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?”

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”

When It’s Not Appropriate to Define “Appropriate”

by Norman Horowitz

When I was at Polygram in the ’80s, we produced a program with the RKO General stations called Eric Severeid’s Chronicle. Eric had been a journalist of note at CBS.

I screened the first program of the series, and I wasn’t thrilled with what I saw. It’s my belief, however, that comments and suggestions about entertainment content by people like me is absolutely what screws up the process.

I had lunch in New York with Eric, and I began the discussion by humbling myself. I told Eric that my news and journalistic experience was essentially meaningless, and that I held him and his career at CBS in the highest regard. I explained that we sold his show to individual stations throughout the country, and that there was to be no editorial control whatsoever. I wanted him to know that his “commentary” could be as outrageous and blunt as he chose to make it.

Eric told me that was never under any restrictions concerning his commentaries at CBS News. Eric continued to be Eric, the program lasted one season, and no one was ever upset by anything Eric said in any of his commentaries.

In my opinion, most broadcast network on-air “journalists” are latter-day versions of Severeid. They exist and report “within the same invisible box.” When they are reporters, they report, and when they are making commentary, it is so designated.

Stephen Colbert, Keith Olbermann, and Jon Stewart, on the other hand, are not journalists. You need not be a journalist to be the “teller of truth.” But what about Anderson Cooper and Nancy Grace? According to The Hollywood Reporter: Continue reading “When It’s Not Appropriate to Define “Appropriate””