The Hitmakers – HRTS Newsmaker Luncheon Recap
What defines a hit? Ratings? Awards? Buzz? Staying power? On December 8th 2010, HRTS Executive Director Dave Ferrara asked these most fundamental questions, thus kicking off the annual Hitmakers luncheon at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The inimitable Peter Tolan of “Rescue Me” gave an encore command performance as panel moderator and joining him on stage were multi-hyphenate panelists Shane Brennan of “NCIS”, Matt Nix of “Burn Notice”, Roberto Orci of “Fringe”, Kurt Sutter of “Sons of Anarchy” and Dan Schneider of “iCarly”.
Tolan started by noting that “I usually begin with an incendiary remark but unfortunately this year we no longer have Jeff Zucker”. He addressed his first question to Brennan, asking “you’ve come to us from Australia and other than taking a job that would’ve gone to an American, what are the primary differences between Australian television and American television?” In a word, Brennan answered “money”, adding that “we don’t have as much money to make a show over there, you don’t get paid as much, the story’s the same but the money is different”.
Bravery is important in this business and Tolan complimented Sutter for being the bravest man on the panel and specifically for being brave enough to marry an actress, going on to ask if he had Katey Sagal in mind when he was casting for his show. Sutter said that they had worked together on “The Shield” and that he created the character of Gemma specifically for her, getting a big laugh when he added that “I’m fucking miserable to live with, so I come home and she’s still there and I’m excited”.
Continuing the theme of bravery, Tolan addressed Orci as the second bravest man on the panel, on account of his agreeing to adapt legendary television series “Star Trek” into a film. Orci said that he and his writing partner are both big fans of the show and never would have taken on the project unless they felt they had the goods to see it through until the end. Tolan figured that there must have been a lot of heat from certain quarters – Star Trek fans tend to be rabid – so Orci added that “in therapy I’m looking for fights and so I think that was part of the attraction”.
Addressing Schneider’s background as an actor (“Head of the Class”), Tolan asked him how it translated into his career as a showrunner. Schneider replied that “I did that show for five years, it was a fantastic experience, I loved it” and during the run of the show he wrote one of the episodes. This lead to his teaming up with another actor from the show, Brian Robbins, to write and produce “All That”, a sketch comedy show that ran for 11 years.
Matt Nix has two shows on the air, an established hit on cable (“Burn Notice”) and a new show on broadcast (“The Good Guys”) so Tolan asked “do you feel that you have a different relationship with USA versus with FOX?” Nix started by asking “you do realize that they’re in the audience?” He went on to add that both sets of executives “have been smart and supportive and it hasn’t been extraordinarily different. The one thing I will say is that the big thing to manage is not talking to them about each other”, generating a big laugh when he said it’s like having two girlfriends and being careful not to talk to one about the other.
Tolan asked an open question about the rebooting of NBC and Brennan answered “I don’t think there’s a writer here who wouldn’t see NBC’s current woes as an opportunity”, Tolan heartily agreeing and adding that he’s already sold a show to the network. Noting that creativity and hits are cyclical from network to network, Tolan said that one constant is the fact that “desperation is the mother of creativity in network television”.
As for the validation of a hit, Tolan asked “who goes into this wanting to win an Emmy?” Orci responded in classical fashion, saying “I’m reminded of the words of Cato the Elder who said ‘I’d rather men ask why there are no statues of me than why there are”.
Before their turns as hitmen, Tolan wanted to know about rotten jobs the panelists had endured. Schneider said “I had a series of jobs, most of which lasted less than five or six days”. Sutter said “I really don’t remember much of my twenties but the one job I do remember was I sold vibrating pillows and I realized that most of the people that were buying them were women so I strategically moved it outside a women’s center”. Orci said that “I was a gourmet muffin delivery man for the metropolitan Portland area and I had to wake up early as hell to get them in there before opening so that sucked”. Nix said “I worked at Turner Network Television at around the time that the Time Warner merger happened. My boss left, his boss left, his boss left, and his boss left and no one was hired…and someone at the company forbade me to work on anything, ever and so my job duties were to show up in the morning and leave at night and talk to no one”. Brennan said “I was 11 years old, it was my first job and I bottled wine. Every so often the bottles would break and I’d be wading in port or sherry, everyone thought that I was a little too young to have that sort of a drinking problem”.
After the youth drinking story Tolan said “this is the perfect place to end”, going on to congratulate the panel on their successes and asking that they continue to bring us great things to watch.
Photos Copyright Chyna Photography