In Depth

A Worldly View of Things

ICM’s Greg Lipstone Reps International Big Boys

Greg Lipstone’s got the whole world in his hands—or at least a good chunk of it.

All the major players in the alternative TV agency business these days represent clients from around the globe.

But Mr. Lipstone, head of international television and media for Hollywood agency International Creative Management, has carved out a niche for himself by representing some of the biggest companies in that space.

Mr. Lipstone’s worldwide power players include BBC Worldwide (“Dancing With the Stars”), Granada America (“Hell’s Kitchen”), All 3 Media/ Zoo Productions (“Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?”) and 12 Yard Productions (“The Weakest Link”). And while the bulk of his business consists of putting together unscripted shows, the networks’ desire for lower-cost scripted originals has meant new opportunities for international companies to get into the drama and comedy business.

After more than two decades at the William Morris Agency, Mr. Lipstone moved to ICM in 2005, bringing along domestic clients such as LMNO Productions and Lighthearted. He survived ICM’s merger with Broder Chervin Webb Silbermann and rose to head of a restructured international/alternative unit in April 2008.

As part of TelevisionWeek’s occasional series profiling the power players in the reality representation business, Mr. Lipstone discussed the state of his business with TelevisionWeek deputy editor Josef Adalian.

TelevisionWeek: It’s been a year now since you took sole control of the international TV and media division. How’s it going working solo?

Greg Lipstone: The department is doing great. We operate very much in a team atmosphere, which works because we are such a tight group. We now have a very clear point of view on where we are going and how we are going to execute our goals. We ensure we have the time to strategize about, and with, our clients’ careers and end goals.

TVWeek: In terms of imports, the international arena used to mean mostly unscripted shows for the U.S. market. But suddenly, we’re seeing all sorts of international co-productions and even series being directly acquired. How is that market evolving?

Mr. Lipstone: For several years, we have been looking at new ways to structure deals. The changes in the marketplace, as well as the current economic challenges, have accelerated the need and desire to look for new ways to do business. We have to continue to look for new ways to finance programs, be it through co-productions or advertiser-supported programs. We have to look at the financial pressure on the buyers’ side as an opportunity to explore new business models which can be increasingly beneficial to our clients.

TVWeek: This is all about networks needing to produce shows at a lower price point, right?

Mr. Lipstone: It’s not just about price. It is the confluence of economics and creative, and for the best chance of success, one cannot exist without the other.

TVWeek: Speaking of prices, networks have been reining in costs across the board. Can reality shows get much cheaper than they are now? Or are we really just seeing a market correction—in other words, reality had gotten overly expensive; now it’s just coming back to where it was five years ago, before the boom?

Mr. Lipstone: It’s all an evolution. All forms of programming need to adapt to the marketplace and to the economics that drive the marketplace. That is why we are seeing more co-productions, etc. Ultimately, the buyers will spend the necessary dollars to get the shows they “have to have”; and for shows they “would like to do,” it will require more strategic deal-making.

TVWeek: Getting “I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!” greenlit at NBC was so unlikely. It’s that rare formats fail in primetime and get a second chance. How did you and Granada convince NBC?

Mr. Lipstone: The format continues to be a great performer worldwide. (NBC reality chief) Paul Telegdy knew the format well. We all felt that it deserved a second chance considering the changes that have occurred in our marketplace since the first time it debuted here six years ago.

TVWeek: Do you think we’ll see more formats, both successful and unsuccessful, getting second or third chances? ABC is reviving “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” and even “The Singing Bee” is back.

Mr. Lipstone: Yes, a strong format is a strong format, and those shows that had a consistent and successful track record will always have a second or even third opportunity for success.

TVWeek: Are the networks taking enough risks on new ideas in reality right now? It’s been a while since the last blockbuster hit, though last summer saw some promising successes, such as “Wipeout.”

Mr. Lipstone: We have seen several pilots produced in the past nine months that could have the opportunity to be trendsetters like “Wipeout.” The difference now is that the market is pretty crowded, so it will take something vastly different to break through.

TVWeek: There had been hope variety shows might be revived this season; it didn’t happen. If you don’t have a competitive element—a la “Dancing” or “America’s Got Talent”—can variety still work in primetime?

Mr. Lipstone: Absolutely. Variety shows are largely dependent on the talent involved. The networks are developing their own takes on this genre. We will eventually see an evolution on what is the modern-day variety show.

TVWeek: Is there a Next Big Trend in unscripted? Care to make any predictions about the business?

Mr. Lipstone: We will continue to see event programming in the form of arc competition shows. I think we will continue to see a trend toward programs that have the scheduling and financial flexibility to be placed anywhere on a network’s schedule.

TVWeek: Do you think “Dancing With the Stars” would be better served airing just once per season?

Mr. Lipstone: The show is finishing its eighth season, and there is still a huge appetite for dancing celebrities. “DWTS” continues to draw in massive audiences whether it airs once or twice per season.

TVWeek: If you were Fox, would you pay Simon Cowell whatever he wants to get him to stay?

Mr. Lipstone: A raise, a bonus, a car, unlimited use of the corporate jet, a feature film deal …