In the television business, you are where you eat as much as you are what you eat.

TelevisionWeek Managing Editor Melissa Grego is tapping into Hollywood's penchant for the working meal with her TVWeek.com feature, Mel's Diner. Ms. Grego sits down with television industry players at their favorite restaurants, giving readers a window into the minds -- and appetites -- of industry heavyweights.

As each Mel's Diner guest dishes about what they're working on, planning and thinking about, Ms. Grego provides a unique view of the television business from the insiders perspective.

TVWeek.com invites fans of Mel's Diner to report back in the comments section on the meals, deals, or anything at all that is eating them about what the featured players have to say.

Dig in!


Mel's Diner

February 2007 Archives

Mel's Diner: Eric Frankel

February 28, 2007 4:12 PM

Who: Eric Frankel, president, Warner Bros. Domestic Cable Distribution
When: Feb. 26
Where: Citizen Smith, Hollywood

Dined On: Monday Monday. What a way to start off the week. How wonderfully small the TV world is. The degrees of separation must be negative two. Especially when you spend time in L.A. restaurants.

It all started in the morning when I spotted actor Mark Consuelos walk into Hugo’s in West Hollywood. I was just finishing breakfast with TelevisionWeek’s Greg Baumann and Tom Gilbert.

Mark and I made eye contact.

“Hey! I know you,” I thought. (Um, I might’ve almost said that out loud—my tea hadn’t kicked in yet. But it’s not like me to get down to embarrassing Greg and Tom this early in the day or week.)

I introduced myself, told him I liked his turn a few days ago sitting in for Regis on “Live With Regis & Kelly” (He’s married, of course, to Kelly Ripa)–and I shook his hand.

Then told him to keep his germs to himself.

Thankfully he’s quick in the morning and appeared to know what I was talking about. He nodded and laughed anyway. Mark and Kelly spent much of the host chat I caught last week on “Regis & Kelly” debating whether the sniffles he quickly beat several days ago were responsible for Kelly’s enduring sickies.

Ok, I have met Kelly, but don’t really know her. So small world is a stretch. But the TV biz did get narrow as the day went on.

Over lunch at Citizen Smith on the buzzing block of Cahuenga between Selma and Hollywood Blvd., Eric Frankel, a Syracuse University alum, told me he had dinner plans with fellow grads. Didn’t think much of it. Except that I tend to avoid official gatherings held by my alma mater, University of Michigan. There are just so many of us.

A few hours later, I was on the phone with producer Phil Gurin, who recently joined me for Mel’s Diner. He said he was on his way to meet his friend of more than two decades … Eric Frankel. That’s right! Phil is a Syracuse guy too. They were set for dinner at Firefly in Studio City.

While I’m sure Eric and Phil considered dinner in the Valley their Monday dining highlight, the midday meal with Eric was my main event.

And I was on a mission. That is, to determine what is with all the mac-n-cheese in this town.

I’ve lived in Los Angeles for more than a decade and not until about six months ago have I seen mac-n-cheese offered at so many nice restaurants here. And done so well.

Believe me, I am not complaining. Rather I’ve been a long time fan, ever since the Kraft box version I scarfed as a kid. It’s just a little strange considering the fitness-conscious, carb-phobic culture here.

What I know so far: Republic and Café des Artistes will do right by you for mac-n-cheese.

I was looking forward to trying the jalapeno mac at Citizen Smith again, after ordering it a few months ago in the bar area at night.

Lucky and fun for me, Eric Frankel is seriously into food and restaurants. The way he puts it: “I know this business and I know food. But don’t ask me to spout sports scores.”

He, his wife and his two sons dine out often and his eldest kid, at almost 11, already has taken to sushi and to ordering exotic things at restaurants like roasted boar.

Eric pays an annual fee to have Zagat info readily available on his BlackBerry and he is a self-proclaimed “groupie” of L.A. restaurateur Nancy Silverton. He even road-tested Nancy’s suggestion for how to make the perfect burger, complete with hunting down the signature “Nancy Silverton burger meat” at a butcher at the Farmer’s Market at Fairfax and 3rd street. He’s also been to her new restaurant Mozza, which no one seems able to get into, six times already (more on how he managed that later).

