Kevin Reilly Must Be Very Smart

by Norman Horowitz

It was probably 40 years ago that my boss took home a copy of a pilot that we had made and called me into his office to tell me that his 14-year-old daughter Stephanie did not like it and that we should abandon the project. The show’s producer was with me and he was, to say the least, very upset. How could it be that the project’s future would be determined by a 14-year-old?

We never did produce the series. I bet that Stephanie (who would now be in her fifties) is unaware that she single-handedly killed the project.

There is certain “fragility” in the motion picture and television business. The person with the “loudest voice” will most often determine what gets produced.

And so, I found it amusing when Kevin Reilly, Chairman of Entertainment for the Fox Broadcasting Group, recently said that the networks “are too obsessed…with each other and not enough with the consumer.”

What Reilly won’t tell you is that executives at production companies and networks are expected to “know,” but they all secretly realize that they don’t know and they can’t possibly know all the time. The screenwriter William Goldman summed it all up when he said, “Nobody knows anything.”

I used to throw my management into a tizzy when they would ask if a particular program would succeed, and I would reply that I didn’t have a clue. The truth was, when I put millions of their dollars at risk, I couldn’t guarantee that the company would get their money back, never mind show a profit.

In fact, when I acquired the rights to my first off-network show for syndication in the late ’60s — Dan August, starring Burt Reynolds — I was asked whether it would be a success. I said, “Yes, it would,” and America said, “No, it won’t.”

In contrast, when I acquired the distribution rights to Barney Miller, several of the studio intelligentsia claimed that Hal Lindon couldn’t carry a comedy half hour. It was not that I was right about the program but rather that “the fates” were kind to me, and the show grossed a couple hundred million dollars or more for Columbia.

As a buyer and seller of content, all I could ever say was that I believed that I could sell a particular program. All I “knew” was whether the broadcasters I was selling stuff to might buy said content.

Years ago, I used to say, “Here I am, a forty-something Jewish electrical engineer from the Bronx with one wife, two kids and a dog who sells movies and television programs throughout the world trying to determine what thirty-year-old Christian mothers want to watch afternoons in Gary, Indiana.”

Compare that to Kevin Reilly lecturing his audience. “A lot of us have our head up our asses,” he said. “We’re looking too myopically at the business.”

It continues to annoy me that there are so many executives who pretend that they know stuff that the rest of us are unaware of.

Happy Is Fast While Sad Is Slow

About twenty years ago, I attended a Tony Robbins event in Del Mar, California.

Tony spent a good deal of time discussing pain and pleasure and concluded that individuals will do whatever possible to avoid pain and have pleasure.

He had five poor individuals on the stage with him, and the subject was “time.” He was trying to determine what represented a long time and what represented a short time. He was making no progress, so he ambled into the audience.

As all six-foot-seven of him loomed above me, he glanced at my nametag and said: “Okay, Norman, we have never heard from you. What do you think is a long or short time?”

I thought for a second and answered: “A long time is any amount of time when you are having pain and a short time is any amount of time when you are having pleasure.”

Tony loved my reply, and we all discussed it for a half hour.

Very early in my career, I discovered that, when the staff was having a good time, we/they performed better, and the time at work simply flew by.

I once was interviewed by the New York Times concerning my departure from Columbia Pictures and my starting a television company for Polygram. I told the reporter that I had left Columbia because it stopped being fun.

My new German/Dutch management went nuts when they read it. They had absolutely no concept of fun at work. The head of the company (a lawyer) called me and asked what I meant. I was not proud of myself when I answered that perhaps it would be better stated if I had said “the gratification of success.” He was happy about that.

I wonder how they deal with that issue at Harvard Business School.

I recently came across a quote that I wish I had written: “Money in all its disguises is the religion of humanity.”

Those that maintain that money can’t buy happiness are correct to a certain extent. However, money can certainly provide a certain amount of pleasure…and yes, even happiness.

But, however you find (or define) happiness, I’ve always believed that happy is fast while sad is slow.

