked the owner of the bar if he’d pay me to do comedy.

“Are you in the union?” he asked.“I can’t hire you unless you’re in the union.” So I went over to the union office and a guy there said it would cost me $300 to join.

I told him I was 19 years old. I didn’t have $300. “How much you got?” he said.
I took $75 out of my pocket and he grabbed it out of my hand.
“Okay, you’re in the union,” he said.
I knew I had been ripped off, but I went back to the bar and showed the owner my new union card and he hired me.

So everything I’ve done—even getting ripped off— has led me to where I am today, and that’s a good place.

 

Do you think you’ll ever really retire? If yes, what would you do?

Nah. I’ve always had two jobs.When I was a kid, I worked at a car dealership and flipped burgers at Mc- Donald’s. I lived on the money I made at the dealership and banked what I made at McDonald’s.

I was a standup comedian before The Tonight Show, and even while I was on the show, I still did standup two or three nights a week. I lived on what I made from my comedy shows and banked the money I made from TV.

Now I’m back on the road doing my standup show and I have my cars.

 

Speaking of cars, Leno is an internationally noted collector who currently owns 130 cars and 93 motorcycles. His Big Dog Garage is featured on the Emmy award winning web series on NBC.com. A new TV series, tentatively titled, Jay Leno’s Garage, will premiere on CNBC in 2015. Leno said he thinks it’s silly to collect cars purely for money or show, and is frequently seen zooming around L.A. in a Duesenberg or a vintage Bugatti.

“Cars are like artwork,” he said. “If you buy what you like and it doesn’t go up in value, you can still drive it and you still like it.”

In a commencement speech at his alma mater, Emerson College in Boston, Leno said,“When you get too comfortable, it’s time to move on.”

Is he comfortable now?
“No, not really, but I’m happy,” he said. “And that’s a great place to be.”

                                     

                                       Five Minutes with Gustavos Cisneros

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

If you were not pursuing your career in media, in what other fields do you picture yourself being involved?

It is difficult to imagine being something other than an entrepreneur, but I always thought I would have been a good lawyer. I appreciate law as an intellectual challenge. I would have also been a good historian. In order to contextualize the present and future, one must have a keen understanding of that which came before, as important for a country as for a company or a family.

 

What mistake did you learn from the most?

I have learned that you are as strong as you deem, so you have to keep nurturing that as an everyday matter. If you do this, you are bound to be successful, especially if you can suppress your ego in order to make a large number of people work towards a common goal.

 

What are some characteristics or pursuits that most people don’t know about you?

I have always liked exploring the outdoors, and I also enjoy fishing.They renew the soul, since they hark back to our most primitive and simple needs as humans, requiring patience, great attention and practice.They make for a great family endeavor, as well.

 

If you were just getting started today in your career, what would you want to know now that you didn’t know then?

For certain, I would have learned Mandarin.

 

When Gustavo Cisneros took over the family business at the age of 25, the Babson College graduate kept the rights to bottle and distribute Pepsi Cola in Venezeula and other LatinAmerican countries, but his real focus became the TV channel, Venevisión, founded by his father,Diego, in 1961.

During his tenure, Gustavo has built Venevisión into a dominant media outlet with 67 percent audience share in Venezuela, one that controls the full cycle of the TV experience from production to broadcast to marketing. Its programming is aired in more than 90 countries on five continents.

In addition to its media interests, the company has interests in more than 30 businesses in Latin America, the U.S. and Canada, including telecom, digital advertising, a regional brewery, consumer products and real estate.They are currently developing a 6,000-acre real estate endeavor in the Dominican Republic. Known as a charismatic and artful negotiator, Cisneros said that while it has its challenges, the advantage of running a global family empire is perspective.

“When we were going through the economic crisis in the past few years, we had an outlook that extended beyond five years,” he said. “It’s a 20- to 30-year plan, and because of that, you can survive (almost any) crisis.”

 

 

 

                                                    Five Minutes with Adriana Cisneros

If you were not pursuing your career in media, in what other fields do you picture yourself being involved?

It’s hard to imagine doing anything other than running this company, but if I did anything else, I’d get more involved in helping entrepreneurs shape the way we do business. I have had the great pleasure of doing this a little bit in my role as co-founder of Endeavor Miami.

 

What mistake did you learn from the most?

Becoming CEO at such a young age for me is an enormous and gratifying accomplishment. I am humbled by the opportunity

What are some characteristics or pursuits that most people don’t know about you?

I love climbing big mountains, peaks over 14,000-feet. I have climbed Plata Peak, Pyramid Peak and Mt. Elbert in Colorado and Ausangate in Peru. Next on my wish list are Pico Duarte, Cotopaxi and Kilimanjaro.

