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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


September 2007 Archives

Mel's Diner: Pat Mitchell

September 20, 2007 4:58 PM

Who: Pat Mitchell, president-CEO, the Paley Center for Media
Where: Cafe 440, Beverly Hills
When: Thursday, Sept. 6, lunch

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Dined On: I knew Pat Mitchell and I were going to see eye-to-eye as soon as we started talking at Cafe 440.

“Food enhances a community experience,” she said as she walked me through her best bets on the menu.

You could say Mel’s Diner agrees with that.

The small patio dining area is adjacent to the Frederick Fekkai Salon, about a block down an alley from the Paley Media Center in Beverly Hills. Pat, who lives in New York, usually dines at this spa-tastic spot when she comes to L.A. That’s at least once a month.

Pat made the “community” comment to explain why she’s been talking to this restaurant about setting up a cafe at the media center, formerly known as the Museum of Television & Radio. The Paley doesn’t have a kitchen, but it still could offer coffee drinks and pre-made breakfast and lunch fare such as bagels, salads and wraps. They’d just need some sort of mobile cart like you see at lots of museums.

The idea is to encourage people to meet for a bite at the center, where they could access its collection of audio and video material over a secure data connection. Establishing that digital access is part of a bigger push for both of the center’s locations, in New York and L.A.

“We have these beautiful buildings,” Pat said. “We hope to give people a reason to visit them even if they’re not coming for a specific show or program. Maybe people are having lunch and say to each other, ‘Remember that ‘Bob Newhart’ scene?’ And then be able to pull it up on a screen right there.”

Sign me up.

Really, could there be a more appropriate place for a future Mel’s Diner than the Media Center itself, where we can view just about anything we’re talking about?

“Newhart” was top of mind for Pat. She was in town partly to attend the Paley’s special “The Bob Newhart Show” cast reunion event, co-hosted by TVLand. The program, which kicked off the Paley’s fall 2007 events schedule, was held the night before our lunch.

Pat started out talking to Starbucks about her cafe notion, but the coffee mega-chain already has a Beverly Hills location close by.

That is just as well. Cafe 440-level food would be well worth a trip to the Paley for the meal alone. Pat and I both had Frederic’s Favorite salad. She asked for hers with chicken; I ordered mine with tuna. It’s chopped and chockfull of some of my faves as well: broccoli, mozzarella, garbanzo beans and red cabbage.

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The Dish: In addition to attending the “Newhart” event, Pat was in town for the Los Angeles board of governors meetings; she always tries to meet with Paley trustees and other media executives in the area as well.

She’s also always fundraising for the many plans she has for the Paley. The center launched a campaign earlier this year and is on its way to achieving its goal of raising $20 million by the end of 2007.

At this point about 2,000 hours of the center’s TV programs have been digitized (along with more than 1,500 radio hours). Some 10,000 hours are earmarked as priorities, and the center will do the whole 150,000 eventually, Pat said.

Processing the content would enable the center to make the library searchable and viewable to visitors using kiosks in the Paley locations in New York and L.A. Pat said she was just chatting with “Law & Order” creator Dick Wolf about her plans on the very morning of our lunch.

“I told him, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if someone comes in, wants to see all about you, and they can just plug in your name and bring up everything we have related to your career?’” she said. “He loved it.”

As I continue to refer to the former MT&R as the Paley, I realize it is coming more naturally than I expected when the organization changed its name this summer.

Pat said she had been thinking about a name change ever since she came on board in March 2006.

The switch took longer to execute than she thought it might, partly because of the difficulty of finding the right moniker. (The org’s name was changed once before, from the Museum of Broadcasting.)

Changing “TV & Radio” to “Media” was an easy sell to the group there, who worked with consultants Landor on the switch.

And “Museum” never quite fit, she said.

“We have a collection, but people who came in, particularly in New York, expected things on the walls and Archie Bunker’s chair,” she said.

“Center” seemed closest to “community,” and to how she sees the org.

The folks at Landor said institutions become familiar by associating them with people’s names. Think the Guggenheim, the Kennedy Center, the Getty. Landor suggested “Paley,” for the Center’s late founder William S. Paley.

Although a lot of the Center’s members who were polled didn’t know who he was, they liked that he was a real person. In addition, Paley was a visionary whose diverse media career represented the spirit of the center and where it was going, Pat said.

Pat’s career has been expansive as well. In addition to heading PBS prior to joining the Paley, she has worked for three broadcast networks and several cable channels, serving as reporter, news anchor, talk-show host, producer and executive, among other things.

“People look at my career, and often think I must have been so ambitious and known what I wanted to do,” she said. “Really, the thing that always guided me is what interested me.”