I will conclude with a poem I wrote just before Thanksgiving. I call it “Doggies”…

It’s Thanksgiving soon, and I remember so well
The sights, the sounds, the warmth, the smell.
We had big dinners, and kids came too.
When it was time to eat dinner, it was all so swell.
Dinner was liked by our dog Annabelle.
She was imported from London, all fluffy and white,
A Maltese so tiny, but she was a fright.
She barked at all doggies and wanted to fight
Them no matter how big, and she was so slight.
She was the same color as our living room rug.
She loved all celebrations, and she looked all around
‘Cause people dropped food there that Annabelle found.
She would sleep with my children and cuddle up snug.
She was so sweet, and she was so nice.
I think of her often, not once or not twice.
The years are all gone now; they sped quickly by.
I think of dear Annabelle, and at times I cry,
For things are so fleeting no matter I try.
She’s gone forever; it’s been sad for me.
Yet I found Valerie; she was such a love.
She had a big doggie, a gift from above.
The dog’s name was Jerry, a hundred pound Doodle, all fluffy, all white.
Jerry was also quite crazy but such a delight.
Now Valerie’s gone, and Jerry’s moved away.
I miss her and two doggies both by night and by day.
Happy is fast while sad is so slow.
I need to move on. I need to just go.

Off With His Head!

by Norman Horowitz

Bruce had promised his wife Blanche that he would be on time for a very important family function, and of course he is late. Blanche flies into an absolute rage and vilifies him endlessly. When she calms down, he tells her that he was late because he was having sex with his mistress, and that she would not let him leave, and that he wanted a divorce.

As Blanche begins to cry, Bruce tells her that he made up the business with the girlfriend to point out how nuts she had become about his tardiness and how unimportant it was.

In a similar way, the Brits have gone bonkers over a News Corporation transgression that took place in the UK.

Yes, News Corp. did a horrid thing. And yes, they should be punished. But not Rupert Murdoch.

Murdoch has admitted that a cover-up took place within the News of the World to hide the scope of the phone hacking.

The British Parliament released a report concluding that Murdoch “exhibited willful blindness to what was going on in his companies and publications” and stated that he was “not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.”

I disagree.

Many years ago, I did business with Murdoch and have met with him a few times. I hold him in the highest esteem for assembling a gigantic media empire and doing it with an integrity that was unknown in Hollywood for decades. (It was certainly absent at the studios where I worked). I have never worked for News Corp., but I have known many of their senior people and have never had reason to question their integrity.

I joined MGM/UA in the mid-1980s with responsibilities over a variety of media segments. We uncovered a relatively significant defalcation, and the individual involved left the company. Should my Chairman have been forced to resign because of this? I think not. He was not involved in the crime, and he had no reason to have known that it had taken place.

Similarly, during my tenure at Columbia Pictures, there was a major defalcation, yet the management was not called upon to fall on its sword.

Indeed, many of the studios and major production companies have tolerated criminal activities in their own company rather than risk the scandal that disclosure would entail. I can “name names,” but no one has ever seemed interested.

So, while I believe that News Corp. should be punished, I do not expect that Rupert Murdoch be held responsible for the actions of a few overly zealous employees.

Do You Think That I’m a Crook?

by Norman Horowitz

About forty years ago, I returned to Screen Gems International Television (Columbia Pictures) following a three year hiatus at CBS and a nascent Viacom.

Since I had worked at Screen Gems before, I was well prepared to go to London and make a deal for a group of features because the company needed a few paltry millions in order to “make its quarter.”

I ended up making a five or six million dollar deal with the commercial broadcasters in the UK. In order to do this, I negotiated a price for each and every movie in the “package.”

I returned home and submitted the deal to the accounting department, as was the case with all deals that included the negotiated price for each title.

A few days later, one of the senior accounting executives arrived in my office and handed me a sheet of paper indicating the value of each picture in the UK deal and told me to resubmit his per-picture price. He told me that his prices would reduce our obligations to our producers by about $450,000.

I refused to do what he asked. He threatened to go to our president, who would order me to do what he asked.   Continue reading “Do You Think That I’m a Crook?”

To Steal or Not to Steal? That Is the Question…

by Norman Horowitz

Several months ago, I attended a party on the Fox lot celebrating the “television screenings for international buyers.” A media writer told me that these screenings were started in the early 1960s by ABC International. I took issue with him and said that the screenings started in the late 1950s for the Canadians and the Australians. When he argued with me, I said, “I was there at the time, and you were in the sixth grade.”

Different people have different ideas concerning the media industry. My opinions mostly come from experience. I was there. I don’t know “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” but I do have firsthand knowledge of a lot of it.

One such matter involves the recently deceased Cliff Robertson.   Continue reading “To Steal or Not to Steal? That Is the Question…”