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TelevisionWeek's new blog by World Poker Tour boss Steven Lipscomb marks this publication's second blog by a member of the television industry. As the founder of WPT, Steve often is credited with starting the televised poker boom. He's also known to say a controversial thing or two.

Just as Rich Goldfarb, senior VP of sales for National Geographic Channel, offered candid insight into the upfront advertising selling period, Steve plans to pull no punches in discussing the people, practices and pitfalls of the television business.

And remember: TVWeek.com encourages you to respond to what you read here. So feel free to post comments on Steve's blog.

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July 2006 Archives

Small Minds, Big Chairs

July 26, 2006 7:05 PM

Dear God, man. Whatever happened to the cable channel programmer?!

No question about it, our industry is changing.

The convergence is very different than the industry prognosticators (or doomsayers) warned fifteen years ago, but it has happened.

You may not be watching every show on your computer (which is your television … which is your movie screen), but you can’t really sell TV ads any more without an Internet and podcast component - and who knows what is next.

So, it has changed …

But, still, I marvel at the small minds that can occupy big chairs in executive offices. If you truly are a programmer-and some people get the title without the nature-you have to know that it is great programming that drives the train.

But, like everything, when you organize it, you kill it. When the money makes the decision, you make less money.

If American Idol had been conceived by a record company to hock its wares, it would have sucked. Remember Pepsi’s Billion Dollar whatever challenge …?

It’s nothing new, right? The television business was built selling soap. But, you always sell more soap if you’ve got something great to watch. And, that never comes to you by figuring out how to sell more soap.

But, you’ve got to make money at that there cable network …

So, when someone offers you money to program the twelfth knock-off show that will promote an online gaming site, you take it. But, you contribute to the growing malcontent surrounding television. You create another reason for someone to spend time on YouTube instead of with you.

And that may be a good thing. But, I have to believe that it is the forward-looking programmers (that actually fill most of those chairs out there) that will figure out how the seismic shifts save rather than destroy the industry.

And, the small minds? They will go away.

They always do …

The Big Pitch . . .

July 21, 2006 2:44 PM

Pitch meetings are such a bizarre part of our business. When I was new to the television world, I remember talking at a cocktail party to a production company development executive. She told me her day was always stacked with pitches — not to mention the breakfast meeting, the power lunch, drinks at the hottest new spot in town and, of course, dinner. Quite a lot of activity . . .

Then, when I asked what they had most recently produced — the answer was . . . nothing. In the two years they had been funded and in business, they had not made a single show.

I remember being dumbfounded at the thought of all those people pitching to this woman — thinking that it could transform their life — bring them fortune, fame and success. But, really, if you dared to deconstruct it, they were doing some sort of bizarre performance art. It existed just to exist. In the room . . . in that moment . . .

And, I wondered how many of them would have shown up if they knew the dance they were really doing . . .

All these thoughts come from a pitch meeting I had this week in New York. Admittedly, it is a very different experience when people know who you are and what you have done. But, I was reminded how much I like the dance. As my friend (and TV genius) Al Burton always said, “It’s great to be in show business.” And, indeed, I believe it is.

To have a chance to sit in the room with the innovative programming minds of our day is a great exercise in mental and creative gymnastics. I’ve spent the last five years growing this international sports franchise thing — and haven’t had much time in the pitch room lately.

And, I do love it . . .

From the Inside Looking In

July 19, 2006 4:54 PM

What a remarkable time to join the ever-expanding blog phenomenon. Thomas Friedman has declared Columbus a fraud - and the world officially flat. The notion of a woman being president was so unappealing to an American audience that not even Geena Davis could suspend disbelief beyond two seasons. And, Poker has become a global sports phenomenon — almost in spite of the laughs and jeers we heard when I first pitched it that way . . .

So . . . let’s blog, shall we.

First, a confession. Underlying most of my thoughts will be one very simple proposition: I truly and passionately believe that we live in the most exciting time in the history of civilization. Absolutely nothing can be taken for granted. Witness the image of Warren Buffet standing beside Bill and Melinda Gates. Or, the image of concrete liquefying as two pillars of western financial power fall in New York.

All of it. Completely off the charts . . .

You likely know that the Chinese character for “crisis” also means “opportunity”. I believe we live in a time that is defined by that ancient double entendre. And, two basic themes that I see verified time and time again by the creative geniuses of our time, keep me on the “opportunity” not the “crisis” side of the ledger. The first one is the indefatigable ability of the innovator to do the impossible - or at least what seemed impossible before they did it. And, the second recurring theme is the reality that innovation almost always comes from the most unlikely of sources.

That, my friends must make this the era of the individual. And, as we are all individuals, I think this should be a pretty exciting era for all of us.

I recently heard Former President Bill Clinton speak at the Inc. 500 Conference sponsored by INC. Magazine. Gathered were the entrepreneurs and visionaries behind the fastest growing companies in the country. His message was simple and profound. He challenged his esteemed audience to pause for a moment and take a good look around. The pace of technology has accelerated at such a rate that governments simply can not and will not be able to keep up. Most things that are actually working to solve issues, problems and needs are being initiated and operated by what he called “social entrepreneurs” - individuals on their own or through non-government organization (NGOs).

Clinton’s call to action was to go beyond the selfish incentives inherent in capitalist entrepreneurship (not that there is anything wrong with those incentives) and to find a way to use your creative energy to make the world a decent place for our kids - and their kids. Why? Because you are quite simply the best shot we’ve got to make sense out of the madness and to build a bridge to hope (he didn’t actually say that, but I couldn’t resist).

Now what does all this have to do with television? Well, when TV Week approached me to join their blogger community, I asked for some time to think about it. Primarily because I wondered what perspective I might have to offer. And, I suppose this is it. We are actively engaged in creating the stuff that fuels the most powerful medium on the planet. Some pretty deep responsibility - or better put: one hell of an “opportunity”.

How do we do that?

I suppose we can start by asking when the last time was that we asked why we were creating that next television show? Or, to ask what show we might be able to make that could help change the world?

I have been fortunate to work with the ever iconic Sir, Mr. Norman Lear. Somehow Norman always seemed to be able to create great entertainment that challenged us and made the world a better place at the same time. Who fills those shoes today? Certainly lots of producers. But, personally, I think it can be harder, not easier, when you are successful.

When you are the aspiring producer, dreaming of your name on the cover of TV Week, the Hollywood Reporter or Daily Variety, there is something wonderfully pure about your intent and your creative process. When you’ve been there, something weird seems to happen. There is this vortex that pulls at you. Your life can so easily become about trying to stay there - as opposed to that pure zest to create - and make a difference.

So, I suppose that is my blogger’s quest (if you can have such a thing). To look from the inside looking in. And, ask some simple questions: Why do we do what we do? And, how can we do more?

You are invited to go for the ride . . .

INPUT: I’d love to hear examples of people in the industry that you believe are people who are making a difference.