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

March 2007 Archives

Mel's Diner: Larry Jones

March 21, 2007 2:24 PM

The Dish: Schlemeel! Schlemazel! … TV Land’s gonna do it.

The network’s president, Larry Jones, said he is developing a loosely scripted show featuring the real Laverne & Shirley, Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams. As themselves.

Who: Larry Jones, president, TV Land
Where: Nishimura
When: Wednesday, March 13, lunch

The Dish: Schlemeel! Schlemazel! … TV Land’s gonna do it.

The network’s president, Larry Jones, said he is developing a loosely scripted show featuring the real Laverne & Shirley, Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams. As themselves.

He said a pilot, with the duo living together at Penny’s house, is scheduled to shoot next month. It would pair the actresses in a series for the first time since collaborating on the long-running sitcom, “Laverne & Shirley.”

And, omigod, “Make all our dreams come true/For me and youuuu.” (Sing it!). At least it would for me. … This working woman has always been a fan of “Laverne & Shirley.”

The show is one of several new originals New York-based Larry was in Los Angeles to meet on when we had lunch.

To complement the net’s classic TV lineup, Larry’s looking to expand his stable of new shows designed to appeal to TVLand’s target demo, Baby Boomers (40 to 54 year olds, or as TVLand says, the first generation of Americans to grow up alongside television).

He’s hunting for everything--reality, game, loosely scripted fare.

In addition to the real-life Laverne & Shirley project, TV Land is considering a show with George Foreman, who Larry calls the “poster child for reinventing yourself in the second part of life.”

He’s also eyeing a TV Land take on “My Super Sweet 16,” a popular reality series on sibling Viacom-owned network MTV. (TV Land would peg shows to 40th birthdays.)

In August, Larry expects to roll out TV Land’s version of “High School Reunion,” which ran for two seasons on The WB. The original featured 10 year reunions. TV Land is going with 20-year gatherings.

Larry spends three or four days every three weeks or so in Los Angeles, largely to talk to folks about originals.

He stays at the Four Seasons and each morning comes downstairs, camps out and takes pitches all day. It sounded like speed dating the way he described it.

During his last trip he decided to see how many Arnold Palmers he could down in a sitting. The record was 10.

Note to producers: He admits to being wound up after that much sugar and caffeine, so beware of late-in-the-day pitches. (Just jokes. I saw him handle Nishimura’s green iced tea. He can hold his caffeine.)

Larry remains on the lookout for the best way to hook a Boomer up, ie., he’d like to find the right show about dating. It’s an important part of life to many Baby Boomers, according to TV Land research.

There’s lots of TV Land research on the demo by the way.

Viacom’s MTV Networks have a knack for making a business out of serving the demo most interested in a type of programming.

(Read: MTV, Nickelodeon, even Spike, Comedy Central, BET.)

“What we’re doing is in the heritage, the DNA of MTV Nets,” said Larry, who has been with the company since 1988. Incidentally he replaced Rich Cronin, the GSN honcho who joined me for Mel’s Diner earlier this year, at TV Land when Rich left for a different gig.

“We stand for classic TV, we love classic TV,” Larry said. “Boomers were 75 percent of our audience. We thought, 'Is there a way to build a stronger bond not only with lovers of the genre but the demographic?'"

Larry and TV Land are likely to talk in more detail about the shows they’re cooking up and how they serve the net’s mission in New York on Friday. That’s when they’re holding their upfront presentation for advertisers. Boomer and former President Bill Clinton will be the keynote speaker.

Dined On: Sushi!

I’ve now been to two very different sushi joints while reporting Mel’s Diner and they could not have been more different.

Larry Jones recommended Nishimura in West Hollywood. Recently I met Telepictures boss Hilary Estey McLoughlin at Katsu-ya in Studio City.

Nishimura is discreetly located in an ivy-covered building on Melrose across from the Pacific Design Center. It’s bright, elegant, austerely appointed and quiet inside.

They serve traditional sushi, but a Mexican influence seemed apparent. Larry pointed out they were playing Mexican music. The green iced tea with lime in it could be mistaken for a margarita on the rocks. And the appetizer we shared featured pieces of fresh yellowtail with jalapeno and cilantro on it.

The frenetic, crammed Katsu-ya has yellowtail with jalapeno too, but not the cilantro. Or the Mexican music or the margaritas, er, green iced tea with lime (at least that I saw).

What’s your favorite sushi joint?

Mel's Diner: Rick Feldman

March 14, 2007 3:15 PM

Who: Rick Feldman, president-CEO, National Association of Television Program Executives
Where: Pizzeria Mozza, Los Angeles
When: Monday, March 5, lunch

Dined On: I made it to Mozza!

The new pizzeria collaboration from L.A. restaurateur Nancy Silverton and chef and Food Network personality Mario Batali is one tough place to get into.

I was skeptical, but it did not disappoint.

At first when I walked in I thought, What on Earth is the big deal? Best pizza in L.A.? Seriously?

The atmosphere struck me as neither here nor there. It’s busy and crowded and orange.

As it turns out, the service was attentive.

The pizza, well, it was great. The star of the show really.

