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CREATIVITY IS LEGION - Jay Williams Seeks The Perfect Union Between Rising Storytellers And The Demanding Digital Audience

Posted By Spike Friedman, Thursday, April 28, 2016

Creative ambition and the financial realities of new media are forces that often find themselves in conflict with one another. Dig a little deeper and you find other structural tensions, such as the audience-driven trend towards fan/creator interaction versus the artist’s single-minded pursuit of a unique creative vision. But at Legion of Creatives, Jay Williams and his team are betting on these oft-diverging forces coming together in symbiosis, and the early returns are promising.

For Williams, who came out of Disney’s marketing division, storytelling and audience development have always been of a piece. Having started his career working on brand integration efforts, Williams saw these commercial efforts as an opportunity to develop his creativity. "I was really fortunate, as I got a chance to hone my craft for storytelling,” Williams said of his early experience, "but I also learned how important brands were. What I realized early on was just because you’re a marketer doesn’t mean you’re not creative.”

Even early in his career, Williams’ work often sat in the digital space. And we’re talking early, in digital marketing terms; his first experience with digital promotion was working with CBS and Prodigy. "It was all text,” he explains. "And we did a ‘watch and win’ with the CBS fall season. This was early for digital. Murder She Wrote was still on the air.” While his current company works with cutting-edge digital tools, the goal then was the same as it is now: encouraging savvy audiences to invest more deeply in stories by using technology.

Jay Williams (right) with fellow PGA member and vice president
of Disney/ABC Television Group's Digital Media Studio, Chris Thomes
In 2000, Williams came out west to work in Disney’s creative content division. "It was a group within Disney Studios, that lived in the space between TV spots and trailers,” Williams explained. "It’s the other great content that can be developed around the stories we’re producing at Pixar and other Disney properties.” This effort pushed back into digital and early iterations of mobile content. "It was about the innovation. Where can we take the storytelling? Our work went from a passive experience to a very interactive experience.”

After spending some time post-Disney on the ad agency side, again working on creative content, Williams moved over to work for Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci at K/O Paper Products. "Hands down, two of the most creative writers I’ve ever met. I learned so much from them about the creative process,” says Williams. But that learning was a two-way street, especially when it came to the marketing process. "Once a script is complete, a lot of the old guard of writers think, ‘okay, my job is done, I’ve written this.’ Whereas today’s writers are like, ‘Now I can actually communicate with the fans! I can take that fan base to a whole new level.’ And we had some really early success with that on Sleepy Hollow.” The fans weren’t the only ones who noticed; the TV Academy recognized Sleepy Hollow with its 2015 award for Outstanding Achievement in Interactive Media User Experience and Visual Design.

After K/O dissolved, Williams found himself in the new position of being able to strike out on his own. Partnering with Orci, screenwriter Noam Dromi, and Sleepy Hollow cast member Orlando Jones, Williams formed Legion of Creatives as a response to what he saw as the needs of writers and producers in an increasingly digital entertainment landscape. To Williams’ credit, he remains steadfastly focused on the quality of the work he’s fostering. "We’re interested in premium digital content. The ‘premium’ really comes in with the scripted part, bringing in the best writers from movies and television, people who really know how to write stories.”

Legion of Creatives also finds success in a model that fits somewhere between traditional television production models and independent film. Specifically, by keeping costs down through tight production timelines and the use of technology, Legion of Creatives is helping its partner artists work in new ways. As Jones explains, "Jay’s focus on new technology to empower creatives together with a reframing of storytelling formats has the potential to disrupt production models that are starting to strain as the media landscape becomes increasingly fragmented.”

That instinct towards disruption informs the content itself, and Legion of Creatives functions as a collective looking to tell stories that traditional models won’t tell.Inspired by the success of Sleepy Hollow, a show with a diverse cast that told authentic yet fantastical stories, Legion of Creatives is pursuing partnerships with creative talent across the spectrum. "In digital, we’re telling stories you won’t find elsewhere,” asserts Williams. "We feel part of that model is bringing different audiences in. Digital is a great place to do that. And unlike on TV, you can connect on the platform where your show is actually airing.” With Sleepy Hollow specifically, Williams also cites overwhelmingly positive fan feedback on the diversity of the show.

