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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


June 2007 Archives

Mel's Diner: Paul Colichman

June 29, 2007 10:20 AM

Who: Paul Colichman, founder-CEO, here! Networks
When: Monday, May 21, lunch
Where: Mr. Chow, Beverly Hills

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The Dish: People warned Paul Colichman in 2002 that the cable industry is conservative.

At the time, the producer of such acclaimed feature films as “Gods & Monsters” and “Tom and Viv” was getting ready to launch the premium gay TV network here!, the only programming service of its kind.

Paul envisioned hip, sexy gay programming, not the ad-supported shows on Viacom’s Logo and NBC Universal’s Bravo that he refers to as “gay light.”

“People don’t pay for that,” he said. “To be a pay service you cannot be coy. We knew we had to deliver authentic imagery.”

As it turned out, cable operators and viewers alike have been receptive.

“If this is conservative, it’s not so bad,” he said.

As we shared lunch in late May, he was preparing for the July 1 launch of here! as a subscription video-on-demand service in 22 markets. The switch is likely to be the thing to put the 5-year-old endeavor, which now employs some 60 staffers, in the black, Paul said.

“Americans, the vast majority, have a live-and-let-live attitude,” he said.

“The people on Fox News are the vast minority,” he added. “They do not represent the heartland. They’re a teeny tiny group.”

The service is available nationwide on all major cable systems and Internet TV providers in some form, but as of July 1 it will be available as subscription video-on-demand in 23 of the top 25 U.S. markets. Comcast is scheduled to pick up the service as SVOD in 21 markets, and Time Warner, which already offers it that way in New York, is due to add Los Angeles.

Paul said he has had a lot of angels looking over this project. Logo, which might appear to be a competitor, was one of them. That channel, backed by media conglom Viacom, helped pave the way for here! by introducing the gay genre to the TV industry.

“Though a lot were not wild about Logo, they got the message,” he said.

The gay community is one of the most educated, affluent, influential populations in the U.S., with $650 billion in spending power this year, Paul reminded me.

“That includes a lot of double-income, no-kid families with much disposable income,” he said.

Privately held here! has come a long way since it was a germ of an idea for an investment in an underserved media market.

Paul and Stephen P. Jarchow, his partner in motion picture company Regent, invested $40 million of their own money and Regent profits in here!

Regent had been profitable for a decade, selling projects to more than 300 outlets worldwide, when Paul and Stephen started to look at how some other indie filmmakers’ careers progressed. They were particularly inspired by the path taken by media mogul Haim Saban, whom Forbes lists as the 98th richest man in America.

“Haim chose a niche, then created an opportunity (with the Family Channel) for a cable network he could produce content for,” Paul said.

Showtime and MTV, both Viacom companies at the time, were collaborating on a pay TV gay programming project. When that service, known as Outlet, was shelved, the opportunity opened up for Paul and Stephen to take that tack. (MTV Networks, of course, went on to launch the ad-supported Logo.)

Initially, as a gay man, Paul thought Madison Avenue would accept his creative vision for here!, so he flirted with the idea of working sponsorships into the model.

He met with a major advertiser who expressed interest in tapping the power of the demographic, but asked one key question: Would they show men kissing each other?

Um, yeah. In that moment it was clear. Off to premium land they went.

Dined on: Paul said he’s been coming to Mr. Chow as long as he can remember. It’s his favorite kind of business-lunch place.

“Everyone here is doing the same thing, there’s great service, and it’s also delicious,” he told me before we ordered.

Given all that, I was surprised to hear he has never seen the menu.

A decade had passed since the last time I dined here, so I completely forgot that part of the allure of this celebrity favorite is menu-less ordering. Or, in our case, orderless ordering.

The charming server chatted with us about what we might be hungry for and we made some health requests (Paul: no oil; me: food allergy clarifications). Soon we were surprised with an incredible spread that included dumplings and broccoli.

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The prices at Mr. Chow are certainly well above average. The restaurant technically is in the business of Chinese cuisine, but eating there is far from simply “going for Chinese.” I was amazed at how something as simple as broccoli truly can be better at a place like this.

The seamless, elegant choreography with which they deliver the eats is worth mentioning. There’s a certain aura the wait staff brings to the table along with their crisp white jackets and plates of food.

