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Retired Exec Back in Producing Game

Dec 22, 2003  •  Post A Comment

When Andy Friendly retired two years ago as president of programming and production of King World Productions, he had four goals: to teach at his alma matter (University of Southern California), do some consulting, do some pro bono work and get his golf handicap down to a single digit.
“I got to do all four of those things,” he said.
But the lure of producing remained. “I still love [producing], I still think I’m good at it, and I think people out there know I can still get the job done,” he said.
Apparently, some of those people are at ABC. At 8 p.m. (ET) Dec. 29, the network will air Mr. Friendly’s “Life of Luxury,” a one-hour special hosted by Robin Leach that explores the lifestyles of the rich and richer. The show includes profiles of designer Kimora Lee Simmons and Virgin mega-mogul Richard Branson. Though the show is billed as a special, it’s really more of a wait-and-see pilot.
“Hopefully, it will do a decent rating and we can do a couple more,” Mr. Friendly said.
“Life of Luxury” joins other opulent lifestyle window-peekers such as E!’s “It’s Good to Be …,” MTV’s “Rich Girls” and VH1’s “The Fabulous Life of …” It’s a programming genre that was mainstreamed by Mr. Leach’s 1980s staple, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” a genre Mr. Friendly said is back in vogue.
“The country has an enormous appetite for this type of stuff,” he said. “Viewers can’t get enough of living vicariously through these moguls and superstars.”
Mr. Friendly said his show will distinguish itself from the glut of celebrity profiles and interviews on the airwaves by going more in-depth than the average segment on “Entertainment Tonight” (a show he helped launch as a producer). “We’re getting celebrities to spend a whole day with us in their own environment and really opening themselves up for our cameras. Our pieces are five to six minutes long and contain huge amounts of information for viewers-how they got where they are and how they spend their money.”
Mr. Friendly is the son of former CBS News president Fred Friendl. He was born in 1952, the week his father’s first television show went on the air. Having grown up in the business, Mr. Friendly said getting into television production was a natural fit.
He spent much of his early career producing and writing news and talk shows, making his mark as producer of NBC’s long-running “The Tomorrow Show” with Tom Snyder. In the early 1980s he joined Paramount Television, where he originated “Entertainment Tonight.” In 1990 he joined CNBC, where he worked as network executive producer and VP of prime-time programs and program development, and developed a lineup of talk personalities such as Charles Grodin, Tim Russert and Dee Dee Myers. In 1995 he jumped to King World, where he helped revive “Hollywood Squares” and “Inside Edition.” Mr. Friendly left King World in 2001 in what was described in the press as an amicable separation.
“He’s the most easygoing guy I’ve ever worked with,” said “Life of Luxury” co-executive producer Krysia Plonka. “He’s quietly fabulous.”
Today, Mr. Friendly is waiting to find out if “Life of Luxury” will get a life of its own. He said he has been in the business long enough to not rely on any preconceived expectations.
“I can’t tell you the numbers of times that I said, `Maybe this is it. Maybe it’s over,’ and then I’ve been surprised,” he said. “That’s the interesting thing about a career in this business. You just don’t know what’s coming next.”