Williams (left) with Legion of Creatives co-founder and co-president Noam Dromi
at the 2015 Emmy Awards
Furthermore, by engaging with a wide spectrum of fans directly, Williams is carving out room for new voices. "It’s really important to find partners who tell authentic stories. Whatever our creative conceit may be, our creative partners have lived it. And they have a unique perspective on it.” One partnership is with disabled performer Katy Sullivan, an actress who Dromi met while working on Dolphin’s Tale. "She is incredibly talented,” says Williams, "and we have a project we’re working on now with her called Legs that’s about what it’s like to be a 31–year-old woman who happens to be disabled trying to make her way in life. It’s just an honest, unapologetic look at her experience.”

Connecting with fans also means partnering with entities such as xxArray, a company that allows fans to scan themselves in a photo booth with 150 still cameras, and become part of the show’s cast. "Instead of doing your crowd scene with nondescript CG people,” Williams explained, "we can fill it with fans. And now you have fans that want to watch and see that they’re in the show.” This is new territory. LoC is currently using the technology on its new season of Tainted Love featuring Jones, and the response has been exciting. "A lot of fans are asking, why haven’t we been able to do something like this before?”

For Williams, his passion in creating content is driven by the fans. "Part of having a partner like Orlando is that we understand the fan base. He always takes the time for his fans. He goes the extra mile. I’ve learned how important that is. When you talk about the increasing bifurcation of audiences, the question is, how do you go about building an audience? You do it through loyalty.”

To that end, he’s pushing his projects to utilize the sort of technology that can put the fans into the action, which for LoC means staking out a position in the vanguard of virtual reality. Sleepy Hollow was among the first shows to have VR content associated with it, and as that technology develops, Williams wants his team developing for it. "The mistake a lot of people make with technology is it becomes a crutch.” Instead, Williams asks, "How can you use technology to actually supplement the storytelling, so your production value becomes greater?”

As this hybrid production model matures both at Legion of Creatives and elsewhere, it will organically attract partnerships with more traditional media powers. Legion of Creatives is collaborating with ABC as they develop their digital platform, while also working with companies like eOne on international distribution, and figuring out the different ways to move content across borders. "Something that’s a digital series here in the U.S.,” said Williams, "can be a movie in the international market.”

The question then becomes how to fund premium content. "You hear people talk today about there being too much content,” Williams muses. "For me, there’s still not enough good content.” For Legion of Creatives, this mandate carries serious implications for content creators. Having that seat at the table demands an investment beyond simply writing a script and handing it over. It’s a chance to change the game. "Digital is a different place,” Williams smiles. "It’s fun to be able to write the rules instead of frankly, playing by everyone else’s rules.”

- Illustrated by Elena Lacey

This article originally appeared in the April/May issue of Produced By magazine

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Produced By Conference Announces Additional Speakers, Sessions, and Mentoring Roundtables

Posted By Administration, Thursday, April 21, 2016

LOS ANGELES (April 21, 2016) – The Producers Guild of America (PGA) announced today additional speakers for its 8th annual Produced By Conference (PBC). This year’s headlining sessions include the Conversations With… series, featuring an in-depth dialogue with the producers from Revelations Entertainment, President Morgan Freeman and CEO Lori McCreary, and one with FX Networks and FX Productions CEO John Landgraf together with "Fargo” Executive Producer Noah Hawley. PBC will also feature a 360 Profile roundtable discussion on New Regency with producer/director Steve McQueen, along with the company’s President and CEO Brad Weston and President of Production Pam Abdy.

Produced By is the only conference offering producers multiple opportunities to network with and absorb information from some of the most accomplished men and women in the entertainment industry. Registration and pricing information can be found at Early bird registration ends May 1st. Produced By 2016 takes place Saturday, June 4 through Sunday, June 5 and is hosted by Sony Pictures on its studio lot in Culver City, CA.