She signed on for two years with the Paley initially, but she told me she is sure she’ll be there for a while.

“I’m very energized by it,” she said.

Mel's Diner: Special Emmy Weekend Edition

September 20, 2007 4:00 PM

Who: Dann Florek, “Law & Order: SVU”; Al Gore
Where: NBC Universal’s pre-Emmy party, Spago, Beverly Hills; the Governors Ball, the Shrine, Los Angeles
When: Saturday, Sept. 15; Sunday, Sept. 16

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The Dish: The Emmys are like a national holiday at Mel’s Diner. Throughout the awards weekend, the entire TV community gathers at party after party around town, where the best food and drink are served and spirits are high.

I stopped by several celebrations on Emmys Eve, and a couple following the awards Sunday. On both nights, I wound up eating dinner with some pretty special Emmygoers.

NBC Universal’s event at Spago Saturday night was as packed with stars, producers and execs as it was last year, when I moved a telephone off a counter in order to put my plate down.

This year, I saw a couple of seats open up at an actual table, and asked a woman sitting there if TVWeek Design Director Jennifer Ciminillo and I could join them. Turns out the couple was “Law & Order: SVU’s” Dann Florek and his wife, Karen Florek, a wonderful painter and photographer.

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Dann portrays Capt. Donald Cragen, a role he originated on the flagship NBC series “Law & Order.” He and Karen live in Venice; he was getting ready to head to New York the following Tuesday, though, to start shooting the ninth season of “SVU.”

“SVU’s” Mariska Hargitay was nominated in the lead actress in a drama category, which was awarded to Sally Field the next day, but the show already was celebrating a win for Leslie Caron’s guest turn, which was announced the previous Saturday.

We talked food, life, driving and “SVU.” Dann was candid and animated. As he said, he “has an opinion about everything.”

Especially fun was our discovery that Dann, Karen, Jen and I all hailed from Michigan. Dann and Karen attended Eastern Michigan University.

Dann said he loves driving, which is not a surprise considering his roots—those of us who come from anywhere near Detroit tend to have a natural affinity for wheels.

“[Karen] thinks I hate to drive, because I think everyone else is an asshole,” Dann said. “But I need my f-you driving time!”

Going into the ninth season of “SVU,” Dann wouldn’t dish about any spoilers, but he did say his bosses are not afraid to “try new things” at this point in the run. He’s clearly very proud to be part of the series and the role it has played in addressing the stigma of rape.

“I feel blessed in a lot of ways,” he said. “In addition to being an entertainment show, our show, we actually serve a purpose.”

“SVU” has become emblematic of people seeing it and then having the guts to say, “I was raped,” he said.

“They feel like they somehow now have the support to go after help. What I love is many of these women are now saying they can rise above it. Even 20 years ago there was shame involved and they would have felt they did something wrong,” he said. “What’s happening now, the show is somehow part of that. It’s a trigger. People think not only ‘I should,’ but ‘I can get help.’”

My dinner seating luck continued throughout the weekend. When a group of us from TelevisionWeek found our table at the Governors Ball after the awards show, we saw that Al and Tipper Gore and the former vice president’s colleagues from his Current TV cable network shared the same table—table 312.

The cable network was honored that evening with an Emmy for creative achievement in interactive television, so we got to sit with an Emmy statuette to boot.

TVWeek Executive Editor Tom Gilbert got some quality chatting time with Tipper. We didn’t get to talk too much to Al, as a steady stream of attendees kept him out of his chair, taking photos and shaking hands. Jen, Sue Teitle from TVWeek advertising sales and I, of course, added ourselves to that list before we left.

Dined On: Yes, yes, the food.

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The best of the buffet at the NBC U party was the sweet corn-filled pasta. A close second: the sliced beef, which is difficult to attack with a knife and fork while standing—the reason we crashed the Floreks’ table.

Spago also was serving lots of classic Wolfgang Puck appetizers. Dann’s favorite was the tuna tartare, while Karen loved the little sliders.

Dann also gave props to the buffet’s grilled veggies. “One of the hardest things to do is grilled vegetables. It’s very hard to keep them crispy,” he said. “These were there, baby.”

Mel's Diner: Rod Perth

September 10, 2007 10:52 AM

Who: Rod Perth, consultant/adviser, ReelzChannel Television
Where: Cafe Pinot, Los Angeles
When: Tuesday, Aug. 28, lunch

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The Dish: This outing was all kinds of unusual.

For starters, I wasn’t even sure it was going to happen. A week before I was scheduled to meet Rod Perth at the ReelzChannel headquarters for a tour of the futuristic facility and lunch nearby, the company announced he would step down as president after seven years in the job and take a consultant/advisory role.

