My Real Hidden Agenda: To Make “Good” Shows

by Norman Horowitz

In the early ’60s, I learned a business lesson that was either very valuable or very harmful. It’s fifty years later, and I’m still not sure.

Our Canadian company had produced a very charming five-minute children’s program titled “Pick a Letter, (PAL)” In the series, animator George Feyer would tell a story through drawings, starting with letters of the alphabet. With some sort of rear-screen drawing technique, they would present letters like “B is for Butterfly.”

At the time, my major sales responsibilities were limited to the gigantic markets of Curacao, Aruba, and Bermuda, as well as other small stations that no one wanted to bother with. However, since no one in our domestic sales group showed the least bit of interest in showing PAL to U.S. stations, I asked and received permission to show it to the independent New York stations.

Following the screening of three five-minute segments, the Program Director of Channel 11 in New York told me how much he liked the program. I became elated…until he told me that he had no interest in buying it. He went on to say — and it was very nice of him — that he was in the business of attracting as large an audience as possible and that, if he played PAL in a morning program, the kids in his audience would switch to another channel that was playing cartoons.

“Norman,” he said, “kids have a shit detector. If they ever have the sense that you’re trying to teach them something, they’ll change the station at once.”   Continue reading “My Real Hidden Agenda: To Make “Good” Shows”

Was the Road Runner a Communist?

by Norman Horowitz

My career spans fifty years at Screen Gems, CBS, Columbia Pictures, Polygram, and MGM/UA, as well as time spent as an independent. I have never been involved in selling, financing, or producing anything for television with any intention of doing anything other than making money. That is what I was paid to do by the taskmasters where I worked. I often failed, but that’s what this business is all about.

Examples abound. Screen Gems made a TV movie called The Caryl Chessman Murder Case. Chessman was a convicted robber and rapist who gained fame as a death row inmate in California. Chessman’s case attracted worldwide attention. He became a cause célèbre for the movement to ban capital punishment. Yet my company made this TV movie to make money. Nothing more.

So I was surprised when a producer friend sent me a book titled Primetime Propaganda, claiming to be the “inside story of how the most powerful medium of mass communication in human history has become a propaganda tool for the Left.”   Continue reading “Was the Road Runner a Communist?”

Mongo Only Pawn…in Game of Life

by Norman Horowitz

In 1960, I worked for Lloyd Burns at Screen Gems International. Lloyd was very smart, but in retrospect he was the victim of an inflated ego.

Helios Alvarez, a very smart Brazilian, ran the company’s “complex” operation in Sao Paulo.

Helios was in the process of renegotiating his contract for the third or fourth time in a year. He was on the phone with Lloyd, who was getting angrier and angrier by the minute. He pushed the phone’s “hold” button and said to me, “That little son of a bitch thinks he has me by the balls…and he does.”   Continue reading “Mongo Only Pawn…in Game of Life”

Get Me to the Budget Meeting on Time

by Norman Horowitz

To clarify and elaborate on my slightly controversial previous post: In my own experience, I have wondered why organizations have confused an angry executive with an effective one.

Reflecting on my own career, the least effective executives were those who found it necessary to exhibit anger and rage to their subordinates and claim that it’s an effective management style. I experienced several of these people and concluded that they had not a clue as to how to manage anything, so they hid it under the facade of “Boy, am I tough!”
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Here’s what I’ve tried to do in my life and am on the lookout for managements who subscribe to the following:   Continue reading “Get Me to the Budget Meeting on Time”

Sour Grapes

by Norman Horowitz

I grew up in the entertainment industry at a time that the studios were more or less “one-trick ponies,” in that they were in the business of making and distributing motion picture and television content.

Rarely were any of these organizations managed by someone experienced in either or both of these activities. They were all accountants, MBAs, or lawyers.

I’ve been responsible for running a variety of operating divisions of Corporations, but I was never considered as a candidate to be the CEO of an entire entertainment company. Hence the “sour grapes” title.   Continue reading “Sour Grapes”