The Producers Guild also announced newly added speakers for Produced By 2016. In alphabetical order, they include:

· Pam Abdy, President of Production, New Regency


· Keith Arem, CEO, PCB Productions; "Call of Duty,” "Phoenix Incident”

· Fred Baron, Executive Vice President of Feature Production, 20th Century Fox

· Marc Bienstock, THE VISIT, SPLIT

· Bill Borden, President, First Street Films; HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL, THE MERMAID

· Joe Chianese, Executive Vice President, EP Financial Solutions

· John Davis, Chairman, Davis Entertainment; CHRONICLE, "The Blacklist”

· Jim Economos, Vice President- Production Safety, Legendary Entertainment

· Ellen Eliasoph, President and CEO, Village Roadshow Entertainment Group Asia

· Katie Fellion, Head of Business Development & Workflow Strategy, Light Iron

· Morgan Freeman, President & Co-Founder, Revelations Entertainment; INVICTUS, "Madam Secretary”

· David Friendly, Principal, Friendly Films; LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, "Queen of the South”

· Carolyn Giardina, Contributing Editor, Tech, The Hollywood Reporter

· Whitney Kimmel Glassberg, Movie Partnerships, Facebook & Instagram

· Misha Green, "Underground”

· Lt. Adam Hall, Project Officer, Navy Office of Information West

· Daniel Hammond, CCO, Broad Green Pictures

· Noah Hawley, "Fargo," "The Unusuals”

· John Heinsen, CEO and Executive Producer, Bunnygraph Entertainment

· Mike Kelly, CSP, Media Risk Control Manager, ProSight Specialty Insurance

· Glenn Kennel, President and CEO, ARRI, Inc.

· Rachel Klein, Producer/CEO, Fire Starter Studios, Solaris Media Group; "30 for 30, The Fab Five," NEA "United States of Arts"

· Josh Kline, Head of Media & Entertainment, Box

· John Landgraf, Chief Executive Officer, FX Networks and FX Productions

· Howard Lee, Executive Vice President, Development & Production, TLC; General Manager, Discovery Life Channel

· Gary Levine, President, Programming, Showtime Networks Inc.

· Joe Lewis, Head of Half-Hour Programming, Amazon Studios

· Peter Mavromates, GONE GIRL, "House of Cards"

· Lori McCreary, CEO & Co-Founder, Revelations Entertainment; President of the Producers Guild


· Chris Moore, Principal, The Media Farm; "The Chair," "Project Greenlight"

· Lydia Dean Pilcher, Producer, Cine Mosaic; CUTIE AND THE BOXER, THE QUEEN OF KATWE

· Sherri Potter, Head of Post Production Services, Technicolor

· Russ Robertson, Vice President of Marketing, Panavision

· Melissa Rosenberg, Tall Girls Productions; "Marvel’s Jessica Jones,” screenwriter "Twilight” franchise

· Ben Rosenblatt, Producer/Head of VFX and Post, Bad Robot; STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, 10 CLOVERFIELD

· Dana Ross, International Marketing Executive, ARRI Rental

· Jonathan Saba, Vice President of Marketing, Saban Films

· Chachi Senior, Senior Vice President, Original Series, Spike TV

· Stacy Smith, Director, Media, Diversity, and Social Change Initiative, Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at the University of Southern California

· Beatrice Springborn, Head of Originals, Hulu

· William Stuart, President, Aurora Productions Inc.; THE ROCK, EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS

· Leslie Urdang, President, Mar-Key Pictures; BEGINNERS, RABBIT HOLE

· Brad Weston, CEO and President, New Regency

· Winnie Wong, SVP, Momentous Insurance Brokerage

Produced By 2016 offers a broad range of programming, including mentoring roundtables, panel discussions, and interactive events. In addition to the Conversations With… and 360 Profile series, PBC features a lineup of sessions addressing topics surrounding film, television and digital.

After a successful inaugural run at last year’s PBC, the conference is excited to announce the return of the popular panels The Art and Craft of Pitching for Film and Television, two sessions where producers have the opportunity to test out pitching skills on experienced industry leaders. Amy Baer (LAST VEGAS) and Michael London (TRUMBO) will head the film session, with Gary Levine (President of Programming, Showtime) and Melissa Rosenberg ("Marvel’s Jessica Jones”) providing the platform for television. Both sessions will be led by Produced By Conference Co-Chair, Marshall Herskovitz.