 

If you were just getting started in your career today, what would you want to know now that you didn’t know then?

I wish I had realized even sooner that I would end up running the family business and what a huge undertaking it would be. It requires a lot of energy—so the younger the better!

 

Do you think you’ll ever really retire? If yes, what would you do?

Retire? Unlikely, I have just gotten started.

 

 

Adriana Cisneros may say she’s just gotten started, but she has a significant list of accomplishments behind her already.

Prior to assuming the role of CEO of the global corporation, she was Director of Strategy. She says, “In that position, my main job was to think about where I wanted to take our company and come up with ideas of how to get us there. Now as CEO, it’s all about execution.”

And execute, she does. In her first year as CEO, she has already led the launch of three new business units: Cisneros Interactive, Cisneros Media and Cisneros Real Estate.

Just gotten started, indeed.

 

 

 

                                   Five Minutes with Jonathan Murray

             

 

 

 

 

 

If you were not pursuing a career in media, what would you be doing instead?

I’d be an urban planner or developer. I love cities and how good urban planners create imaginative and workable places for people to gather.

 

What mistake did you learn from the most?

When I was producing the news at WXIA-TV Atlanta, I was counting on a five-minute story that was still in the edit room and had no back up plan if it didn’t come through. Well, it didn’t come through.We did the weather twice and aired lots of PSAs that night. Always have a back up plan!

 

What is one thing that most people don’t know about you?

When I’m anxious, I lose my appetite. I lost 10 pounds working with Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie during the second season of The Simple Life. I used to call it “The Simple Life Diet!”

 

If you were just getting started in your career today, what would you want to know now that you didn’t know then?

That, while you should be respectful of management, you should never hold back from expressing your arguments, in an appropriate venue.The best managers want to hear diverging points of view.

 

Do you think you’ll ever really retire? If yes, what would you do?

No. I just want more balance in my life, and I’d like not to have to check my email when I am on vacation. Every vacation for the last 25 years has been a “working” vacation.

 

As a new version of his groundbreaking series, The Real World enters its 30th season, Murray pondered the success of the genre. “When we first started doing The Real World in 1992, I think television was pretty boring. We had a lot of procedural dramas, a lot of bad sitcoms, and a lot of 40-year-olds trying to write things that 20-year-olds would say. The Real World changed all that and it’s had a huge impact on programming.”

He’s also proud of the effect that these shows have had on the overall culture, citing changes in young people’s attitudes toward race, sex, those who are openly gay, and those who have AIDS.All have been portrayed in Murray’s shows. He says that the producers, writers and crew form close relationships as reality shows air.When Diem Brown, a cast member from The Challenge, died of cancer (in November), he said it was “...devastating for all of us, but we also know that she loved being on The Challenge, and it’s great that her story exists on video.

“I think reality TV has even made scripted television better,” he adds. “It’s forced them to do more innovative things in order to keep up.”

 

 

                                                      Five Minutes with Linda Bell Blue

 

 

If you were not pursuing a career in media, what would you be doing instead?

I think I would be an airline pilot. I have these reoccurring dreams of flying a plane in an emergency. I interpret them to be producer nightmares. After producing 11,000 episodes, I am pretty sure I’ve had 11,000 producer nightmares where everything goes wrong.The good news is that they all got on the air so I guess I landed the plane.

What mistake did you learn from the most?

I’ve made lots of mistakes. Here’s what I learned...the mistakes only make you more humble, stronger, a better producer...and a better person.

 

What is one thing that most people don’t know about you?

I am addicted to HOT power yoga, and I eat way too much salad dressing.

 

If you were just getting started in your career today, what would you want to know now that you didn’t know then?

I don’t think I had any idea how immensely competitive this business is. I thought if I worked hard enough all of my dreams would come true. In reality I did work incredibly hard and all of my dreams did come true, but timing and being in the right place at the right time played a huge part.

 

Do you think you’ll ever really retire? If yes, what would you do?

I guess it’s ok to retire, if you don’t let your brain retire. I think you have to stay curious. For my husband, Steve Blue, and me that means more and more travel.We’ve already been to the Taj Mahal, inside the Great Pyramid, and climbed the Great Wall. Maybe something intergalactic????

 

Well not just yet. Even though she left Entertainment Tonight last year, she is way too busy to take off on an extended space voyage. She’s now president of the recently created Entertainment Tonight Studios, where she’s overseeing the creation of “ET”-branded series and specials for cable, broadcast and digital platforms.

She says that, after 19 years with ET, she was tired of the 4:30 am wakeup call and wanted new challenges. Guess that intergalactic trip will have to wait a little while longer.

