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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.

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Mel's Diner



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.

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[...] Natch, they had it all wrong. They have exactly the same problem I have: expanded basic, no set-top converter, so something needs to be done, I guess, before 2009, if it even happens. But I had dinner on my mind, after reading my colleague’s blog, “Mel’s Diner” on this website about the best mac n cheese. Check it out. [...] [Read More]

Comments (23)

Lee W:

ok, that pic looks pretty darn good...but I'll go with best mac n' cheese - Joan's on Third.

Seth:

Maestro's does a pretty darn good Mac 'N Cheese...and for those in Vegas (NCTA show in May) look no further than Fix in Bellagio for the best I've ever had.

P.S. Melissa...Cora says hi. Tell Tammy hi for me!

Amy:

It may not be fancy, but Roscoe's tastes most like Mom's. Going to the Lodge, tonight, though, and will probably try theirs... Also, Mac 'n Cheese, generally. shouldn't have meat mixed in. I'm a purest.

Paul Gendreau:

There are those that will tell you the deep-fried mac and cheese at the Boneyard Bistro on Ventura Blvd. rules, but no-no-no. It's got to be Aunt Kizzy's Back Porch in the Marina, with Joan's on Third a decent second.

RP:

Although it's in 'Vegas, the Salt Lick BBQ at the Red Rock Casino. Best. Restaurant. Mac 'n' Cheese. Ever.

Rinna:

Mel, Props on mentioning Kraft, the Grandfather of them all for sheer volume alone and saving Mom a lot (1000's) of lunch dilemas. That stuff is gold for kids - never get enough! Continuing on in the growth cycle of both us and "the cheese," Boston Market has to noted for the young adult and college years. Once, when I found myself alone in Arizona over the holidays, I even had that stuff for Christmas dinner - it didn't dissappoint. Now, that we are "all growns up" and have moved on to more sophisticated palettes: I recommend a little "flat screens everywhere, tiny beer glasses, everybody is beautiful" joint next to my place off Venice Beach, Nikki's. I tell you what, like everything else there, that Mac is the cheesiest!

Katrina:

Um, I hate you for linking me to S'mac. The Brie mac & cheese is all I can think about!!

Feffer Anyone?:

Hey M-Grego,

Keep up the great work via the written word, er, typed word. Though I do have to argue for the Hudson Hotel's Mac n' Cheese, which is mighty tasty for the price (it's better be).

Seriously, I would love to hear more about what these subjects have to say about today's state of "it." Whatever there "it" is: cable TV, satellite TV, film, .com, etc. ...

Justin:

I'm sure all of your suggestions are well intentioned, but if you haven't tried the three-cheese macaroni at the New Orleanse Cafe in Hermosa Beach, you just don't know what you're missing.

Made by hand (or so the very nice woman who runs the place tells me), it's cheesy, a little spicey and has great flavor.

I'm not right about many things, but this one is a guaranteed crowd pleaser.

Al:

How ironic! I was just emailing my friend last night about a new mac-n-cheese place in NYC -- Super Mac. I forwarded the review because she's a big mac-n-cheese fan, but she prefers the ghetto kind -- Kraft mac-n-cheese with the fake cheese. It's usually not my first choice of meal, but I may have to try Super Mac's health-conscious version with whole-wheat pasta and low-fat alternatives.

Kristien:

What a great read! Congrats on the blog. Seems like it's going to be a lot of fun. Now I have to go run and find some mac 'n' cheese.

Chuck:

Wolfgang Puck's Express on the Third Street Promnade in Santa Monica has a great Mac-N-Cheese. Great before a movie.

Chuck Larsen

Thank you for your votes. Sounds like some good options not only across LA, but in Vegas and NY too. In fact, as Seth pointed out May is starting to look like a yum month to look forward to (I see a mac attack at NCTA in Vegas and one at Upfronts in NY).

Amy let us know what you think of the Lodge. Hope you are not offended. I seem to remember meat indeed being involved.