Newly added sessions are in bold and italics below:












· FUTURE PROOFING YOUR PRODUCTIONS Sponsored by Light Iron, A Panavision Company









· THE STATE OF FINANCING FILMS TODAY Sponsored by Pacific Mercantile Bank

· TOP 5 THINGS EVERY PRODUCER SHOULD KNOW Sponsored by Momentous Insurance


The PBC’s Mentoring Roundtables Sponsored by Panasonic are now open for registration and include sessions with the following producers/speakers:


· Keith Arem, CEO, PCB Productions; "Call of Duty,” "Phoenix Incident”

· Daniel Hammond, CCO, Broad Green Pictures

· Michael London, Principal and Founder, Groundswell Productions; MILK, SIDEWAYS

· Gary Lucchesi, President of the Producers Guild of America; THE LINCOLN LAWYER, MILLION DOLLAR BABY

· Chris Moore, Principal, The Media Farm; "The Chair," "Project Greenlight"

· Clay Newbill, Founder & President, 310 Entertainment; "Shark Tank,” "Brain Surge”

· Ted Schilowitz, Futurist, 20th Century Fox and Chief Creative Officer, Barco Escape

· Molly Smith, Partner, Black Label Media; DEMOLITION, SICARIO

· R. Decker Watson, Jr., Co-Executive Producer, "Deadliest Catch" (Original Productions)

* The above speakers, panel topics and mentor roundtables are subject to change.

Official sponsors include Sony Pictures;Cadillac, the Official Auto Partner of the PGA; Delta, the Official Airline Partner of the PGA; Corbis Entertainment’s BEN; PRG Production Resource Group; Panasonic; AMC Networks; ARRI; Box; Coca-Cola; Don Francisco’s Coffee; Emmett Furla Oasis Films; Entertainment Partners; Film in Iceland; Freixenet Cava; Heineken; Hilton Worldwide; HUB Entertainment Insurance; Indiepay; Intuitive Aerial; Light Iron; Marriott; Minnesota Film & TV Board; Momentous Insurance; Pacific Mercantile Bank; Produce Iowa; Proximo Spirits; SAG-AFTRA; SAGindie; Technicolor; The Molecule; Film US Virgin Islands; and VER.

Produced By Conference 2016 will be presided by PGA members Ian Bryce, Tracey Edmonds, Mark Gordon, Marshall Herskovitz, and Rachel Klein. The Produced by 2016 team includes Supervising Producer Barry Kaplan (EKG, Inc.), Program Director Madelyn Hammond (Madelyn Hammond and Associates), Marketing Consultant Lynda Dorf, and Sponsorship Director Diane Salerno (Six Degrees Global).

The 2016 Produced By Conference is made possible by The PGA Foundation, The Producers Guild of America’s charitable entity. The Produced By Conferences are the cornerstone events that epitomize the Foundation’s core mission, to educate and inspire those working in the producing profession. To review highlights from previous PBCs and to receive news and the latest programming updates for Produced By Conference 2016, please visit the Guild’s official website and follow its social media channels for the event:


Twitter: @Produced_By


About the Producers Guild of America (PGA)

The Producers Guild of America is the non-profit trade group that represents, protects and promotes the interests of all members of the producing team in film, television and new media. The Producers Guild has more than 7,000 members who work together to protect and improve their careers, the industry and community by providing members with employment opportunities, seeking to expand health benefits,promoting fair and impartial standards for the awarding of producing credits, as well as other education and advocacy efforts such as encouraging sustainable production practices. For more information and the latest updates, please visit,, and, and follow us on Twitter @ProducersGuild.

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¡Viva Las Películas! - New Data Confirms The Growing Size And Appetite Of The Hispanic Theatrical Market

Posted By Pete Filiaci, Friday, April 15, 2016
Imagine yourself sitting at home on a Thursday night after dinner, watching your favorite TV show and texting friends about the upcoming weekend. You want something to do on Friday night, and one of your friends recommends looking at the showtimes at the local theater to select which film would be the best choice to kick off the weekend. It’s easy to imagine this scene playing out every week in homes all across the country. What is perhaps less recognized is that this scene plays out with much greater frequency in the homes of Hispanic Americans.

Hollywood has had a prominent place in American life for generations. Going to the movies remains an escape from everyday life, a break from the truths we face every day: bills, work, child care responsibilities. The allure of visiting a communal space with a large screen dedicated to this beautiful art form remains one of those reachable goals that most people and families enjoy sharing with friends and/or family. For Latinos, this is true to an even greater extent. According to NRG’s 2015 Moviegoing Report, Hispanics are 10% more likely to be moviegoers (85% versus 77% for non-Hispanics). Additionally, they are more frequent moviegoers, seeing an average of 8.6 films per year versus 7.2 for their non-Hispanic counterparts. When you combine this with the fact that Hispanics attend in bigger groups (55% of Hispanics attend with three or more people versus 42% of non-Hispanics), it’s indisputable that this population packs some powerful box office punch.

