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By Patty Fantasia
Photo credit: Patty Fantasia

The First Telly Awards Hall of Fame Inductees at NAB

On the evening of April 14th in conjunction with the NAB convention, Telly Awards presented their inaugural Hall of Fame awards to their first inductees Harpo Studios, ESPN, and Time Warner Cable.  The Tellys began presenting awards honoring outstanding film and video productions, commercials and web video content over 30 years ago even though they had never held a ceremony before.

 

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The launch of the Hall of Fame is part of several new initiatives for the Telly Awards including a partnership with You Tube.  This alliance will provide the public with the ability to view and rate videos as part of the inaugural People’s Telly Awards and The NAB Show, which hosted the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. 

The three industry icons selected to be the first inductees have each received numerous Telly Awards throughout the years. Coming to Las Vegas was special, however, for Jonathan Sinclair, Vice President of Development & Creative Services for Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios, which was recognized for ongoing excellence in production design, lighting, camera work, editing, audio direction and graphic design.  Mitch Rymanowski, Vice President of Technology & Engineering accepted the award for ESPN.  The network was honored for its role as the world’s leading multinational, multimedia sports entertainment company. Time Warner Cable’s Vice President of Operations, Joe Truncale, was on hand to accept his company’s award for providing customers with localized all-news channels that offer content tailored to community interests and concerns. 

 

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Jonathan Sinclair and Linda Day at the Tellys

Prior to the ceremony there was a cocktail party where I had the opportunity to speak with Jonathan Sinclair and Linda Day, the executive director of the Telly Awards, who has been with the organization for approximately 12 years.  She started out in customer service, which she describes as the best place to learn anything.  From there she began her ascent to the position she now currently holds.  Linda is very excited to be launching the Hall of Fame and partnering with NAB, especially since an earlier attempt at contacting them hadn’t generated an answer. “We had tried to approach them at one point and didn’t get any response, so then when they came to us we were like thank you,” she explained.

“This is our 31st year for the Telly awards, but we’ve never had the ceremony.  The awards are just sent through the mail, so we’ve always wanted to have a ceremony and when the NAB approached us, we thought it was a great opportunity to come up with the idea to create the Telly Awards Hall of Fame,” Linda added.  Her organization is very excited about the NAB partnership and is hoping they’ll continue to gain exposure from being at the event every year. 

As for Jonathan Sinclair, having been with Harpo for several years, he’s quite familiar with the Telly Awards. “That’s why we were really kind of blown away to be part of the first year.  We’ve been big fans of Tellys for years.  We’ve always submitted.  We’ve won many, many statues and it’s always a great day when those arrive and you get those.  Now, to be a part of this first group going in, it’s a thrill.  We’re happy.  We’re real happy,” he told me just prior to accepting the award.

Jonathan joined Oprah’s show in Season 10 when as he said “Oprah was already Oprah”, however, no one was sure how long they would remain on the air.  He felt that even if he was on the show for only one season his career would have that mark on it, which would be fantastic. He said Winfrey has created an unusual environment where people tend to not to leave.  “There’s no other place if you do the kind of work that I do and our group does, there’s really no other place to be, so you end up staying and it’s really got a family mentality,” he observed.  Jonathan credits part of this to the fact that the show is produced in Chicago instead of New York or Los Angeles, where there are more jobs in the field.

Although this next season, the 25th year, is going to be the last, it is a bittersweet experience for Sinclair, who will be moving on to other projects at Harpo.  “Next season is going to be the one not to be missed,” he said because he believes especially in his group and what they work will be to “promote the show and just really honor what the legacy has been.” Describing the upcoming year as “must watch television” he is also excited about the new ventures Harpo is pursuing. “Oprah has said that she loves the show so much that she knows when it’s time to put that part of her work to bed, but she is always going to be our leader.  It’s her company.  It’s her vision.  Her essence goes through everything that we do,” he continued.

Sinclair’s group actually is involved with many different aspects of Harpo aside from “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”  Among the projects they’ve played a part in, was the recent debut of “The Doctor Oz Show”, which had the biggest launch in syndication in seven years, and the upcoming program with Nate Berkus.  Jonathan enjoys every aspect of the work.  As he put it, “It doesn’t make a difference for me because a lot of us have been around Harpo for a long time, so we have a great team and if that team is working on 30 second promos or that team if working on a boxed set DVD for the 20th anniversary or a Big Give or an Oscar special or even now shows that we’re piloting for OWN, to me I like it all.  I really don’t pick one over the other I like actually the mix.  As long as you’re working with people that you know, love and trust,” he explained. 