Though Mr. Chow is as well known as any L.A. restaurant for a rich, hip, Hollywood clientele, there was no star factor at lunch that I noticed. It was very much a business crowd.

Coincidentally, though, a few days after Paul and I had lunch at Mr. Chow, I headed back there to meet some colleagues for dessert who were in from out of town. They gushed about how great their dinner was.

At night, the restaurant is transformed into something closer to the Hollywood haunt I imagined at lunch, though more old-school.

A camera crew was outside interviewing an 8-foot-tall woman who looked like a model—I think it was Angie Everhart. Jackie Collins and Marla Maples were at nearby tables, and the couple next to us told inside stories about $300K-a-year golfing at The Donald’s club.

In other words, it’s the sort of place where Paris Hilton’s parents would hang out. Maybe even Nicky Hilton—but not likely Paris. In fact, the Hilton fam reportedly dined there, sans Paris, the night she began her jail sentence.

On the Books: “Hannah Montana” Executive Producers Steven Peterman and Michael Poryes

Mel’s Diner: Lauren Corrao

June 8, 2007 1:03 PM

Who: Lauren Corrao, executive VP, original programming and development, Comedy Central
When: Wednesday, May 16, lunch
Where: Bistro 45, Pasadena

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The Dish: It was never more apparent to Lauren Corrao than the day we had lunch that nobody’s doing comedy. At least not on the broadcast networks, she said.

It was the middle of the upfronts week, when the biggest networks reveal their fall schedules for advertisers in New York. The lineups included few new humorous offerings.

That’s actually pretty okay with Lauren. She loves “being able to do comedy when no one else is— and do it well,” she said.

As we dined, about eight new Comedy Central pilots were under way, with the casting process going on for one, director searches on others, one due to shoot in New York the following Monday, and the rest rolling between now and August.

The network could have “as few as two going to series, or as many as five,” Lauren said. She officially announced her development slate on May 29.

She gets shows, projects and ideas from all sorts of sources. For one thing, she believes in finding talent in the sea of amateur and short-form video circulating in new media platforms. For example, upcoming series “Lil Bush,” slated to premiere on Comedy Central on June 13, started on Amp’d Mobile.

The network’s staff always has an eye out for the next “Lil Bush.” Each week people at the network on both coasts submit videos that go up on a site Lauren checks out over the weekend. Not that she’s not looking and laughing at that sort of thing all the time.

The day we had lunch she was completely amused by a video her assistant and Comedy Central GM Michele Ganeless had each sent to her that morning. It depicts an unfortunate collision between a break dancer and a child spectator.

“It’s not the twistedness of the child getting kicked” that made her laugh, she said. “But the surprise of it.”

That’s her sense of humor. She likes the unexpected.

“I do enjoy humor and love to be surprised. That’s probably the reason I’m more suited to cable,” said the executive, who has worked at MTV and Fox and as a producer. “Broadcast tends to be more predictable because they’re trying to appeal to a mass audience.”

Dined On: Lauren said she comes to Bistro 45 all the time. It’s an elegant spot in a deco building in Pasadena and has developed a reputation as being one of the best restaurants in town. They offer an extensive wine list, wine dinners and truly wonderful food. It’s a little expensive, but I found you get what you pay for.

She has lived in Pasadena for eight years now, and quickly became friends with the owner, Robert Simon, and his wife. Lauren, who has a 13-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son, met Robert at her daughter’s school.

“I got into wine largely coming to this restaurant,” she said. She now keeps a stash of what she calls “the good stuff” both at home and the Comedy Central Stage.

At lunch, Lauren and Robert thought it would be good to order just a half bottle to share among her, Comedy Central PR guru Jenni Runyan and me.

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It was French, a chardonnay, and I honestly can’t tell you much more about what I ate and drank. But I loved the cauliflower soup, my monkfish entrée and chocolate dessert. Lauren and Jenni both started with a salad laden with burata cheese that they reported was good, good, good.

We shall blame my lack of additional fooddetailsontheimbibing. I rarely drink anything but water or iced tea at lunch. Or ever. Some so-called friends nicknamed me Half-Can Jan. (I swear, though: I took my time with the dessert, so no one was in danger when I hit the road back to the office).

