Connecting With Writers Makes Hit Shows Happen

Aug 4, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Leonard Goldstein’s first job in the TV industry taught him two things: the quickest ways to get around Los Angeles, and how to play the harmonica.
He was a messenger for production company Kushner-Locke for a year and a half before being promoted to the mailroom (“My family had trouble understanding how that was a positive career step,” he said) and then to a development position.
“I started below the bottom and worked my way to the middle,” said Mr. Goldstein, 33, who is now senior VP of comedy development at Warner Bros.
“Middle” is an awfully modest assessment for an executive who in his first year heading comedy development had 10 series picked up by the broadcast networks and who Warner Bros. Television President Peter Roth called “one of the best executives I’ve ever worked with.”
“What makes him a great executive is what makes him such a great human being,” Mr. Roth said. “He has a combination of great insight, great intelligence and remarkable sensitivity. He has an ability to work with and bring out the best in people, the likes of which I haven’t seen in many, many years. … It’s an amazing people skill.”
Mr. Goldstein, who joined Warner Bros. in 1997 as director of drama development, said working with writers is one of the reasons he wanted to be a development executive. “When people would come in and talk passionately about ideas, if they were writers I loved, I just wanted to help them navigate the system the best I could and try to get their idea on the air in the closest incarnation as they started with,” he said.
While he has written a few plays and made a few movies in film school at Boston University, “I don’t have a screenplay in my desk,” he said. “I don’t have a spec episode of `West Wing’ or `Friends.’
“I’ve done it because if you haven’t at least tried to do something, I think it’s really hard to work with writers and understand the process.”
After five years developing hit dramas such as The WB’s “Smallville” and CBS’s “Without a Trace,” Mr. Goldstein decided to make the switch to comedy because he has been a fan of the medium since he was a kid watching “Cheers” and “The Wonder Years.”
“[Professionally,] I had grown up in drama and trained in it,” he said. “To have the opportunity at a company like this to make that move was just too good to pass up.”
With the switch to comedy, Mr. Goldstein is now facing the same challenge comedy execs in town have been struggling with for the past few years-finding the next breakout hit.
“One of the things we tried to do last year was have a very diverse slate where we really took some chances,” he said. . Some of the shows I’m most proud of are not necessarily on the air. But you just have to keep taking those chances to find that voice.”
Name: Leonard Goldstein
Date of Birth: Sept. 21, 1969
Place of Birth: Lawrence Township, N.J.
Title: Senior VP, comedy development, Warner Bros. Television
Big Break: Getting the Fox drama “Brimstone” on the air his first year at Warner Bros. It lasted 13 episodes.
Who Knew? He plays guitar and harmonica in a garage folk band called the Oklahoma Yacht Club.
Favorite Shows: “The Simpsons,” “Cheers” reruns on Nick at Nite, “Everwood,” “That ’70s Show,” “Da Ali G Show”