Most importantly, though, he wanted to participate in the kickoff of Mel’s Diner’s mac-off.

So we ordered a serving of jalamac to share.

The verdict: Very good. Not too much of a bite from the pepper. But probably best as a shared side to a lighter entree with a little more nutrition that could cut the heaviness. Unless it’s cold and rainy. This would be a bowl of cheesy goodness to hide in.

Eric also recommended I take a special assignment trip to a new-ish spot in New York that serves only mac-n-cheese (cool with you, Greg?). It’s called S’Mac.

Now remember, of course, this is Small World Day.

When I got home Monday night to write this, I checked in as usual on longtime writer friend’s blog.

And. Damn.

I wanted to reach through my computer and S’Mac her. (Go ahead, ba-doom-ching me for that one.)

Ya know, this girl not only had everything before I did when we were in high school back in Michigan—a car, the latest music—but, according to Monday’s post on her fabulous pop culture-luvin blog Sarah Disgrace, she beat me to S’Mac. She doesn’t even live in New York. She’s based in D.C. But she’s got photos and everything on her blog to prove it. …

Speaking of photos, Warner’s corporate communications pro Tammy Golihew joined Eric and I at lunch. She said we should get some strawberry shortcake for pictures purposes. Good idear, Tam. But juuuust for the pics. Wink-wink. It was not very good. Especially considering the fresh, perf strawberries and real flecks of vanilla bean in the cake. Realllly disgusting. Gross. (That’s my more-for-me trick by the way.)

Tammy and I are scheduled soon to go to Nancy Silverton’s Mozza, which Eric raved about, with Eric’s colleague, Warner Bros. Domestic TV Distribution honcho Ken Werner. I can’t wait.

Eric said the thing to do is go with four people, ordering all different pizzas, and swap. The pies are about the size of Citizen Smith’s mac-n-cheese plate, and are easily cut into fours.

His insight for getting in: Don’t wait around for month-away reservations.

There are about 26 seats in a bar area that the restaurant does not reserve, he said. So if you show up slightly off-peak, say 1:30 for lunch, and put your name in, they may tell you it’ll be 45 minutes. But hang out, he said. They’ve called him in 5 to 7 minutes several times.

The Dish: Eric’s coming up on his 27th anniversary as a Warner Bros. employee. April 9 to be exact.

He started to work for the company in New York right out of Syracuse after contacting fellow alumnus Ed Bleier, who was responsible for a whole swath of Warner’s business at the time. Ed oversaw things like the development of home video, video-on-demand, pay-TV businesses, as well as animation, sports and the distribution of movies and television programs.

Eric tells a great story of how Ed helped him get in touch with other Syracuse people who were successful in media. People like legendary music executive Ahmet Ertegun, who died in December, and others in the music biz. Music was Eric’s primary area of interest at the time. He developed a resume for himself by putting on tons of concerts while in college.

Eric was so impressed with all the people Ed sent his way that he figured he’d like to work with him more than any of the other folks. So he asked if there was a way he could.

Ed agreed to a meeting at 5 p.m. one day, and Eric showed up right on time. Then he waited as 5:30, 6 (when he heard people saying “good night”), 6:30 ticked by. Finally at 7, Ed came in.

He said the job he had open, supervisor of advertising and publicity, was highly sought after. But he was willing to gamble and give Eric a shot at $300 per week for three months. If it worked out, he’d get bumped to $335, and then $375 at the six month mark.

When the three months were up, Eric heard nothing, but saw that he got a raise in his check. After six months, Ed gave him a bigger raise than promised—to $395. Not bad for a kid out of school in 1980. He was brought on full time.

The rest, as they say, is TV history. When Ed retired about seven years ago, Eric was named his successor. The gig was moved to Los Angeles and Eric, who picked the Westside to make his home, hired 36 or so people to set up the division.

His business is as busy as ever. When I asked him to describe his typical day, his response was that it’s just non-stop.

He is responsible for the sales, marketing and distribution of Warner Bros.’ already-produced feature films, TV series, miniseries, TV movies and specials to the pay TV and basic cable markets. He also sells theatricals to broadcast nets.

