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.
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.