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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


April 2007 Archives

Mel's Diner: Rob Silverstein

April 27, 2007 11:53 AM

Who: Rob Silverstein, executive producer, “Access Hollywood”
When: Monday, April 16, lunch
Where: The Ivy, Los Angeles

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The Dish: I’ve known Rob for years. He has always been a competitive guy, and so fun to talk to because of it. At lunch he seemed especially riled up about the “other shows.”


Maybe it was the impending May sweeps. Or the seemingly unending, cutthroat-and-costly-to-cover Anna Nicole Smith stories.

But I did get the sense more than ever that I will never catch him exchanging pretend Hollywood kiss-kisses with his competitors on the red carpet.

It’s certainly not uncommon for folks to jump around in TV jobs. “Access” has lost a few staff members in the last 18 months; it sounds like Rob struggles with it.

Anybody who leaves “Access Hollywood” and winds up at a competing show, “I have a hard time with it,” he said. “I take this very seriously. I’ve lived this for 11 years.”

Former host Pat O’Brien went to CBS’s “Entertainment Tonight” spin-off “The Insider” two seasons ago. He saw Pat at the Golden Globes.

“When I see him I say hello,” he said of Pat, who he’s known for a good decade and a half. “Maybe we’ll hook up again.”

Rob’s team separates itself from other syndicated newsmags with “presentation and attitude,” he said. He’s always looking for distinguishing features, like the big push he planned at the Cannes Film Festival this year. It’s devised, he said, “to combat the monkey stories others roll out at sweeps.”

“Access” has been in rebuilding mode since Pat’s and the other departures, he said. It’s now in quite a good place. Daily viewership is up 8 percent year-to-year, and the “Access” Web site is cranking after a revamp in September and an infusion of staff.

Rob now is pondering the creation of new shows. He and “Access” co-host Billy Bush talk a lot about both a late-night show and a daytime vehicle.

Rob envisions the daytime one as a sort of “Regis and Kelly” with more video. He said Billy, who he calls his “moment machine,” would be outstanding as talent on both.

The two are tight. Rob clearly values Billy’s spontaneous, bold approach to things. He also values a tell-it-like-it-is vibe on the show.

He told me a story about an interview Billy did with Lindsay Lohan after she and Wilmer Valderrama broke up. Rob was in the control room—and Billy’s earpiece.

Lindsay said something about the split being mutual.

“I blurted in Billy’s ear, ‘It’s never mutual!’” Rob said.

Immediately Billy leaned in and said to Lindsay, “It’s never mutual.”

Um, uncomfortable … but, hey, much more fun to watch, no?

Rob is a very hands-on producer.

“I approve the scripts, read every word, you have to be in the control room every day,” he said. “It moves too fast not to do it like I do.”

Still, Rob said he could see himself handling one other daily show in addition to “Access” within the next three years.

He does lots of specials. “Access” recently produced one on Anna Nicole for MyNetworkTV that was a ratings win for the struggling freshman outfit. MyNet and “Access” have plans to collaborate on at least a half-dozen more specials, with more likely down the line.

When MyNet President Greg Meidel phoned Rob about doing them, Greg called the “Access” team “animals,” Rob said, beaming like he could not have received a greater compliment.

Dined On: Rob picked this restaurant partly for the celeb spectacle it’s known for. His show does, after all, cover the every move of every starlet known to frequent this place.

The Ivy plays host daily to a string of what he calls lunch-hour “premieres.” Stars with a hankering for publicity, or even just a good hair day, know they can come here and count on being captured in flattering noon-time light.

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“There are lots of great restaurants,” Rob said. “There’s no reason to come here over and over unless you want to be seen.”

There was one other draw at The Ivy that day: Stone crab, one of Rob’s life-long favorites. Though he was pretty sure it was not exactly in season, he gave it a shot.

His review: “Good, not great.” Restaurants rarely serve it cold enough, and it’s always best when “sweet and cold,” he said.

Not that The Ivy’s crab stood a chance against the memory of fresh stone crab at Joe’s in Miami. That’s where Rob’s dad “Big Al” took the then New York-based family every year during Christmastime vacations when Rob was a kid.

