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
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.
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.
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