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Robert Port in a reality storm

Jun 18, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Robert Port is living his childhood dream. Two of them, actually.
As a kid, Mr. Port was fixated on cop shows and dreamed of directing movies. But if he couldn’t break into Hollywood, he thought he would crack the Central Intelligence Agency.
Since 1997, Mr. Port, 33, has been president of MoPo Entertainment, Maury Povich’s Universal City, Calif.-based production company.
A combination of factors-chief among them “wonderful support from Maury,” plus proximity to producer Dick Wolf’s Universal Television offices, and an attraction to real-life law-and-order stories-has enabled Mr. Port to make a living that indulges both of his lifelong loves.
A year of living strenuously came to a heartbreaking end recently with the decision by Studios USA Domestic Television that there would be no sophomore year for “Arrest & Trial,” the half-hour strip on which Mr. Port had collaborated with Mr. Wolf, the prolific producer of the “Law & Order” franchise.
Though the reality show had been well-received, it had suffered after being downgraded by the Chris-Craft stations in New York and Los Angeles.
Churning out 195 scripted “mini-dramas” (in which cops played themselves) in a year’s time required all the skills, efficiency and comfort with video experimentation that Mr. Port had acquired during his career, which began with four years at NBC. There he produced $150,000-$200,000 news promos and image spots for the likes of David Letterman and “Saturday Night Live.”
He then switched to Paramount Domestic Television, where as director of promotion he oversaw the campaigns for a stable of talk shows starring Mr. Povich, Montel Williams and Jon Stewart. The latter, whose hip intellect and smart humor won over more critics than viewers, inspired Mr. Port to reach for a World War II-era Bell and Howell camera the inveterate collector had picked up at a camera show at a Holiday Inn in New York.
During a stint as creative director for CBS News, he got used to hearing that he had produced a spot that was great fun to look at, but too hip for the couch potato’s living room. “I was doing MTV spots for the Tiffany Network. I was doing what they wanted-it just wasn’t what they really wanted.
“The thing that I’m proud of is that I learned how to direct film shoots very expensively and, more importantly, to direct film shoots very inexpensively.”
He also learned over the years how to stave off intimidation. The week he moved to Hollywood, he decided he wanted to meet Billy Wilder. Four cold calls later, Mr. Port’s dream came true. He said the legendary director was “really cool.”
He also met Lisa Gordon, an actress whose credits include playing Dorothy Stratton’s younger sister in “Star 80,” when she was interning at NBC. But it took him seven years to convince her to go out with him. Now she’s his wife-and his favorite model on which to test new cameras.

Mr. Port collects material for reality-based programs as assiduously as he does photo and video equipment.
“You meet people and you get life rights,” said Mr. Port, who produced three specials about emergency services units and one about bounty hunters before pitching the concept of “Arrest & Trial” to Mr. Wolf, for whom he is executive-producing and directing a pilot about an elite emergency services unit of the NYPD.
The 30 or so MoPo projects he is currently developing aren’t all about cops and other uniformed heroes, however. There are a couple of sitcoms, a Showtime movie about the life of actor Todd Bridges and assorted movies of the week. He’s also developing a “straight-up and traditional” drama based on the experiences of former Los Angeles County District Attorney Ira Reiner.
There’s just no denying Mr. Port’s affinity for the world of the badge. He and his brother Michael, a doctor, are reserve members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, a role in which he has done everything from corralling stars such as Pierce Brosnan for training or marketing tapes to dropping his camera to help run down a man exiting a known drug house.