At the moment, he is involved in applying to “Nip/Tuck” the content editing treatment the studio used on “Sex and the City” to make it OK for a syndication run. His team is now tapping on the doors of clients who might be interested in an off-FX run of the show.

Also, he’s negotiating with a “few popular networks” about the studios’ feature “Happy Feet.”

“The Departed,” which he saw win the best picture Oscar in person Sunday, is sold to FX for the basic cable window, but still has a broadcast network window available.

The structure among the TV divisions at Warners evolved over time, and works well, he said. Eric meets every other week with Ken Werner, whose group handles sales to broadcast stations. Bruce Rosenblum (who I hope to woo into joining me for Mel’s Diner soon), to whom Eric and Ken both report, holds a monthly luncheon with big wigs like Ken, Eric, Peter Roth and folks from the animation division.

“I spend my life in meetings,” he said. “We have 12 things going on. Around 8:30 or 9 is the first one, then we just move from conference room to conference room and try to keep it all on track.”

At the end of the day, he catches up with the most important calls and e-mails. He wakes up at 5:30 the next morning and handles all the e-mails from the previous day.

“I’m sure there are people who are smarter,” he said. “But I do believe in what they say that the harder you work the luckier you get.”

He’s right. Working hard is good for business. So is finding the best brain foods (clearly my fave strategy), like mac-n-cheese.

Mel's Diner: Alex Pels

February 23, 2007 3:33 PM

Who: Alex Pels, general manager, mun2
When: Feb. 7, lunch
Where: Café des Artistes, Hollywood

Dined On: Normally I would go wherever my lunch date desires. But it was a tight day schedule-wise and Tanya Lopez, mun2’s director of corporate communications, and I had been trying to match up mun2 (pronounced “mundos,” Spanish for worlds) and TelevisionWeek schedules for months. So I suggested Café des Artistes, my favorite easy-to-get-to, dependable spot halfway between TVWeek on Wilshire east of La Cienega and Studioland on the other side of the hill.

Lunch is the best time to visit this restaurant, which specializes in French food but also offers standards such as great salads and some of the best mac-n-cheese in town. The service during the day tends to match the bright, cheerful feel of the garden-like main dining area. And you can pretty much always get a table. (Around dinnertime, though, I usually feel transported right to Paris, complete with stereotypical snooty service.)

Mun2 General Manager Alex Pels and my boss, TVWeek Editor Greg Baumann, both ordered good-looking lamb chops that were gone before I knew it.

In addition to their tastes in cuisine, we discovered Alex and Greg share an affinity in recreation: They are among the few avid fishermen any of us know in the TV business in Los Angeles. Before Alex moved to L.A. with the network a year ago, he spent a decade living on the water in Miami, where he could fish from his own dock. (He lived in New York before that.)

Worth noting: I dunno what Café des Artistes puts in its iced tea. I love the vaguely coconut thing it has going on. I asked what they do, but the server just said, “It’s tropical.” I didn’t push it. I was saving my hard news skills for the mun2 crew. (If anyone knows more about that tea, do tell.)

The Dish: Everyone’s gotta eat, but the food really was beside the point at this lunch. I got to sit at the cool kids’ table.

I completely missed Alex and Greg putting those chops away probably because I was so immediately absorbed in what Alex had to say. I didn’t know him or much about mun2 before we met at Café des Artistes. But pretty soon I started developing one of my rare professional crushes on him.

I have only a small handful of these admirations. They are always for really good reasons. This surely will make me sound like a big TV nerd-stalker (maybe I am), but I was just plain fascinated.

In short, he and his team are chasing what could turn out to be one of the most powerful demos in the future of TV. The network, which was launched in 2001 and relaunched in October 2005, was first in line to connect with the bilingual Hispanic youth market.

Young Latinos are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. Hispanic population. Latinos 12 to 34 years old make up 43 percent of the U.S. Hispanic population, according to a mun2 fact sheet.

And they are up for grabs.

The network targets a group that speaks primarily English but grew up among people who speak primarily Spanish. They can go between worlds and have cultural references for both.