Rob continues the tradition with his wife and four kids (daughters, 13 and 8; and twin 11-year-old sons) by ordering Joe’s shipped to his home in Tarzana every New Year’s.

On the books: Next week Mel’s Diner features CBS Television Distribution’s Bob Madden.

Mel’s Diner: Tracy Green

April 20, 2007 1:36 PM

Who: Tracy Green, executive VP, Lion Television USA
Where: Cabana Restaurant, Four Seasons Hotel
When: Monday, April 2, lunch

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The Dish: The next great frontier of prime time is right at all of our fingertips, as far as Lion TV USA’s Tracy Green is concerned.

It’s the human body.

“We are a nation of hypochondriacs,” she told me the other day over lunch.

So when her colleague at Lion in the U.K. came up with what she called an inspired idea to follow the health of 100 people, she ran with an Americanized version of the concept and dubbed it “Diagnosis Live.”

The show is devised as a “mystery” in which a handful of participants undergo a battery of the most advanced medical tests available. The results then get revealed live on the air.

The format already has been sold in Australia, Tracy said, and she is pitching it to U.S. networks now while her colleagues at Lion, a busy, U.K.-based production outfit, are pitching the show internationally at MIP.

This project is her baby, she says. She’s been spending much of her creative energy lately sorting out its execution.

She also just started talking to networks and distributors about “Party Bus,” a new program inspired by Lion’s “Cash Cab,” in addition to negotiating the distribution of the live entertainment program “Let Me Entertain You.”

“Party Bus” is a game show much like “Cash Cab,” which Discovery has locked up for the U.S. Instead of being set in a taxi, it takes place—you guessed it—on a bus. Buyers have been clamoring for something like “Cash Cab,” Tracy said, illustrating how a little track record can go a long way in TV today.

Tracy, on the other hand, is dying for more live or live-to-tape productions. Her roots are in local TV, and she said she savors any opportunity to be in a control room experiencing the sort of as-it-happens moments that are unique to, well, as-it-happens TV.

In addition to “Diagnosis Live,” “Party Bus,” “Entertain” and some other shows in development, Tracy’s mind was on her U.K. bosses as we sat at the Four Seasons.

“I feel a tremendous responsibility to find and create a hit for them,” she said of the company, which charged her with drumming up a Los Angeles-based business for them in 2005.

She expected “Diagnosis Live” to be “a big star” for the company at MIP.

“The medical genre is huge, but no one’s really figured how to do it on the networks,” she said. “The idea is you’re sitting at home and watching and say, ‘Omigod I’m so glad that guy went on that show.’”

The aim is “not to find someone with an embolism about to burst on the air,” she said, but rather to find things early and help people get the attention they need before they get sick. It’s about showing the power of preventive medicine.

Dined On: Tracy picked the Cabana Restaurant for a few reasons. First, Four Seasons venues tend to be popular among international business travelers, she said, and being that she works for a global company some foreign fare seemed appropriate.

Besides, a warm-beer-and-bangers-and-mash-serving English pub, while being perhaps more fitting “might be too smelly.” Plus she got her job offer here and took her parents to Cabana once she accepted the offer.

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Whatever reasons brought me to this quiet patio dining area adjacent to the hotel spa, I was happy to be there.

My Mediterranean trio, Tracy’s chicken skewers and the cobb salad we split were good, and as I expected, I loved the freshly-brewed passion fruit vanilla iced tea concoction.

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I pay good attention to which restaurants do iced tea right, and knew even if I hated the Cabana food (certainly not the case) I’d at least have a brilliant glass of the stuff.

Every Four Seasons I’ve dined at takes iced tea seriously. They serve it with ice cubes made out of the tea—so as the ice melts it doesn’t dilute the drink. How smart is that?

Mel's Diner: Preston Beckman

April 11, 2007 9:26 AM

Who: Preston Beckman, executive VP, strategic program planning and research, Fox Broadcasting Company
When: Wednesday, April 4, lunch
Where: The Beacon, Culver City

Preston Beckman

The Dish: Preston Beckman is a big deal in the TV biz. Most people know this. Over lunch I learned a few things you might not know. Here are my top 10:

1. How big of a deal he actually is. This guy calls some serious shots. He oversees all Fox strategic program planning and scheduling, including series launches, sweeps events, and year-round programming operations. He is responsible for all audience research and measurement initiatives at the top-rated network. (Okay, he didn’t share this during lunch—his Fox bio says it. But he really is the boss of all this stuff.)