Driving Box Office Sales

"No longer can the domestic market sustain the budgets of studio projects on its own,” says Deborah Calla, Chair of the PGA Diversity Committee, and Women’s Impact Network (WIN). "It is clear that in order to maximize profit, movie studios need to speak directly to the various cultural groups that make up the population [of the United States].” According to Nielsen, Hispanics generated $2.3 billion in box office revenue last year, which is 21% of total sales. For a demographic group that represents nearly 18% of the total U.S. population, that’s impressive. "We know that Hispanics are a loyal movie -ticket -buying group,” says Calla. "If targeted with specific and culturally significant campaigns, [Hispanics] will support a studio film with greater presence and expenditure.”

As more marketers recognize and market to this consumer, Hispanics continue to flock to the movie theater to enjoy the experiences of being completely engaged with and often enthralled by, the big screen. More than half of Hispanic moviegoers (53%) say they go to the movies for the big theater experience. This is a fact that movie studios and producers should take much solace in, given a media landscape that allows for viewing or enjoyment of every form of media, essentially from the palm of your hand. The act of visiting the movies and enjoying the experience in totality—from the convenient ticket kiosks, to the refreshments counter, to the luxury seats—is something celebrated by Hispanics. A recent Mintel report on moviegoing noted that Hispanics over-index across the board when it comes to spending on the extras, such as advanced tickets, reserved or premium seating, theater snacks, beverages and even full meals. And then, of course, there’s the spending on the content itself. NRG tells us that Hispanics are much more likely to see movies in 3D as well as seeing more titles in 3D annually when compared with non-Hispanic audiences.

Every studio head or marketing director works hard to deliver an impactful opening weekend. If that’s the case, targeting Hispanics with advertising in-language could be the recipe for success. Calla notes, "When the [advertising] messaging is targeted to the Hispanic community in their native language, in a culturally-appropriate way, there is a feeling of inclusion and acknowledgment. The greater returns reflect and justify these target-specific campaigns.”

Hispanic audiences tend to visit the theater on opening weekend more than any other demographic segment. According to NRG, 45% of Hispanics go to the movies on opening weekend versus 33% of non-Hispanics. Another important factor to consider is the power of word-of-mouth among Latinos. Hispanics are very social, and the impact that has on the ways in which they share information about products they love—including films—is notable. Hispanics are more likely to be convinced to see a movie in theaters (45% Hispanic vs. 42% non-Hispanic) and will pass along what they’ve heard about a movie more frequently (52% vs. 45%).

A Diverse Hollywood Reflects a Diverse America

As powerful as their current box office impact may be, Latinos likely will have an even greater impact in the years to come. Because Hispanics are more highly concentrated in the younger age groups, they account for nearly a quarter (24%) of all ticket sales among millennials. Given their relative youth, Hispanics have more effective years of buying power than non-Hispanic whites, Asian-Americans, and African-Americans. In fact, the window is an estimated 20 years greater than non-Hispanic whites, per Nielsen, due to a much younger median age combined with a greater life expectancy. What does this mean? It means more opportunities to target them across their lifetimes as moviegoers who attend with their families now, and who will one day take their children and grandchildren to the movies.

The social experience of moviegoing is another big draw for Latinos. Not only do they tend to go with family and friends, as the most active users of social media, they are also most likely to post about movies. In fact, Hispanics are 36% more likely than non-Hispanics to share their thoughts about films across social platforms. "The social experience of moviegoing is clearly a key driver for Hispanics,” says my colleague, Hilary Dubin, Vice President of Business Development at Univision Communications. "Our research community, Univisionistas, an online research panel of over 5,000 members, tells us that 47% go to the movies because it’s an entertainment activity they can enjoy with family and friends.”

As much as Hispanics are already the most frequent moviegoers, there may be even more opportunity to drive additional attendance. Dubin notes, "Our Univisionistas tell us that they want to increase their moviegoing. In fact, 74% of the panel would like to go to the movies more frequently.” That increased appetite for entertainment may entice even more films to market to this consumer. It’s time to think beyond the genres that are most closely associated with Latino moviegoers.