“They’re in a cultural twilight zone,” Alex said.

By and large, young Latinos don’t feel represented by any sort of brand, according to mun2 research. No type of clothing, no retail item, nothing. Certainly not a TV network.

Not yet, anyway.

Mun2, currently available in a little more than 10.5 million homes, is designed to “mirror” and “celebrate” them, Alex said. In September, mun2 unveiled a new “digital home,” holamun2.com, which is loaded with video, social networking and attitude.

The network, whose parent company is NBC Universal’s Telemundo, clocked 13 consecutive months of ratings growth since rebooting. Seriously. That just doesn’t happen.

Alex talked over lunch about why I won’t see telenovelas—the general market’s Spanish-language format rip-off du jour—on mun2, but I will see lots of music, pop culture and lifestyle programming. I don’t know how to say this without sounding as utterly uncool as I am, but what they’re doing at mun2 just sounds so, well, cool. (Er, hip? Is the word slammin’ these days?)

As I listened, I kept thinking this is what it must have been like to talk to MTV executives early in that network’s evolution. You know, like chatting with Tom Freston around the time he pondered a tagline: “‘I Am MTV’ … no, ‘I Like MTV’ … er … ‘I Want My MTV’—yes. That’s it!”

Turns out Alex, whose background is rich in music and TV production, was one of the founders of MTV Networks Latin America. He likens relaunching mun2 to being involved in MTV in the ’80s. Back then he walked in to the taste-making venture and felt as though they “could change the world,” he said.

Alex, originally from Argentina, consulted on the mun2 relaunch for six months before taking the GM position and relocating the operation from Miami to Los Angeles. They regrouped with a “100 percent” new team, new programming and new marketing.

He said he didn’t intend to join the network full time, much less move out of his Miami beach house, when he signed on to consult. But he and his wife, a chef on hiatus, found a spot in the Hollywood Hills. He couldn’t have sounded happier about his digs.

Moving the network was daunting, but the right call, he said. Mun2 now is headquartered in the entertainment capital, which also happens to be one of the biggest Hispanic markets and home to parent-company resources.

Alex said mun2 is getting ready to make yet another move a few weeks down the line—to permanent space in Universal CityWalk.
But he had more immediate tasks at hand, like production on new shows. That’s how a relaunch goes.

“You can never work on one thing,” he said.

A few weeks ago he started focusing on the mun2 upfront, which will be incorporated into Telemundo’s push.

The exciting thing: Mun2 can pitch for a piece of agencies’ general market and Hispanic budgets. Tanya reminded him they also just launched two shows, “The Chicas Project”
and “Have You Cine?”

“See? I’m already out of my mind,” he said.

Most execs stick to their best behavior with the press, especially at first, but my B.S. alarm was silent throughout lunch. Alex smiled easily while we talked and came off simply as someone who loves what he’s doing.

Why? “Not always do you have the opportunity to be part of something that’s going to be bigger,” he said.

Mel's Diner: Rich Cronin

February 9, 2007 2:33 AM

Who: Rich Cronin, president-CEO, GSN
When: Feb. 6, 2007, dinner
Where: Chez Jay, Santa Monica

Dined on: I’m just glad we didn’t get tossed out on my first trip to Chez Jay. I always wanted to eat there and hoped to have the full experience.

Of course, in my first five minutes there I had to get busy pushing the limits of the joint.

I started our dinner by busting an almost five-decade-old house rule: no cameras.

Owner Jay Fiondella created the celeb-friendly atmosphere by long keeping to a policy of no talking to the tabs and no pictures, so says the excerpt from a book about the restaurant Rich brought along.

So the photos I took of Rich there must be pretty rare, right? Welcome to Mel’s Diner, ladies and gents—the new gonzo journalism. I snapped Rich with the crudite, as well as Rich with his swordfish with béarnaise sauce (he called it mercury sauce). Probably lucky for us, my camera battery died before anyone with authority caught on to my Kodak.

As highly as Rich recommended the mercury-of-the-day, I went with chicken marsala. Dennis Johnson from GSN’s corporate communications department, who arranged dinner, had New York steak.