However, there have been some moments Sinclair does look back on fondly.  Perhaps the most memorable of these was during the episode of “Oprah” with former South African President Nelson Mandela.  “That was the one, because Oprah had him walk down the hallway. And just to be in his presence, and just to see that moment, is extraordinary.  There have been other things and you’ll find yourself doing something or working with somebody or being a part of a show or just being in the building and you do have those moments where you go, how did this happen?  We had just done an Oscar special where we reunited Michael Douglas and Glenn Close from “Fatal Attraction” and there’s just these interesting moments and you think this is special and you try to savor it more as the years go by and not just work so hard, that it’s not just another project to get done.  There are countless of those and I will tell you even in the meetings you have with Oprah and those moments, you just savor those things.  The challenge is just to be in the moment and not get so caught up in just work, work, work, but in those moments and stop and go this is pretty cool,” he said.

Going back to Harpo’s induction into the Telly Hall of Fame, Sinclair continued, “I think for this group and the creative services team, this is a crowning achievement.  It feels really good to be recognized, especially with ESPN and Time Warner Cable.”

One of the highlights during the ceremony was Oprah speaking to the audience, while clips from Harpo were being shown on the screen. “I’ve been doing this television thing since 1842 and what I know for sure is you can have the best show in the world, but who would be watching without a great promo,” she declared.  A few minutes later Sinclair joined Linda Day on stage to accept the award for Harpo.  “This is very cool,” he said before joking about writing a speech and putting it on his Blackberry.  He added that everyone back in Chicago was very excited by the huge honor bestowed upon them and how for many years it’s always been a good day when the Telly awards have arrived.  “They come in cardboard boxes and get wheeled around,” he explained.  “This Hall of Fame induction, inaugural class thing is even sweeter since Oprah’s announced the end of the Oprah Winfrey Show,  It’s been an incredible run, but I guarantee that next season will live up to the previous 24.” 

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Linda Day with Mitch Rymanowski from ESPN 

Next on stage was ESPN’s Mitch Rymanowski, who has been with ESPN for over 30 years.  “With all the changes, one thing that’s remained consistent is the overall desire in everyone’s job just to do the best work that they can.  This award thing really validates all of our efforts,” he said then accepted the award and thanked everyone on behalf of his team and the station.

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Linda Day with Joe Truncale from Time Warner Cable

The final honor was received by Joe Truncale from Time Warner Cable.  “I have no paper.  I’m an operations guy,” he joked, before saying thank you on behalf of the thousands of Time Warner Cable employees.  Emphasizing his company’s commitment to programming at the local level, he concluded that it was a privilege and an honor to be inducted. 

Three organizations, all with their own legacies, were brought together by NAB and the Telly Awards for what is bound to be the start of something special that both attendees and honorees will be looking forward to from now on every year.

 

Executives from 20th Century Fox TV Discuss “Prime” Subject at NAB

On Monday, April 11th at NAB, I spent the early afternoon listening to an hour long Super Session with Twentieth Century Fox co-chairs Dana Walden and Gary Newman.  The moderator for the event, Los Angeles Time TV critic, Joe Flint, began by teasing the duo about how their working relationship, which has lasted over 10 years, and is longer than most Hollywood marriages.

 

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Joe Flint with Dana Walden and Gary Newman from 20th Century Fox Television

One of the first topics discussed was Fox’s breakout hit Glee and how they generated buzz by allowing the first 13 episodes of the series to be released on DVD before the end of the season.  Gary said that by doing so, it gave some late comers the opportunity to see the show from the beginning, while at the same time creating a revenue stream on a different platform.  The creative strategy appears to be working.  Oprah recently devoted a whole hour to Glee, while one cast member had the opportunity to perform at the White House.  Newman talked about building a brand and a fan base using both its own website and new platforms like Hulu.  This is a familiar strategy with Fox, who has been known to create rollouts by putting its content in various segments of the marketplace, a practice which has worked successfully in the past with programs like 24 and The Simpsons, which have always been on top in the ratings. Newman said that during the initial seasons the network wants to put a show out there and get them seen, which sites like Hulu are great for, but around the third season syndication becomes a concern and access may have to be reconsidered.