Films across the genre spectrum have enjoyed success with Latinos. Horror films, family-friendly fare, and action blockbusters all do exceedingly well among the cohort. But a diverse taste across a multitude of genres is becoming more and more prevalent. In fact, according to NRG, Hispanics over-index on being fans of every genre—from action/adventure to art house/independent. "One clear way studios are trying to target minorities with their products is through casting,” says Calla. "Putting actors on-screen who represent diversity creates ways for audiences to see themselves represented, and as participants in cultural storytelling.” Consider the success of Straight Outta Compton, or Furious 7, the latest installment in one of the most lucrative movie franchises in history. These titles buoyed a historic year for Universal Studios, one in which the studio grossed nearly $2.5 billion overall and commanded over 21% of market share during the same time frame—tops among all distributors in the United States, according to

It is crucial to note that both Universal titles have incredibly diverse casts with people of color in prominent starring roles. If the media we watch is a mirror to our world, reflecting the diversity of characters and people all around us is not only the right thing to do morally, it’s proving to be a sound business strategy too.

The Case For Multiculturalism

Latinos are avid moviegoers; this much is true. But according to a study released by the Media, Diversity, and Social Change Initiative at the USC Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism, they may not be finding the characters on the screen—or the opportunities behind the camera—that accurately reflect America’s makeup.

The study, which is called the Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity, found Latinos are among the least represented speaking roles in film and TV, even though they make up about 17% of the U.S. population. Out of more than 11,000 speaking characters surveyed in film and TV, 5.8% were Hispanic or Latino.

The case can be made that this illustrates the need for a systemic change that starts even before the director’s chair or the producer’s chair. It starts in the writing room where small armies of dedicated writers, thinkers, comedians, and creatives are developing the stories, words, and images that the actors on-screen will deliver. Lacking that diversity in the development process will most likely result in a lack of diversity in the finished product.

Given the avidity of Latino moviegoers, Hollywood is clearly already delighting these consumers with its exceptional storytelling. Latinos are contributing more than one out of every five dollars spent at the box office. Just imagine how much more box office potential there is to be had from these enthusiastic attendees if they start seeing more films that acknowledge their experiences, reflect their values, mirror their faces and echo their voices.

- Illustrated by Elena Lacey

 This article originally appeared in the April/May issue of Produced By magazine

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2016 Power of Diversity Workshop - Now Accepting Submissions

Posted By Administration, Thursday, March 10, 2016
Applications are now being accepted for the Producers Guild Power of Diversity Producers Workshop 2016!  Advance your project through master classes on the art and business of creative producing with renowned professionals in film, television and new media.  You will be supported with one-on-one mentoring by PGA producers at our headquarters in Beverly Hills.

The links you will need in order to apply:

1. View frequently asked questions.
2. Review the steps to apply.
3. Submit your application and payment.

Print and share a high-resolution version of the flyer.

About PGA Diversity

The Producers Guild of America Diversity Committee aims to create greater diversity in the entertainment industry.

"Lately, there's been a rallying cry to motivate the entertainment community to accurately reflect our world in its storytelling. As the PGA enters its second decade nurturing new voices through our 'Power of Diversity' workshop, we are proud that promoting diversity in the top ranks of film, television, and digital production continues to be a top priority for the Guild."

-- Committee Chair, Deborah Calla

For any questions, please write to

- Like PGA Diversity on Facebook and follow PGA Diversity on Twitter !

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SWIMMING WITH SHARKS: Good Guy Clay Newbill Runs The Show At The Top Of The Reality TV Food Chain

Posted By Michael Ventre, Tuesday, March 8, 2016

In the tortoise-hare dynamic, Clay Newbill’s career has been mostly tortoise. His slow and steady trek toward the peak of the alternate-programming hill has come about through hard work, perseverance, patience, skill, smarts, and good old human decency.

But there were a couple quicksilver moments of clarity more attuned to the hare that had a tremendous impact on the Shark Tank showrunner. The first came when he was just a lad living in Florida.

"From an early age, the first school play I ever saw, I knew what I wanted to do,” says the son of an Air Force pilot, who moved around a lot before settling outside Daytona Beach. "I wanted to be in the entertainment business. We had just come to Florida, I was the new kid at school, and a few weeks in, there was an assembly in the cafeteria and the curtain pulled back and it was a play of A Christmas Carol. I turned to a kid next to me and said, ‘How do you get to be one of the kids on the stage?’”