Lauren said we Americans have something to learn from the Europeans about the whole drink-at-lunch, work-to-live idea. The British, too. (She worked in London for a year.)

“At lunch there, you go to pubs and people down two pints, sometimes two bottles of wine,” she said. “I’d get back from lunch and have to put my head down and sleep for an hour.”

On the Books: here!’s Paul Colichman

Mel's Diner: Steve Lipscomb

June 1, 2007 12:20 PM


Who: Steve Lipscomb, founder and president-CEO, WPT Enterprises, the World Poker Tour and the Professional Poker Tour
When: Wednesday, May 2, lunch
Where: Luna Park

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The Dish: Steve and I met for what has become an increasingly rare moment—he was actually in town!

The globe-trotter, whose “World Poker Tour” shoots all over the world, was just back from the Bellagio in Las Vegas, where he filmed the 100th episode of the show that launched a thousand poker projects. The Bellagio tournament featured a $16 million prize pool, generated by 639 people plunking down a $25,000 buy-in. It was the largest non-online gaming kitty ever, he said.

He planned to stay in town the whole week, resting for a few weeks, then kicking off production on the sixth season of the show at the Mirage. With the new season, “WPT” is moving to GSN from the Travel Channel.

Steve renegotiated his deal last year to allow him to create non-gaming projects outside of the WPT business he founded, he said. But he’s still so excited about what he does with WPT that “it’s impossible to take time” for different projects, Steve said.

We marveled together at the evolution of this company, which I have followed since its inception. I wrote the first piece about WPT when I was a reporter at Variety, just a few paragraphs about this guy who got funding, formed a poker league and started shooting episodes of a show before making a deal with a network. All this on the belief that poker should be a regularly televised sport.

Before just about single-handedly igniting the televised poker boom, Steve was a lawyer-turned-documentarian who was creating shows with Norman Lear and Al Burton.

“It’s been quite a process of starting a little business at a studio with four people on the lot,” he said. It since has grown into more than a hundred full-time employees, plus dozens more on production days.

From this point, Steve is focused on lining up new business (and of course his TVWeek.com blog “From the Inside Looking In”).

Among the things Steve has percolating:

-He signed a deal with Grup Peralada, the largest casino group in Spain, to put a WPT event in their Barcelona casino; they also will attempt to launch a regional poker tour together.

-PlayWPT.com launches in late June, and Steve said he expects it to be the company’s biggest revenue source. It features online poker, and eventually casino poker, in legal territories.

-He’s also launching a new business in July by “taking layers of the TV brand strength to drive new businesses internationally.” The concept is to “use every consumer touchpoint,” from TV to playing cards, to drive people to the online site. “The strength of the brand we have built extends far and wide, with 150 countries and territories having aired the show,” he told me by e-mail later. “The plan is to leverage that brand awareness to build this business.”

-WPT is getting into the online community that is building around games of chance that don’t involve money changing hands. Steve believes there’s a lucrative business opportunity there, even if Internet gambling is never legalized in the U.S. Steve is exploring subscription models that will allow people to enjoy the online gaming experience within the confines of the sweepstakes laws, he said.

“This will be the tentpole that we will use to build a robust poker community,” Steve said.

Since WPT is a public company, Steve spends a lot of time on legal and reporting stuff. Still, he says it’s never the same day twice. “It’s the exact opposite of Groundhog Day.”

“I have great people working with me,” including a new assistant, he said. “She is great. It feels like ‘The West Wing’ sometimes. I walk in, and she’s got four people lined up and organized and waiting to find out an answer to something different every time.”

Dined On: While Steve’s life is anything but routine, he keeps coming back to Luna Park time and again. In fact, this was at least the third time he and I have met here for lunch in the last couple years.

“It defines great food and a great scene without being a Hollywood scene,” he said.

He brings everyone here, from owners of media congloms and celebrities to my sister, he said.

“Everyone says they’ve got to come back here.”

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The menu offers a range of inspired dishes without being pretentious. It’s always well-executed, and the staff is friendly without being annoyingly chummy. Example: Steve said he rarely deviates from his usual, the whitefish sandwich. The waitress subtly nodded when he ordered his favorite, acknowledging without intruding.

For dessert we shared s’mores, capping off what the waitress called “the full Luna Park experience.”

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On the books: Comedy Central’s Lauren Corrao