“President to consultant” sounds a lot like “production deal” in this biz, aka “fired.” Would he want to go sit with me and talk about that?

I knew of Rod for a long time and always wanted to meet him. He spent many years at CBS and was portrayed by Ed Begley Jr. in “The Late Shift”, the 1996 film about the battle to succeed Johnny Carson. I knew he was credited with bringing David Letterman to CBS and that he left CBS to run the USA Network. But I didn’t know enough about him or the situation at Reelz to have a clue whether to take the announcement at face value.

So I asked. His people said he still wanted to have the meeting.

The great thing about the timing of his big change and our little lunch was that, given the news, Rod was flexible enough to spend a good amount of time showing me around the offices, swapping stories and enjoying a leisurely lunch at Cafe Pinot.

I definitely got to see and hear more with Rod Perth than I normally do during quick Mel’s Diner lunches. The first-hand view of the Reelz operation, an advanced, completely digital stunner, was super-cool. Since the network’s office and studio space was carved out of gutted areas of L.A. Center Studios, it represents the latest, greatest TV network infrastructure. It’s literally the embodiment of what a veteran TV exec could produce given the time to plan and the money to spend on the ideal network operation.

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Reelz is the largest tenant of L.A. Center Studios. Rod took me for a walk around the perfectly painted entertainment utopia buzzing with the people who keep original programming geared toward “Everything About Movies” flowing on the channel 24/7.

It’s clean and modern without being cold, and each member of the productive-looking staff acknowledged Rod warmly as we walked by. The studio for Reelz’s show “Dailies” is sharp; it evokes old Hollywood. The digital systems in place make it possible for 100 people to simultaneously edit the same video file the instant it is ingested.

Rod named the conference rooms Minneapolis and St. Paul for the Twin Cities where Reelz owner Hubbard Broadcasting is based.

The physical facility was not the only thing built from the ground up. In six months last year, Rod took the channel from two people in Los Angeles (him and an assistant) to 250 people. The group moved into the studios in May 2006, just ahead of the network’s September 2006 on-air launch.

“It was an unbelievable sprint,” he said.

It all came together as Rod expected since the Hubbard family and he hatched the idea about seven years ago, except that it took a bit longer, particularly to get distribution as an independent. Still, the net debuted to 28 million homes last September, which Reelz says is the largest cable/sat premiere in history. The network is expected to be in 40 million homes by year’s end, Rod said.

Even more interesting than hearing and seeing all this, though, was getting to bear witness to what it’s like for an accomplished exec like Rod to switch career gears—as he was actually shifting.

Rod had yet to move from his swank office into the smaller space he plans to use, since he won’t be coming in every day.

I mentioned on our way from Reelz to lunch at Cafe Pinot, where the staff had thrown him a party the night before, that most people would take an announcement like his as a euphemism.

“Yeah, you can’t really control that,” he said, seeming unfazed, then adding that it is a little scary to think about not walking into work with this group every day.

He’s seen a lot in this business. We had a lot of fun dishing about his career to this point. He moved seven times in 15 years, working primarily in stations for CBS before returning home to the West Coast to run late night for the network. He later left CBS for USA at a time when top net execs were not taking big gambles on cable.

“I believed in cable,” he said. “We developed probably more original programming when no one was doing much in cable.”

Before Barry Diller swept Rod out of USA, he was able to invest in some of the first original series in cable, shows such as “La Femme Nikita,” and it was clearly a highlight for him.

Sitting at Pinot, we agreed that this summer originals on cable have officially arrived—and come a long way—with so many of them seeing record ratings.

“Budgets are enablers of more ambitious ideas,” Rod said.

“Nikita” was produced for around $800,000 or $900,000 per episode. Shows such as AMC’s lush, period series “Mad Men,” shot coincidentally at L.A. Center Studios, can cost around $2.2 million an hour.

As for Rod’s own ambitions, now that Reelz is “pointed in the right direction” and approaching its first on-air anniversary, he is going to take some time to decide on his next steps.

For example, earlier the day of our lunch, he turned down an offer to be CEO of a company.

Rod continues to serve as chairman of the board of public radio station KCRW, and he is talking to a number of people about entertainment business ventures, he said.

He plans to study digital photography and to do some world travel, including a motorcycle trip in New Zealand and hiking in France, and does not see himself pitching shows around town.

Then again, he said: “I don’t want to say never to anything.”

Dined On: It was just a few degrees from being too hot sitting in the sun on the patio.

The chilled offerings at Cafe Pinot, which specializes in seafood, hit the spot.

Hamachi is a favorite of mine, and Pinot serves it well over ice. We also kept cool with simple green salads, iced tea and sorbet dessert.

On the Books: Pat Mitchell, the Paley Center for Media