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In the heat of the meeting

Jun 18, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Russ Krasnoff considers himself a lucky man.
The president of programming and production at Columbia TriStar Television Distribution sits in his corner office early one Tuesday morning awaiting the start of a rapid succession of meetings during the thick of development season.
The studio has already signed developmental deals with former “Talk Soup” host John Henson and comedian Tommy Davidson for potential series to join Donny Osmond’s “$100,000 Pyramid” in the 2002 season.
In addition, Columbia TriStar is preparing the launch of the reality strip “Shipmates” for the fall as well as several upcoming cable series and is in the midst of earlier-than-usual production on weekly hours that began when potential strikes threatened to disrupt the flow.
“The difference on what can make a show can often be pinned down to who is executing this,” he says. “Even on weeklies, show runners have three episodes in development, two in production, others in the editing room. When you oversee programming, you have to foresee any problems that come up along the way.”
Russ calls his assistant Alicia and it’s time to meet the clan for the weekly programming meeting.
The roundup
At 10 a.m., a battalion of executives and assistants arrive in the seventh-floor conference room for the weekly rundown of current and upcoming series; they are fueled by a tank of coffee. On the agenda are 18 shows.
“When you work with these people 10 hours a day, it’s important to find someone you enjoy being around,” says Mr. Krasnoff. “It’s a far cry from when I first got here, when `Ricki’ was our only show and we basically had no one in programming.”
Naturally, item No. 1 on the agenda is “Ricki Lake.” Ms. Lake is to give birth imminently, and gift ideas are bandied about before everyone gets down to show details. For the new season, the series will undergo minor set changes, including the addition of a revolving door.
A quick discussion of “VIP,” which started rolling early this year due to potential writers and actors strikes and is already approaching the middle of its production season, ensues.
As promos are discussed, the group debates whether Promo C or Promo D is the better choice. Russ likes the look of C.
Expect changes, however, for “Judge Hatchett,” one of this season’s top newcomers. The strip will start production a week from now using the same set, but with a new opening and different lighting in its attempts to reach the next level in ratings.
The show’s producers are looking to add recurring characters, ranging from a psychologist to a bailiff. And Judge Hatchett will start taping field pieces as a regular feature of the show.
“We think that she will become more relatable if we can take the judge off the bench and put her out in the thick of the case,” says Mr. Krasnoff.
At 10:42 a.m., the staff shifts its focus to cable series, discussing story lines for the Lifetime show “Strong Medicine” and how to make segments on the TBS hour “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” more realistic. New series for Showtime and TBS, “Going to California” and “Worst Case Scenario,” are on track.
At 10:57 a.m., Hispanic-television force Nely Galan arrives at the building for a pitch, prompting the programming meeting to hit fast-forward.
The upcoming strip “Shipmates” is in good condition, according to the staff, with tapings of the test shows completed. Mr. Krasnoff likes the look of the latest tapings, since producers have added more commentary from the series’ potential lovers and eliminated some dating footage, allowing for more insight to the participants’ thoughts.
“Nice job-let’s keep an eye on this,” says Mr. Krasnoff.

The priest
At 11:22 a.m., Galan Entertainment president Nely Galan walks in with William Morris agent Mark Itkin and others for a daytime pitch to Mr. Krasnoff and Senior Vice President of Reality Programming Melanie Chilek.
Ms. Galan has scored recently with “Father Albert,” a morality-driven talk show that has become a hit on Spanish-language channels. Now she wants to take the concept to a new level.
“I’ve been receiving a lot of calls from people who just want to see this show done in English,” she says. “We know how to make this series run like clockwork and believe the idea will work on English stations.”
Instead of tapping the talents of Father Albert, Ms. Galan and Mr. Itkin have found a substitute perfect for a new talk show: Grace, a half-black/half-Hispanic former lesbian from the L.A. area who became the first female Episcopalian priest. Once divorced and now remarried, the potential host is waiting for her cue outside the office.
Mr. Krasnoff is quick to ask how much God and preaching will be incorporated into the show.
“The answer is zero,” says Ms. Galan. “This is a series about moral dilemmas, and we will incorporate what we call a `wise panel’ of representatives of other faiths for their own views on the situation.”
Grace is then called in to tell her story, talking about long counseling sessions with followers, her relationships and her experience serving on President Clinton’s AIDS council.
The meeting ends at noon. Lunch is ordered, and the executives wait for Mr. Henson to arrive.
At 1 p.m., Mr. Krasnoff, Ms. Chilek and Vice President of Development Zack Van Amburg greet a newly married Mr. Henson to discuss direction of his upcoming project, be it for syndication or cable.
The foursome spend an hour and a half running over Mr. Henson’s comedy assets and the type of shows best suited for him. The former “Talk Soup” host has the table roaring with laughter for much of the meeting, doing impersonations and improvisations. In the end, an idea is hammered out that works for both parties.
The meeting wraps with a list of potential producers that could work well with Mr. Henson’s style.
Mr. Krasnoff heads back to the office, meeting with Richard Frankie, executive vice president of business operations, before talking about the support Columbia TriStar gives the shows.
“I see Richard about a dozen times day and work well with him, as for Steve [Mosko, president of CTTD], he respects and trusts what I do, and I’m lucky to get the support and resources I need to get the shows done right.”
Stand-up guy
At 3:15 p.m., the development trio gathers in Mr. Krasnoff’s office as players for a proposed Tommy Davidson series arrive to discuss potential direction for the show. Among them are Handprint Entertainment President Jeff Pollack, with Evan Weiss and Andy Cohen, who notes that Mr. Davidson is unavoidably detained.
“Tommy’s brilliant at stand-up and is out to find a project where he can really bring in a new form of comedy,” notes Mr. Pollack.
The deal is newer than CTTD’s deal with Mr. Henson, and ideas are tossed around for only an hour before Mr. Krasnoff must head over to Lifetime for a final meeting on “Strong Medicine” ad campaigns. Then he’s headed home for two hours of reviewing scripts and dailies.
“An awful lot of a day’s work in programming gets done at night,” he says. “Everybody here goes home with a bagful of stuff on a daily basis. … We have our hands in all aspects of the show, but it’s worth it.”