 

 

                                            Five Minutes with Ted Sarandos

If you were not pursuing a career in media, what would you be doing instead?

I can’t imagine. I would hope it would be something with some balance of art and science, business and creative.

 

What mistake did you learn from the most?

There were times when I had too much confidence when things were going well. I’ve learned I need to always question assumptions, maybe even more so when things are going well.

 

What is one thing that most people don’t know about you?

In my few years of college, I was the editor of the campus newspaper.

 

If you were just getting started in your career today, what would you want to know now that you didn’t know then?

Smarts without passion and passion without smarts are equally useless in business.

 

Do you think you’ll ever really retire? If yes, what would you do?

If I did retire, I would run a non-profit revival movie theater— showing only great movies and never making a dime. My friend Tony Bennett is 88 years-old and he still performs—still thrills audiences around the world. It’s obvious he loves what he does and has no desire to retire.That is how I feel and I hope I feel that way when I am 88.

 

Under Sarandos’ leadership, Netflix is currently producing nine original series.The plan is that within five years, the service will be avail- able in virtually every country in the world, and will debut as many as 20 original TV series annually. In licensing content, Netflix already has an advantage in approaching studios by offering a global footprint of 50 countries.

Netflix’s model has appealed to series writers and showrunners, because the SVOD delivery gives them a level of creative freedom that many networks don’t, but Sarandos says there’s nothing magical about Netflix’s formula for picking shows.

They are, he says, drawn in part from viewer preferences, yet he has also drawn criticism for refusing to release metrics the company uses to gauge the success of its shows. He says that the reliance of TV networks on ratings “works against quality television.

“Our subscribers now expect quality original programming on the service,”

he said.

Named for legendary TV producer Brandon Tartikoff, the awards will be presented at a special reception hosted by Craig Ferguson on Wednesday at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach Hotel.

 

Tartikoff changed the face of network TV and was the youngest entertainment president of a major network when he took over the NBC reins in 1980 at the age of 30. He went on to develop a long list of hit series, including Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, Law & Order, Family Ties, Cheers, Seinfeld, Miami Vice, The Golden Girls, St. Elsewhere and others. He died in 1997 from Hodgkin’s disease at the age of 48.

NATPE established the Tartikoff Legacy Awards for excellence in 2004 in his honor.

 

Five Minutes with Jay Leno

Who is the person, or persons, you admire most—who have had a major impact on your life?

That would have to be my high school English teacher, Mrs. Hawkes. I had dyslexia and was not a very good student.

One day, Mrs. Hawkes said,“I saw you screwing around in the hall- way, telling jokes. If you write some of those jokes down and submit them as English homework, I’ll give you credit.” It was the first time in my life being funny got me something other than detention.

Who is the person, or persons, you admire most—who have had a major impact on your life?

My father, Diego, founder of our group. He was the consummate entrepreneur and also a great teacher. He took special interest and care in mentoring me and bringing me along. He brought out my best qualities and showed me how to concentrate on my strengths. He taught me the meaning of hard work and good family values.

Who is the person, or persons, you admire most — who has had a major impact on your life?

If we’re talking about life, I admire both my mother and my father. They have had a tremendous positive impact on me and on my whole family.

If we’re talking about business, I’d say my father. He has always taught me to think big, think out of the box and make a difference in the world.

Who is the person, or persons, you admire most—who have had a major impact on your life?

Larry Busse, my general manager at WORK-TV, Rochester, who promoted me from the newsroom to be the station’s program director. He was an amazing manager, teacher and motivator of people, who definitely practices the “walking around” management style.  Dean McCarthy, my boss at the New York office of TV rep firm HRP.Working for Dean was like taking a master’s class in television programing. Mary-Ellis Bunim, my late partner, who was tenacious when she believed in a project. She used to drive the William Morris Agency crazy pushing them to negotiate the absolute best deal possible.

Who is the person, or persons, you admire most—who have had a major impact on your life?

It may sound corny, but the people I admire the most are my parents. I’ve worked with people who choose not to have a relationship with their mothers and fathers, and that’s hard for me to understand. I know how lucky I am. My work ethic, leadership skills and creativity can be traced back to the two people who taught me I can be anything I wanted.They gave me great confidence and so much love, that it fortified me for this crazy TV business.

ho is the person, or persons, you admire most —who has had a major impact on your life?

Norman Lear and Leonard Goldberg are two of my heroes.

 

Their shows have fueled my love of TV and their humanity has inspired me.They are legends, but they are friends as well.They set a high bar for me and for anyone who makes a living creating or distributingTV and movies.