The more we talked about how mercury gets into fish the more I realized this very well may be how Rich gets his competitive edge.

Sure, a lot of mercury will make you crazy or kill you. Maybe it’s the dashes at the dinner table that juice the bright ideas. Yes, yes. That’s why Rich is president-CEO and I … digress.

Rich and Dennis and I dished for a couple of hours. We topped off the meal with two great desserts, blueberry cheesecake and chocolate mousse cake.

Rich, a longtime Westsider, loves Chez Jay. He has been here dozens of times, knows lots of Chez Jay trivia and once held an ad sales meeting in the back room meant for 12 people. (GSN brought a raucous 25.)

Chez Jay is good and dark, with décor anchored by red booths that’s got to be the same as it ever was. I get why the small room caters easily to the clientele it’s become known for—both a casual local crowd as well as the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer, Madonna, and formerly Frank Sinatra, Robert Mitchum and Judy Garland.

We left the place and found the fog off the Pacific had thickened, completely salting my car and shrouding Chez Jay’s blue neon sign on Ocean Avenue. The whole effect made the famed celebrity dive feel like a movie set from the 1960s. Or maybe the ’70s. Actually, it could have been the ’80s, ’90s or today. This place prides itself on never changing. Its sign is even a little behind. It reads: “Chez Jay Come In and See Us 1959-2004 Anniversary.”

The Dish: We dined during a break in a busy production week for GSN. On Tuesday, the sixth season of “Lingo” went into production in Los Angeles, and the first round of Michael Davies’ “Chain Reaction” was scheduled to start taping in New York on Thursday.

All the while Rich continues to plot a growth strategy for the channel, which includes keeping an eye on opportunities in the interactive world and the social aspects of game-playing. He’s trying to marry what people are talking about with fun-to-play-and/or-watch games. He constantly considers whether online, mobile and video games can become TV shows, and whether TV shows can become an online game, mobile game, video game or even an event.

He’s also courting some controversy. He just slated a new show tentatively for summer, “Without Prejudice?,” based on a U.K. series of the same name. It features a panel of people who get the chance to award a contestant a load of cash. The panel zaps players out of the running based on a combination of their appearance and limited tidbits they reveal about themselves.

“It’s risky, but it could work,” he said.

In recent months, GSN has launched online games based on Mel Gibson’s drunken tirade, a Rosie vs. Donald feature and one on North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il called Missile Maniac.

“You’ve got to be a little controversial to get attention, but we don’t go to the bomb-scare level,” he said with a nod to Turner’s Adult Swim PR stunt gone awry. (Join the discussion on that mess on Marianne Paskowski’s TVWeek.com blog.)

He was inspired to do the Gibson game when he heard everyone talking about the incident, making light of it. Rich figured a combo of tapping the zeitgeist with something that’s fun to play would pay off.

The online games have turned out to be handy marketing tools.

“They’re viral, like a joke or a video people forward to their friends,” he said.

The games at GSN.com do seem to be holding people’s attention. Right now the site averages more than 700,000 monthly unique users, according to GSN data.

GSN has come a long way since Rich took over what was then dubbed Game Show Network nearly six years ago. When he first started, he told me he hoped to do four things: up the network’s distribution, ratings and acquisitions and establish an in-house ad sales team. Within months he did all four.

Since he started in April 2001, GSN’s distribution has doubled from something like 31 million homes to more than 62 million today.

We agreed it’s about time to set another goal I can hold him to a year from now. So we made a pact to meet back at Chez Jay next February, when he expects to be able to easily say GSN.com averages more than a million unique users monthly.

The network is in an interesting spot right now.

Being co-owned by Sony and Liberty, Rich and his team have a good amount of autonomy as long as they hit their numbers. It’s not unlike the days when Comedy Central was able to let completely loose, being owned by both Time Warner and Viacom, rather than having to kowtow as it does now to sibling Viacom divisions such as Paramount Pictures (Read: the whole Tom Cruise-Scientology-“South Park” dealio).

Also, the outlet has no direct competitors, being as Rich says, “the only network focused 100 percent on games.”