2. He doesn’t worry about how “American Idol” performs in the ratings beyond, eh, about 5 years from now.
He has his eye on retirement down the road, he said with a laugh-and the apparent confidence that the show will go on and on and on. “I think it can keep going,” he said.

He has, however, been debating daily with Fox reality guru Mike Darnell whether the return each week of widely-panned “Idol” performer Sanjaya Malakar this season is helping the show or hurting it. Darnell says it helps for now, Preston said. Preston added that he basically agrees and that he will be “shocked” if Sanjaya is “standing at the end.”

3. Preston fully expects Fox will be up in the ratings in the 4th quarter, annually the network’s trouble spot. He’s so sure that he told Peter Chernin, president and COO of Fox-parent News Corp, earlier in the day we had lunch that “we don’t have an excuse this 4th quarter,” he said.

Why? The network has two things going for it: A relatively stable schedule and some good hopes in development.

“We always feel good with ‘Idol’ on the air and I love Fox Sunday nights—it’s old school Fox,” Preston said. “Our job is to build the house so you can change the furniture once in awhile. We’re getting close.”

Priorities for the fall are finding a companion for “House,” “Til Death” and “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader,” as well as some more non-animated comedy that works. It’s not a short order, but doable, Preston said.

“I am always looking for shows that are great series, not just a good pilot,” he said. “You want to repeat some of these, not serialize everything.”

If a solid companion to “House” could make Tuesday a drama destination night, Fox might considering moving “Idol,” he said.

4. It’s pretty tough to tweak Preston Beckman. I said he doesn’t worry about “Idol” down the line, right? Well, he seems to be an exemplary take-it-in-stride guy in general.

Sitting down for a long lunch on an April day in the homestretch of a hard-fought TV season, he looked so … unflappable. And that’s with “Idol” showing a hint of wear in the ratings, hopes high that “Til Death” will continue building, and pilots and table reads underway for projects being considered for next season, etc. etc.

“I’m always relaxed,” he said, “I’ve never taken this stuff seriously. I’m just happy to be doing this job.”

“I honestly am very competitive; I like to win,” he added. “But I sleep well at night.”

Preston said he likes to quote his former NBC boss Don Ohlmeyer: “Some days you’re the windshield, some days the bug.”

When I pressed him about sensitive subjects, like how “Idol” judge Paula Abdul often seems stoned on the air, he just smiled and—in a nice, respectful way—shut me down with, “I’m not gonna talk about that.”

5. He got NBC into the reality game with video of a man’s head plunging into an elephant’s butt. Back in the days when producer Bruce Nash was supplying Fox shocking videos like those on “When Animals Attack”—and big ratings to go along with them—NBC was not yet airing reality programs.

Preston and NBC marketing honcho John Miller took a meeting with the producer, who showed them the elephant video. And told them he had a, ya know, buttload of others like it.

Preston and NBC quickly stole Nash away from Fox and launched “Amazing Videos.”

6. He designed an egalitarian, family-room-style screening process for pilot season that seats the likes of News Corp. Chairman-CEO Rupert Murdoch next to young assistants in small groups around a 36-inch TV.
Virtually everyone at the network participates, and everyone’s say is taken into account. Each group is diverse both in terms of rank and department.

He established the procedure at NBC, which still uses a similar approach. Fox is changing the deal a bit this year, incorporating slightly bigger groups, but with the same basic idea, he said.

7. His best buddy, Vince Manze, was just made Preston’s direct rival at his old NBC stomping grounds. Earlier this month Manze, who was president and creative director of the NBC Agency since 1999, was named president of NBC program planning, scheduling and strategy for NBC Universal.

“He’s always been a competitor; now he’s just in the same job,” Preston said.

8. The son of a New York cab driver, Preston supported himself while attending NYU by driving a taxi overnight. He’d start at about 3 or 4 a.m. and work til 2 p.m. Then he went to class.

As for sleep, he could “get away with 3 hours of sleep in college.” He still doesn’t need much shut-eye. He rises these days at 4 in the morning.