So my serious news follow-up for you all: Why so much mac-n-cheese being offered? Am I mistaken or is this a relatively new phenomenon--so much comfy foods... in L.A.?

Mel.

Michelle Fagan:

The Lot on Formosa and Santa Monica. It's penne pasta with white cheeses and I think the chef sticks it under a broiler. It's the best I've ever had.

Michelle

Robin:

The Belmont on La Cienega has a great mac n cheese. It's filled with bacon and crab!!!! yum!!!

Emily:

One of my all-time favorite dishes. Mac is definitely back. I had some this week at Republic. It was smokey and creamy with al dente shells and the buttery crumbs on top were really crunchy so the texture contrast was swwwweeet. Still there's nothing quite like Amy's organic white cheddar mac when you make it with yogurt....

It definitley seems like comfort food is back. Pork bellies are a big thing now, too. Especially on tasting menus.

From the LABJ: http://www.labusinessjournal.com/archive_article.asp?aID=83757899.01407602.1430858.2695369.9515024.682&aID2=110057

Amy:

The Lodge's mac was superb and was meat free. (not that I'm a vegetarian or anything...god knows I love me my ribs). However, I gotta say I wish I'd skipped the steak at the Lodge and just gone for all sides. Even my fellow diner, Matthew, who's not a big mac 'n' cheese person (huh?) admitted he loved theirs. It came in an extra spiral-y shape, which helped it store more creamy, cheesy goodness in every bite.

Witz:

http://www.cafesurfas.com/menu_full.htm
Restaurant supply store Surfas, in Culver City, also has a lovely cafe, where I had absolutely delish mac-n-cheese. Even better, they will put bacon on top if you want them to!
Highly recommended...

Grego! Talk about timing... I had been wanting to try S'Mac for nearly a year now and finally found time to get over to their East Village location during my last New York trip. I highly recommend it! However, if it's more old school creamy shells & cheese you are looking for, if you're ever in DC, try Rocklands BBQ.

http://www.rocklands.com/

It's primarily a take out joint, though there is SOME space to eat in at the Woodly Park location - likely at the others too, I've just been to the one. But the mac'n'cheese? To die for.

And since when did I have everything in high school, especially before you did? Oh wait, did you mean breakouts and bad boyfriends and the freshman 15 BEFORE ever stepping foot on the campus of MSU? Why yes... yes I DID have those things first! :)

xoxo
SGM

Melissa Grego:

So much yummy advice! Thank you all around.

I had mac-n-cheese at 3rd Stop on 3rd by Cedars last night. Highly recommend it. Their fish-n-chips are excellent too. The crust is seared to the fish. Doesn't hang off like you sometimes see.

You now are invited to duke it out over steak in L.A. in today's Mel's Diner with Todd Beck (Go to: http://blogs.tvweek.com/mels-diner/mels-diner-todd-beck/03.06.2007.html).

Melissa.

Queenelieneb:

I love the mac-n-cheese story. Everyone should have a mac-n-cheese story, you should publish a "mac and cheese" blog and ask everyone to send in their favorite recipe or tell how their Mom made it when they were growing up! My Mom made it with real cheese, eggs, macaroni, milk, butter, salt and pepper and it came out like a confection. I try, but mine doesn't do hers justice! Thanks for the article! They should also tell you if they eat it standing up, or sitting down in front of the TV!

Jeff D.:

I don't order Mac and Cheese, but I know people who agree with Robin and say Belmont has the best! My friends, by definition have great taste so I am going to trust their judgement! =)

Now Mel, I know you've recently heard a conflicting report about the Belmont Mac and Cheese, but my sources are rarely wrong and heavily endorse it.

El's hangover:

There's nothing better for a hangover than mac & cheese. I went to Jerry's Deli today and ordered Mac & Cheese (for my hangover to eat) and my hangover said it was the worst mac & cheese she had ever had! It was like eating boiled macaroni noodles that had been slightly stirred with some kind of white cheddar cheese--so disappointing. Now I have to feed my hangover something else!!!

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