Like so many others in Hollywood and at TV stations around the country, I was shocked and saddened to learn of the death of Jim Paratore yesterday, May 29, 2012, apparently due to a heart attack while on a bicycling trip in France.
Jim was only 58, and part of the shock was that he appeared more physically fit than practically anyone else I know. Tall, thin and muscular, this was someone who clearly took care of himself.
I’m saddened because I liked Jim. He was a very talented, likable guy. And he had a remarkable grasp on both the show and the business parts of show business. Generally, if one excels in just one of these areas they are considered quite valuable in Hollywood.
Paratore was one of the top syndicators in the business. The list of successful shows with which he was associated is impressive. Among them are “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” (her hit series, not her recent turn on OWN), “TMZ,” “Extra” and the prime-time hit “The Bachelor.”
He was a smart, creative executive willing to take chances. Yes, for every “Ellen” and “Rosie” there was a Sharon Osborne or Bonnie Hunt, to name two personalities he touted who never really gained any traction as syndicated talk show hosts.
But throughout a career associated with Warner Bros. for more than two decades, Paratore remained canny and astute. Here’s a salute to Jim that appeared on TMZ’s website:
“Jim was President of Telepictures — a division of Warner Bros. — when he dreamed up the idea of getting into the digital business back in 2006. Jim and Harvey [Levin] developed the concept of TMZ … and Jim sold it to the big wigs, which was no small feat. Jim was a driving force behind TMZ.com and then was critical in creating the TMZ television show.“
The latter happened after TMZ.com broke the story of Mel Gibson’s rant after Gibson was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.
I remember talking to Paratore soon after TMZ had broken another big story — the death of Michael Jackson. Paratore was lamenting the fact that the website was getting so many hits so quickly that he could never charge advertisers enough money to reflect the true value of advertising on the site at the time, considering the huge number of people who were seeing the ads.
TMZ’s Harvey Levin tweeted about Paratore yesterday "Jim was a mentor to me for many years. He never feared a good, unconventional idea…he reveled in rebellion."
Paratore’s gut instinct about the value of TMZ as both a website and a new kind of reality TV show was right. He liked following his gut instincts about shows and people, but he was also willing to change his mind when he was wrong.
For example, Hilary Estey McLoughlin, who rose to No. 2 at Telepictures when Paratore was No. 1 — and then later replaced him when he left — has told the story that when she was a researcher at the company, Paratore didn’t think she had what it takes to move into development and deal with the strong personalities of those in the creative community.
But to Jim’s credit, he eventually realized he was wrong about Hilary.
Paratore had genuine passion, and was terrific at communicating his passions.
Mike Fleiss, who created “The Bachelor,” tweeted yesterday, “#Bachelornation might not know his name. But Jim Paratore, who died today, is the main reason the show is on the air. I am devastated.”
Bruce Rosenblum, president of Warner Bros. Television Group, said in a statement yesterday, “The Warner Bros. Television family has lost an incredibly talented and creative friend and colleague in Jim. He has left an indelible mark not only on our company’s success but on each of us who worked with him during the past 26 years. Jim had a passion for life, both inside and outside the entertainment industry, and he will truly be missed. All of us at Warner Bros. are shaken by this news.”
Paratore leaves his wife, Jill Wickert, and a daughter, Martinique Paratore.
Jim, who was from New Orleans, started his career working in advertising, marketing and then programming at local TV stations, including WTVJ and WPLG, both in Miami.
I want to end by quoting Dave Walker, the talented TV columnist at the New Orleans Times-Picayune. In a column yesterday, Walker recalled an interview he did with Paratore when Jim was out selling the new daytime show of another New Orleanian, Ellen DeGeneres.
“It was amazing to me how a lot of people, particularly men, buyers of the show, the gatekeepers, didn’t really know her comedy," Paratore said. "They knew the controversy that surrounded her when she came out [as being gay], and they really didn’t have a sense of who she was as a performer. … [Ellen] is really focused on what she’s good at, which is being funny. And that’s what people want from these shows. They want you to be funny (and) real.”
Jim had a great sense of humor and always kept it real.
Ellen herself tweeted yesterday, “My friend, producer and champion Jim Paratore died today. He gave me a chance when no one else would. I love you, Jim.”