A simple salad to start and lemon dessert were good book-ends, but the minute I tried my pizza—“funghi misti, fontini, taleggio and thyme”—I understood the draw. Delicioso!

NATPE honcho Rick Feldman, who has the pull to get that 1 p.m. Monday reservation, shared some of his pizza with fennel sausage, panna and red onions. It was good, not necessarily my thing, but a repeat order for him.

He’s from the Bronx, but is not one of those “only New York has good pizza” people, he said. He’d definitely come back for the sausage pizza.

Neither of us was willing to put a “best pizza in L.A.” stamp on this. Not that we didn’t love it.

“It’s gourmet,” as Rick put it, not the place to pop in for one classic slice.

Would love to hear readers rec’s on the best place for the best classic slice, though. Please cast those votes in the comments below.

The Dish: Hollywood, of course, is all about power and money.

NATPE, a non-profit for programming people “doesn’t have power or money, so it’s about being nice and depending on the kindness of strangers,” said Rick Feldman, the org’s boss since 2003. “You just have to listen well to find what people want.”

What he’s hearing: News flash! NATPE-goers don’t love the schlep between the exhibition floor and meetings in hotel suites.

That’s the most common beef in some 750 surveys NATPE just got back about their January gathering at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

Not that Rick and his own sore feet didn’t know it already.

For years, syndicators spent gobs of money putting on big displays on the exhib floor of NATPE. In recent outings, several companies opted to conserve costs and hold meetings in hotel rooms. So attendees have to run back and forth between suites and the exhibition.

Rick’s already talking to folks about next year. It’s all part of his annual listening tour, which starts as soon as NATPE wraps and continues for about six months (not that “listening” ever stops for this guy).

This means keeping track of NATPE’s 8,000 or so constituents. A challenge to say the least.

Still, in a way Rick has it easier than his friends operating studios, he said.

“They are dealing with all these rights, which ones to hold, making long term deals into the future when they don’t know what things will look like or what will work,” he said.

Everybody who owns content is concerned about deciding “whether to give it away to a Google, a YouTube,” he said.

He questioned why any creator would “ever give your stuff away.”

“The amount of money you will make I think from sharing revenue with a third party doesn’t mitigate against driving people to your Web site,” he said. “That’s a big battle.”

TV stations retransmission consent is another big battle. Rick, a local broadcasting veteran, said he is dedicated to making NATPE helpful in sorting these types of issues out.

“I really consider NATPE a sort of public trust,” he said.

Mel's Diner: Hilary Estey McLoughlin

March 8, 2007 9:15 PM

The Dish: Mark my words. Rosie O’Donnell will be back with a single-host talk show in all of her more-candid-than-ever glory.

Who: Hilary Estey McLoughlin, president, Telepictures Productions
When: Tuesday, March 7, lunch
Where: Sushi Katsu-Ya, Studio City

The Dish: Mark my words. Rosie O’Donnell will be back with a single-host talk show in all of her more-candid-than-ever glory.

And for my money, Warner Bros. will be involved.

I had lunch on Tuesday with Hilary Estey McLoughlin, president of Telepictures Productions, the Warner Bros. division that produced Rosie’s former blockbuster chat fest (which, by the way, Hilary executive produced).

No, Hilary did not slip me a peek at some top secret pact under a Katsu-Ya menu. (Of course, the menu there is on a dry erase board.)

Yes, Hilary said all the things she should have, considering Rosie’s signature is on a contract giving ABC first crack at whatever the comedienne might leave “The View” to do. “A lot of companies are interested” and “I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Hilary told me.

But she spoke volumes by explaining how she sees her longtime friend Rosie, both personally and professionally. As well as what makes a successful talk show.

Rosie is “big on e-mail” and “a good soul,” Hilary told me. “I wonder why people never see that.”

Rosie is one of the most charitable celebs around, having given something like $50 million away, Hilary said.

I asked Hilary flat out whether a solo talk show would work with Rosie today, given her penchant for sharing her often controversial thoughts as readily and openly as she does on “The View.”

“Yes,” Hilary said without hesitation. “Even if you don’t agree with her, she compels you to listen to her.”

Hilary believes that a host has to be authentic for a talk show to work, and you can’t get much more candid than Rosie, circa today.

There’s a history, an understanding and a track record between Rosie and Hilary that seems to point to them ultimately collaborating again. Call it a hunch.

They even sound alike.

“People say that,” Hilary said. “She’s Long Island, I’m Queens.”

Clearly they’re tight. And that’s to be expected when people work together on long-running daily talk shows.

Hilary, a 21-year veteran of Warners, has produced many talk shows. Telepictures currently is home to “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and “The Tyra Banks Show.” Hilary speaks highly of Ellen and Tyra too.

For someone known to be dedicated and serious about her work, Hilary was far more chilled out and downright funny over sushi than I expected. She busts her butt, but has a sense of humor about it.

“My daughter calls my BlackBerry my ‘toxic waste of time,’” she said while talking about how tempting it is to use the device while driving.

This week one of the things she’s juggling is finding a home for the TMZ operation.

She has her eye on space along Sunset Boulevard that might accommodate both the celeb news Web site and the syndicated television show based on it that’s due to launch this fall.