But it’s fighting for attention in a world where most other networks have far more leverage in the marketplace. When Bravo has a new series, for example, it can get the word out with promos on a bunch of different channels owned by its parent, NBC Universal. GSN has to buy paid advertising.

So, not surprisingly, Rich’s POV on GSN clips showing up on YouTube tends to differ from execs at some of the big companies he used to work for. Viacom, which owns MTV Networks—where Rich worked from 1984 to 1997—earlier this month demanded that YouTube take down 100,000 of its clips.

Rich counts on word of mouth.

In a search for GSN series “High Stakes Poker” on YouTube, more than 4 million views of some 400 different short clip videos are recorded, Dennis said.

“We love it,” Rich said.

He’s generally having good times at GSN. When I tried to press him on where his deal stands with the network’s owners to continue taking it to more advanced rounds, he would only say: “It’s still fun. Life is short, and you should have fun.”

We love comments at TVWeek.com. Let us know your dining and dishing stories.

Mel's Diner: Chuck Larsen

February 5, 2007 6:14 PM

Who: Chuck Larsen, president, October Moon
When: Jan. 30, 2007, lunch
Where: Delmonico’s Seafood Grille, Los Angeles

Dined On: Delmonico’s is a classic chop house tucked away on a block of Pico just west of Robertson. You could call it old school, though not stuffy or dead. It was, in fact, hopping at lunch.

It’s an entirely appropriate place to meet Chuck Larsen. Not just because it’s convenient for him from his home office in Pacific Palisades. But Chuck, too, is a classic, with old school roots, whose business is clicking along right now.

We both started with the always good (particularly on a drizzly day like this one) lobster bisque. He had the seafood paella, I had the Cobb salad.

I thought maybe sharing some chocolate four-layer mousse cake would butter him up—maybe get him to fork over even a tiny newsy tidbit from his vast bank of knowledge of where the money is flowing in the TV business. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. (Note to boss: Blame the baker?)

The Dish: Ok, it’s not the baker’s fault. It’s the love-hate relationship I have with Chuck Larsen.

On the love side, he’s genuine, warm, wise and generally one of the most stand-up executives in the business.

He also is the single most frustrating person for someone like me to talk to.

He explains best exactly why he makes me so nuts:

“I know probably more about the syndication business than anybody—where the money is in TV—but can’t really share any of it,” he said with a smile at lunch. “Guess that’s got to be tough for you?”

Well, yes, Chuck. It is.

He knows what percentage of what everyone is getting probably on just about every television show. He knows how the deals are structured. He knows where shows are sold for what license fees. He knows ad prices. Basically, he knows more about everything to do with where the money is in the business than anyone.

And he won’t tell me one bit of it.

This is primarily due to his steady work as a producer’s rep for the past decade.

A lot of people say they keep things quiet, but Chuck really does. He has to.

As a producer’s rep, his first objective is to make sure a TV show will be sold to its maximum potential, making the most money possible.

The studios let him in on very closely-held information for those strategic purposes with the understanding that he does not share that data with other clients or, of course, newshounds like me. The only way to keep that info coming is to be consistently ironclad about no blabbing.

Second to the consulting on the sales strategy, he looks out for his clients to get the best possible deal.

“You can’t fight over that money until it’s there,” he said.

He started the consulting-rep business after the syndicator where he was a muckety-muck, MTM, was sold to Fox.

While he was looking for a job, a friend who had profit participation in a show going into syndication called for some consultation.

Other folks started calling with similar requests, and six months after MTM was sold, Chuck realized he didn’t need a job. He had one.

The perception long has been that the studios will screw you, he said.

In reality, that’s not really the case. But the studios are huge now, so the executives there “have so much to think about,” Chuck said. “I can focus on one.”

As the consulting business grew, opportunities to distribute shows have popped up and Chuck became one of the busiest independent syndicators.

“As the little guy, life’s much simpler,” he said. “You come up with an idea, try to convince people it’s a good idea. If you can make money, you do it. If you won’t, you don’t.”

His latest idea is a first-run Monday-through-Friday comedy competition series, “Laugh Off,” which he expects to announce as a go for the fall soon. He’s collaborating with Bunim-Murray on that one.