9. That is Dr. Beckman, thank you very much. “Nah, don’t write that,” Mr. Modesty said.

Preston got his Ph.D. in Sociology from NYU. He was working at Adelphi University when a friend told him about a job in research at NBC. They were looking for someone who could work with statistics.

“And I liked TV,” he said. It turned out to be his first gig in the business.

10. He especially liked wrestling on TV back then. Still does. It was “on every night” when he was a kid growing up in Queens. His Dad took him to matches.

The melodrama of pro wrestling taught him a thing or two about storytelling. The bad guys, he said, were generally “more interesting.” Which is perhaps why he doesn’t mind that Fox has cultivated a cutthroat, morally ambiguous persona. “We love it,” he said.

Dined On: Call Preston a Renaissance man. The wrestling fanatic is also a big fan of jazz, which is how he discovered Beacon.

The restaurant is in the Helms Bakery complex that also is home to the Jazz Bakery, which he and his wife frequent. He’s been there quite a few times since, often for staff celebrations.

Beacon

We shared some appetizers to start, spring rolls, ahi pizza and chicken wings. Good, good and good.

Beacon Appetizers

I’ll give a hearty rec to my entrée, the short ribs—very good.

Short Ribs

What was great, though, was the krispy sundae dessert, which I basically stole from our chaperone, Fox corp comm’s Scott Grogin. He ordered it, I ate it.

Sundae

Mel’s Diner: Sam Schoemann

April 2, 2007 4:06 PM

Who: Sam Schoemann, VP Client Development, Concrete Pictures
Where: Border Grill, Santa Monica
When: Tuesday, March 20, lunch

The Dish: Call it branded entertainment, product integration, a combo of network promotion and ad sales. However you say it, like most things in business today, it’s competitive.

“The industry is evolving so quickly,” Sam Schoemann said. “Look at my kids. Saturday morning cartoons? No. Saturday morning computer.”

But hey this is America. Hollywood, no less. Who’s not up for a little challenge?

“If you have a bone in you that’s entrepreneurial, now is the time, the opportunity to make things happen,” Sam said. “If you’re passionate and can visualize ideas, the TV business is one place you can get things done.”

Sam joined Concrete Pictures in December from the promo division of “Rugrats” producer Klasky Csupo. He is charged with building on the Phildelphia-based firm’s traditional broadcast design biz.

Sam is knocking on the doors of advertisers, agencies and networks to create coordinated campaigns on which Concrete Pictures does the production. DirecTV and Travel Channel are among the networks he is working with this way.

The gig is still new, but so far he’s enjoying a creative approach to drumming up business.

The day we had lunch, for example, he got word that a Japanese Maple tree he sent to the New York office of an exec he’d been trying to reach had arrived at its destination.

I’ve heard of flowers, gift baskets. I got milk and cookies before. But he sent a tree?

“Well I did send a note with it,” he said. “You know: ‘Just tryin’ to branch out.’”

Dined On: Sam eats at Border Grill at least once a week.

“This is good food. They understand the subtleties of flavor. It feels homey and you can almost always get a table,” he said.

The “they” he referred to is culinary duo Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger aka “Too Hot Tamales,” as their former Food Network series dubbed them.

Sam generally orders specials at Border Grill; when we met up that meant pollo Colorado.

He also suggested a sampler plate so I could check out some of his regular faves.

The tamales in the sampler are especially yummy. Like eating baby food for the first time, Sam says.

I got chili relleno, and we shared the decadent tres leches for dessert.

If you didn’t get the drift by now, the Border Grill menu is Mexican.

Or, more precisely, “someone’s take on Mexican,” Sam said. “If you want traditional Mexican go to Tito’s Tacos.”

Of course, for Sam, Border Grill has Tito’s beat on location: Concrete Pictures’ West Coast office is in a brick building at the corner of 4th and Broadway in Santa Monica—right across the street from the restaurant on 4th.

Concrete Pictures’ space has a view Sam says looks a heckuva lot like what you see when Larry David peers out the window of his office on HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Sam suspects those scenes are shot somewhere in the building.

He asked me to ask “my people” if they knew. … So, my people, I’m asking. Anyone know whether the building used for Larry’s office is at 4th and Broadway?