The second came in 2008, at CBS Radford studios, as the pilot for Shark Tank was being shot. "Our control room was upstairs,” Newbill recalls. "So I’d come down between pitches to chat with the "sharks” and I’d have to walk through our crew. And all of our crew, everyone who was there—agents and whatnot—were all gathered around a monitor, and all talking about what just happened.

"They were fascinated,” he continues. "Now these are people who are very critical, because they’ve seen everything. And they were just completely [riveted]. There was something hypnotic about it. Something magical was happening.”

L from B: Robert Herjavec, Clay Newbill,
Mark Cuban,Kevin O'Leary, Daymond John,
LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, Lori Greiner.
That kind of magic doesn’t happen overnight; generally, Newbill leans "tortoise.” That side of the analogy better reflects the painstaking rise through the non-fiction television jungle in which he traveled the world, accumulating a wealth of practical experience, making contacts and friends along the way and seizing opportunities when they presented themselves.

Shark Tank, which has been going now for seven seasons, is the culmination of a slow, steady and determined push forward. "People at his level … a lot of them are insane,” laughs Shark Tank executive producer, Yun Lingner, a colleague of Newbill’s for more than 10 years. "There are huge egos. Big personalities. Super insane crazy yellers. They have this instability.

"What’s amazing about Clay,” she counters, "is that he’s such a reasonable person. You can get successful through the ranks in so many different ways. He’s really been in the trenches. He has such a strong and incredible work ethic. Other producers really respect him because he knows what he’s doing and works so hard. He’s that combination of being calm and measured and rational—which is sadly rare at his level—but also creative and funny.”

Indeed, if you look around his office—unassumingly tucked away on the second floor of a modest structure on the far fringe of the Sony lot—what you don’t see is evidence of a cult of personality. It’s Newbill’s own heroes that get the attention: a prized football signed by Dallas Cowboys legends Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin; framed album covers—the Beatles and Herb Alpert, as well as the soundtracks from Goldfinger and Thunderball, a nod to his dad, a James Bond buff.

Newbill presides over one of the most popular reality shows on television with all of the swagger of a trusted accountant, yet his reality resume is the stuff of Hollywood big shots: co-executive producer on The Bachelor, executive producer on The Mole, Who Wants To Marry My Dad?, Top Designer, and American Inventor, stints on early, format-defining series like the Los Angeles and San Francisco seasons of The Real World, as well as Making the Band. And before that, lots of grunt production work at what was then known as Disney-MGM Studios while he lived in Florida, working with such television luminaries as Don Ohlmeyer, Screech Washington and Kim Moses.

"When you’re running a company as I am and you’re hiring somebody to run a show, you want to find that person you can just have confidence in and who knows when to bring issues to your attention and when to handle it himself,” says Jon Murray of Bunim-Murray Productions, whom Newbill credits with giving him his start. "Clay is a real adult. He gets it. He knows when to raise a concern or to just send an email and say, ‘This came up. I took care of it.’

"There are people like that,” Murray adds. "But they’re a special breed. When you find someone like that, you want to hold on to him. We were lucky to have him for so many years, but we’re proud of the success he has had with Shark Tank and his other projects.”

Shark Tank is based on another Sony property, Dragons’ Den, a popular hit in many parts of the world. The format is simple: entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to potential investors.

"Our show embodies the American Dream,” notes Newbill. "Though Dragons’ Den has been successful in many territories around the world … there’s only one country that has its own national ‘dream.’ That’s worldwide. People all over the world say, ‘The American Dream.’.”

Even as Newbill observes, "The moment the show becomes predictable, we’re dead,” he also knows that the drama built into the format assures that Shark Tank by its very nature remains unpredictable.

"I like to say that Shark Tank is like a courtroom drama,” he explains. "Somebody comes in, the entrepreneur, and they give testimony, and the sharks are cross-examining. When you’re watching a great courtroom drama like The Verdict, when you watch that cross-examination, you as a viewer, you’re swinging back and forth, you’re on the edge of your seat—‘What’s going to be the answer to this question?,’ ‘How’s it going to impact if they’re guilty or not guilty?’