The TV show will not be shot in a studio but rather smack dab in the middle of the newsroom, Hilary told me.

TMZ creator Harvey Levin will have an on-air presence along with a number of personalities, all of whom will have strong POVs, serving as hosts.

“It’s not going to be a traditional, ‘Extra’ or ‘Access Hollywood’ two-host format,” she said.

The idea is to capture the sense of urgency and immediacy associated with TMZ.com, famous for breaking the Mel Gibson’s DUI tirade.

“It’s fast and furious and unfiltered,” she said. “TMZ is not sugar-coated. That’s why people like it.”

Dined On: The Katsu-Ya in Studio City, unassuming from the outside, is in a strip mall. Once you step in, though, it’s crammed and busy. It is not hard to tell why.

It’s no-nonsense. The food is excellent. And our tuna with frizzled onions, spicy tuna over crispy rice (my favorite) and yellowtail with jalapeno showed up right away. The lobster dynamite was not far behind.

“This place is all about over-delivering,” Hilary said, stating her preference for this Katsu-Ya over the newer, more glam location near her home in Brentwood.

The Westside restaurant is known as a scene and for making A-listers wait.

On a recent dinner out to the Brentwood location, Hilary saw one famous-ish person skip the delay: “Girls Gone Wild” mogul Joe Francis.

My take: If the guy can convince hundreds of girls to flash on film I imagine he has a line or two ready for the maitre d.

Mel's Diner: Todd Beck

March 6, 2007 3:35 PM

Who: Todd Beck, president, Beck Media & Marketing
When: Wednesday, Feb. 28, lunch
Where: Pacific Dining Car, Santa Monica

Dined On: Attention steak lovers. Occasional beef eaters, too!

Even if you don’t do steak often, it’s worth doing it here.

There are lots of great joints for this sort of thing in L.A., and I’d love to hear readers’ favorites (please post your vote among the comments below). But the Pacific Dining Car’s prime beef truly stands out.

The meat is specially selected for the restaurant, and dry-aged and custom-cut at Pacific Dining Car’s own facility, according to both Todd and the Pacific Dining Car Web site. Steaks are grilled on a special fire that emits super-high heat to lock in the flavor, juices, etc.

The house-made, family-secret relish that comes with the steak is not necessary, since the steak is so good solo, but it’s tangy and sweet and irresistible.

Believe it or not, even better than the steak at Wednesday’s meal was the Maine Lobster Appletini I started with. It’s served with a perfect Louis sauce and green apples. I’ve never had a better lobster concoction. May have even licked the glass (nah, but wanted to).

It’s a treat to come to this restaurant with Todd Beck. He always has perfect recommendations. And he was kind enough this time to remind me that “portions are inordinately jumbo,” so I could pace myself.

He eats here at least twice monthly, between breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner and late-night (both the Santa Monica location and the original downtown are open 24 hours).

His stepdad, Wes Idol II, is the third-generation owner.

Speaking of family, Todd is a first-time dad. He and his wife, former King World publicity pro Susanna Beck, welcomed daughter Willa almost four months ago. So he stuck to the healthiest choices Wednesday (soup and the grilled fresh salmon Caesar). He had a doc appointment the next morning to get some life insurance. (He did cave for a few bites of chocolate soufflé.)

Obviously I’m in love with the food here. The dining experience overall is special, too.

Noir author James Ellroy is a fan and has included the dimly lit restaurant in his books.

White linen-covered tables are positioned further away from each other than at any other place I can think of in Los Angeles.

That means you can eat and chat and not feel like you’re issuing a press release at the same time.

A couple blocks away from Yahoo and MTV, the Santa Monica location is a favorite among some significant media figures. But Dining Car staff doesn’t talk about them.

The waiters are real waiters.

“No server will come up to you and say, ‘Hey, my name’s Bud, I have a pilot at The CW—whoops!—dropped my script,’” Todd said.

The Dish: Used “neologism” in conversation today? Never? Me neither.

That’s the sort of vocab Todd has rattled off naturally as long as I’ve known him (about eight years). He’s one of the smartest dudes I know.

His Beck Media & Marketing, based in Westwood, specializes in what he calls “technotainment” (thus the neologism reference).

Todd founded his company about seven years ago, after working in PR at CBS’s syndie division, a stint in the PR agency world and a dotcom venture.

Back then, “Technotainment was a cool, new concept,” he said. Now everyone’s doing it. Or trying to.

He’s since made a humming biz out of understanding the intersection of technology and entertainment. He found that having clients in both traditional TV and new media not only keeps him interested, it’s good business all around.

He has long seen what many folks in the industry are just starting to grasp. That media of all kinds, new and old, are inextricably linked, and best served when that’s taken into account.

Knowing the new-media stuff helps him “drive PR efforts for TV shows” with the latest tech-enabled strategies. It also means he can show new-media companies how to “see the television landscape,” he said.

Todd’s blossoming client list includes Sony Pictures Television, GoTV Networks, Digitalsmiths and DMGI. Even while we were having lunch, he got a call about new business. Hmmm. Perhaps little Willa’s not the only baby Beck in for a growth spurt.