He identified a need among stations for original comedy about a year and a half ago. So he put his head together with Bunim-Murray principle Jon Murray, who Chuck has known since distributing Bunim-Murray’s “The Real World” and “Road Rules” in broadcast syndication.

He’s also picking up two more producer rep clients. I regret that I can’t tell you who they are or what big shows are being rolled out in syndie soon. Chuck would have to kill me if he dished on that.

We love comments at TVWeek.com. Let us know your dining and dishing stories.

Mel's Diner: Jennie Rosenthal

February 5, 2007 1:52 AM

Who: Jennie Rosenthal, director, Midwest sales, NBC Universal
When: Jan. 16, 2007, dinner
Where: Michael Mina, Bellagio, Las Vegas

Dined On: Must. Have. Lobster pot pie.

I didn’t even catch the name of the restaurant we were going to at first. All I knew: They had lobster pot pie.

Jennie Rosenthal was determined to make it to Michael Mina while in Las Vegas for the NATPE conference for one reason. Um, do I need to say it again?

She discovered the restaurant’s signature dish, served in a copper pot and wheeled out on its own tabletop, a few years ago while in town with her husband, Chicago Tribune media columnist Phil Rosenthal. (I imagine their two adorable small children already know more about TV than I do, like, genetically.) She went back the next night to order it again.

You can get the dish at Michael Mina restaurants in other cities, but the rather over-the-top production seems especially Vegas-tastic.

The server performs an elegant presentation, removing the crust, re-assembling the lobster on top of the pastry (Jennie’s favorite part) then dramatically ladling the other contents of the pot over the reconstructed crustacean before—Ta-Da!—resting the plate gingerly in front of the lucky diner.

Did it live up to her memory? “Hell yeah,” she said.

The rest of us dining that night, TelevisionWeek Design Director Jennifer Ciminillo, who once worked with Jennie’s husband Phil at the Chicago Sun-Times and introduced me to Jennie, Senior Editor Jon Lafayette and I had good meals too. I think I had a risotto special and Jen and Jon had whatever they had cooked in three different ways—another Michael Mina signature aside from the pot pie.

The reverence for the lobster pot pie among the diners, however, was so powerful that details of our other eats remain a little fuzzy.

What was clear during the dining experience is that Jennie could probably sell me my own name if she believed I needed it. She’s truly a great natural salesperson who delivers. I know, she shared the lobster pot pie! She knows her stuff, she knows quality, and when she’s enthusiastic about something, it’s difficult to imagine not agreeing with her. Probably no matter the price.

Did I mention lobster pot pie runs 80-something bucks?

The Dish: Jennie has been based in Chicago, her hometown, for six years. (Jan. 15 was her sixth anniversary of living in Chicago).

She directs sales of syndicated series to stations for NBC Universal in about 25 mid-sized to small markets in the Midwest. Cincinnati is her largest territory.

She was at NATPE to help launch the company’s new Monday-through-Friday series starring “Jerry Springer” bouncer Steve Wilkos and to do business on other NBC Universal shows. She’s been to NATPE about a half dozen times and considers it a “great opportunity to see all of my colleagues and meet with general managers from stations I cover.”

While the lobster pot pie this year will certainly go down in history, one of her most memorable NATPE dining experiences was from a morning meeting last year with a station executive at the Verandah restaurant in The Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas.

The news that The WB and UPN would be merged to create The CW was announced while they were eating.

“Cell phones and BlackBerrys started going off and people walked away from their breakfasts,” she said.

Prior to moving to Chicago, Jennie spent 11 years in Los Angeles, where she was an agent at Innovative and a TV drama development executive at Paramount. She was Jennie Zbikowski then, and known affectionately among the creative community as “Jennie Z.”

Walking with her through Mandalay Bay’s casino after the lobster pot pie outing, it was apparent the nickname stuck.

A stream of people at the hotel for NATPE greeted her as Jennie Z, and after a few quick conversations about the topic of the night I was sure Michael Mina would be dragging out a few extra copper pots before the convention was over.

We love comments at TVWeek.com. Let us know your dining and dishing stories.