Clay Newbill on the set of Shark Tank with "sharks" Kevin O'Leary, Robert Herjavec, Daymond John,
and fellow executive producer Yun Lingner

"The difference in Shark Tank,” he continues, "is that you’re thinking, ‘Are they going to get an offer, or are they not going to get an offer?’ With every question asked, it’s something you can sit at home with your family or whoever you’re watching with, and say, ‘Oh they’re going to get a deal’ or ‘This is perfect for (Mark) Cuban or Lori (Greiner), Barbara (Corcoran) or Daymond (John). This is right up their alley.’ Then as they do their search and discovery and they ask their questions and get their answers, that pendulum is swinging back and forth. That’s the excitement of the show.”

But again, it was a tortoise-like approach by Newbill, executive producer Mark Burnett, Sony and ABC that enabled it to become the hit that it is today.

"We realized—and thank goodness ABC realized—if you look at the model from the U.K. and Canada, it took three seasons for it to reach the tipping point where it became a hit,” Newbill reports. "We knew it would take the same here. In all the territories where it was successful, that was the model.

"When you hear the concept, it’s not a big hook,” he adds. "But when you watch the show, you get it. You’re hooked. That’s what I tell everybody: Watch it once and you’ll get hooked. Thank goodness ABC believed in it enough that they stuck with it for those three seasons. Sure enough, when the third Season came: BAM!”

One prominent shark believes he knows why. Says Cuban: "Without Clay, Shark Tank doesn’t work. He makes the magic happen.”

And the magic probably happens because Newbill knows it’s not the result of magic, but rather elbow grease, creativity and human relations—elements in his portfolio that he’s been honing for years.

"There are so many intangibles Clay brings,” confirms Rob Mills, senior vice president of alternate programming for ABC. "His passion is first and foremost. Clay is one of those unsung heroes of reality, because he’s worked on everything. With Clay, it’s really all about doing great work. He has zero ego. His preparation for everything is intense. And he never gets complacent. He’s always thinking about what we’re doing, not just now but a year from now and five years from now.”

Holly Jacobs, executive vice president of reality and syndication for Sony Pictures Entertainment, fills in the picture: "This is an interesting show. There are a lot of moving parts. All of the many, many entrepreneurs to manage, to navigate, to hear their stories. Then you have a lot of very interesting sharks who have incredibly busy lives, who are unique personalities, who are really smart. That takes a lot of navigation. Clay has a very, very calm and centered way of managing it all. He gives you a lot of confidence and he’s very, very good with detail.”

Murray said he knew that Newbill was special when the two worked on The Real World together, when Pedro, a young Cuban-American cast member who was HIV positive, got sick during production and had to fly home to Miami from San Francisco to be checked out by his doctors.

"Clay and me and a camera person and an audio person all went with Pedro and spent a week with him in Miami,” Murray recalls. "Working with Clay for that week showed me a sensitive side of him as a human being, especially in his care for Pedro and his concern for Pedro’s family and friends and our work to try to document this while being sensitive to everybody. It was amazing.”

When Newbill is away from Shark Tank, he’s usually at home in Manhattan Beach with wife Jaesuk, a flight attendant, and 6-year-old son Wyatt, who recently got on skis for the first time during a trip to Mammoth. Newbill loves to surf, an obsession he picked up when he lived in Florida.

Back in 1991, after graduating from the University of Central Florida (he has since set up a scholarship there and offers paid internships for students to work on Shark Tank) and doing some production work at Disney, he packed everything he owned into his car and drove across the country. He rented a room with two other roommates in Manhattan Beach, a town he fell in love with. Later, after traveling a ton and saving up, he bought a house in the town, where he still lives with his wife and son. He worked diligently over a period of many years, taking whatever opportunities that were available, moving forward, learning and striving to improve.

In other words, he pursued and achieved the American Dream. Now he’s running a show that gives others the chance to do the same.

"Shark Tank has definitely resonated with our society,” he says. "You see someone walk down that hall and hit that rug and start their pitch, you can relate to that person because they’re trying to overcome some great obstacle. They’re trying to get success. They believe in something with their entire spirit, and here they are to convince the sharks this is something worth doing and get the investment that takes them to the next level with their business.

"I think Daymond John said it best: It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, race, color, creed, whatever. You hit that rug and you’ve got your shot.” Clay Newbill can relate. He took his shot. He didn’t miss.

- See all of the articles from the February/March 2016 issue of Produced By Magazine.

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