HRTS Member Profile: Jack Dytman
Jack Dytman is Partner and Senior Vice President at the Gersh Agency. I recently had a chance to interview Jack to discuss writers, TWO BROKE GIRLS, and Emmy predictions.
Q: Can you tell us about your background and what made you want to work in Hollywood?
-I was always drawn to the television business but to be honest, it was a piece of advice from my mother. When I graduated from college with a degree in English and American Lit, my mother said “you have a very short attention span, you better do something that you really love or you’ll be really bored” and I said “I like watching TV”. Literally two months later I got a job at a television station in my hometown in upstate New York and that lead to a series of four different TV station jobs in my 20s and then when I got out here and worked for KABC, I made the leap to become an agent.
Once I became an agent, which I’ve been doing for 30 years plus, I just knew that I’d found the perfect place for me. The combination of literature, writing style, art and commerce and business, I loved it. In my mid-20s I picked up an MBA in San Francisco and so the two skillsets have worked well for me personally but it did start from my mother’s advice.
Q: How did you first get involved with the HRTS?
-Through my first agency job, I went to work for a small agency. I’d been working for KABC as a unit manager when I decided to become an agent, but I wasn’t interested in starting in a mailroom or on somebody’s desk. I found somebody willing to make me an agent; the tradeoff was that I had to start at $150 a week. I took a jump off of a financial cliff, but I was an agent from Day One. The minute I got to the company, they had a subscription to the luncheons and they said “here, kid, you need to go to these things” and the minute I started showing up I went “wow, I’m home, these are my people”. Everybody that was anybody in the business was there. Every studio, every network, every agency and it was just such a great networking opportunity that I went to every lunch – I’ve been to almost every HRTS luncheon for easily 30 years, maybe more.
Q: How has the business changed since the day you signed your first client?
-Monstrously. By the way, the very first client I ever signed I am still in business with. He is semi-retired since he made an awful lot of money in the business and also in real estate and I just spoke to him today, he’s on a lengthy vacation in Martha’s Vineyard. The business has changed from three networks to five broadcast networks and it seems like an infinite number of cable networks. Every week or two we’re getting a call from some new cable network or even some of the older ones starting to get into scripted programming – the Tennis Channel just called and said they’re going to do scripted shows, they want to hire a comedy writing client of mine to write a sitcom about young professional golfers on the tour. It’s evolved enormously, I mean the idea that there are probably 250-300 scripted series out there, it’s amazing. Back in the day, there were three networks and maybe 50 shows so it’s been exponential, the growth in the television business. There are always waves of success and failure but I’d say that the overall the trend line is still going up, the success of the TV business still continues to increase year in, year out.
At the same time, the movie business has taken an enormous downturn and so there are fewer movies made on the studio side and they’re mostly tentpole movies - there are tons and tons of independent movies made but those are all done on very low budgets. The preponderance of money made by writers, producers and directors in Hollywood is really in the television business. The business is very profitable on so many levels. Look what just happened with TWO BROKE GIRLS, they got a million seven out of a cable channel and they’re only in their second season, it’s almost unheard-of. Used to be that people said “you have to have 88, you have to have four years of network, 22 episodes per year in order to syndicate”. The foreign money for dramas can be a really big number and that helps studios put a drama into profit pretty early on. Certainly, you’re deficiting the shows but you’re not carrying such enormous deficits like you used to. On top of that re-trans consent has enhanced the broadcast networks revenue in a big way. CBS is doing really well, ABC made a really nice comeback this year, ONCE UPON A TIME was a giant hit, FOX has continued to do well, NBC is lagging behind but I think that Bob Greenblatt is brilliant and he will figure out how to make it work. You look at the all the success in cable, the brilliant shows that are getting all the Emmy nominations, there are so many of them now. HOMELAND has just been wonderful this year, I’m predicting that it’s going to win the Emmy, that’s just my personal prediction.
Q: How do you identify someone with the potential for a long career?
-It’s hard to know if they’re going to have a long career, the only thing I can identify is if I think they’re talented. Sometimes I’m wrong but if you read material - and at the heart of it I’m in the writer business – if I read original material by a writer and it just really hits me then I know I’ve got a quality client to take on. If he’s a baby, if he’s experienced, if he’s been around forever, when you read a piece of material you go “wow, this person’s really talented, I know what to do with him”. It’s the next step, the next few steps are going to determine if he’ll have a long career, and that’s if we can get him or her setup on the staff of a television show. You get them some experience and then move into the development business. It’s certainly possible, Matt Nix being the greatest example of it, to have not been on the staff of a TV show and to create your own show like he did with BURN NOTICE, but that’s still pretty unusual, that’s a real long shot. Being on staff you learn more about how the business works, how a writer’s room works, how production works, even if you’re on the show just for a year or two. Once you have a better idea how the business works then you can move into development and if you do create a show then that probably in and of itself is going to make your career a much longer-lasting career. It also raises your profile incredibly. If you create a show, even if it fails, every network guy, every studio guy in town knows who you are and you’re on their map.
Q: What’s the best thing about being an agent? worst?
-The best thing is finding that person, that man or woman who indeed has the potential to take off and then helping them take off. The worst thing is losing clients and that’s unfortunately just part and parcel of our business. I enjoy the TV development business, I enjoy the staffing business, if you enjoy it then it’s never boring. I am never bored, I don’t play golf, I don’t play tennis, I don’t have a retirement job in mind and so I’m going to do this until I literally drop dead, and the only reason is that I get a kick out of it.
Q: How do you see the business changing over the next few years?
-I think it’s going to continue along pretty much the same lines, there are a couple of potential landmines out there but they may or may not blow up, I don’t know. There are things like a la carte programming that could really change the face of the cable business but will it happen, I don’t know. There are potentially big problems out there but right now I don’t see them affecting the next 12-18 months, I don’t see them affecting the business negatively and unless we have another recession in the next 6 months the advertising market will remain strong and our business will remain strong. There’s such a wealth of drama, Emmy-quality work that’s being done on both cable and broadcast. When I got into this business, every TV writer wanted to be in features and they saw TV as just a short stay that they would make, make some money and get started in the business. The whole thing has totally reversed, feature writers want to get into the television business. It has totally changed, part of it is certainly economic but a large part of it is creative, because people are really catching on in such a big way. Things like HOMELAND, MAD MEN, BOARDWALK EMPIRE, BREAKING BAD, all these shows have such enormous impact, such fanatical audiences and for me that speaks so well to the health of where the business is. The writing is so strong, the creative talent in television is better than it’s ever been.