 

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Flint, Walden and Newman in Conversation

Dana spoke next about their programs and said, “We try to look at each of them individually. We’re creating brands.“ She added that the prototype they’ve built for the Fox brand has led to multifaceted options and that they have an incredible platform on the network leading to ancillary opportunities.  She also spoke about the need for leveraging in order to monetize their shows, agreeing with Gary that platforms like Hulu are great for generating buzz and introducing viewers to shows, but that after the second year rerun money becomes a concern. 

DVD’s are also a big part of the network’s financial return, although not as much as years ago.  “One decade ago the business was about volume,” Dana explained.  She said that it’s also important for an organization like Fox to choose its’ partners carefully and be mindful of what plays in the international marketplace.  She mentioned that the approach used by the teams from 24 and How I Met Your Mother were particularly appealing and impressive and said she found a “certain kind of inspiration in their pitches.”  This kind of connection usually lends itself to better partnerships. 

Gary continued by saying that shows are still worth enormous sums of money, although now revenues are collected differently on many platforms and with the international market playing a more important role.  Programs most at risk for cancellation tend to be the ones that fall in the middle with their numbers which brings the difficulty of trying to keep emotions out of their decision making process.  “When you’re in development you don’t know what you’ll end up with,” he said, while Dana admitted that there are some tough conversations every year at the top of the season when trying to determine the viability of a show.  Newman added that with new shows building a rapid fan base, to buy the DVDs is always beneficial. 

Another part of Fox’s strategy is to be aggressive when it comes to casting leads, but being more financially conservative with their supporting roles.  They look for great storytelling, strong production values and relationship building and know that smart producers get where they are coming from and realize what they need to do to build partnerships.  On the other hand, Walden said that actors like 24’s Kiefer Sutherland and Charlie Sheen over at CBS, who bring such star power to their series “are rightfully rewarded very richly for their services.”  Walden claimed that networks must “be bold” when weighing profitability and the value of every episode being produced.  “It’s a lot of stress,” she admitted.  The show has to be the greatest consideration when making decisions, which networks must recognize.  She acknowledged, “CBS has done well growing their assets.” 

One topic becoming increasingly talked about is product placement.  In the past 24 was very successful at it and now the latest example appears to come from Modern Family, which recently featured Apple’s new iPad.  This was not a paid product placement, which Gary stated that Apple doesn’t do.  He described this as a case where it happened the way it ought to and that direct and indirect compensation came about the right way. He explained, ““No one likes integration that feels glued on.”   Modern Family worked because it was the perfect birthday item for the character and the timing worked as well, so Fox contacted Apple. “A fictional product wouldn’t have had the same impact,” he said, then added that Fox is not looking to create an avenue for this type of promotion. They want integration that feels organic.

Twentieth Century Fox Television has also been involved in a number of collaborations through Fox 21 and Fox Television Studios developing cable shows, such as Burn Notice, White Collar and Sons of Anarchy for other networks. “Our producers recognize that we’re partners,” Dana commented   She explained how in the television industry assets live two decades or longer and that they are very careful not to cheapen a show or diminish its value.  Newman said that Fox believes it’s a plus developing content for other networks because it’s lucrative and it also benefits television writers.  He believes that it’s the studio’s job to make their offerings stand head and shoulders above their internal network. “We’ve got to raise the bar, package it,” he concluded.

Walden continued by stating that Fox maintains an aggressive financial model being inflexible with costs and maintaining a strict level of discipline including an accelerated shooting schedule and aggressive post production.  “You just have to pick your shots,” she stated referring to both Burn Notice and White Collar as great assets and praising Sons of Anarchy as fantastic and creative and a fraction of the cost of a network drama.

Near the end of the discussion, the focus returned to Fox’s huge hit Glee, which Newman said they are committed to developing in a distinct way that maintain its’ creativity and uniqueness.” Although excited to hear the pitch for Glee, the show was Ryan Murphy’s first television project and Gary admitted, ““I was nervous till the script came in.”

Walden chimed in that Glee is a “creative bulls eye”,  finding a way to introduce children to certain types of music and providing a high school perspective of life that connects with its audience.

As for the upcoming pilot season, both executives are excited about a new show called Traffic Light that follows three men at different stages in their relationships.  Two other newcomers to watch are Midland, a splashy soap about a con man and Shawn Ryan’s much talked about Ridealong, a cop show about corruption in Chicago.

 

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Gale Tattersall, DP from the Fox Medical Drama House

Later in the day during a panel discussion called The 21st Century Camera Crew and How it Works, Gale Tattersall, the Director of Photography on the Fox Medical Drama House spoke for a few minutes about filming the season finale with one of Canon’s cameras. “We shot the 5D on the last episode of House this year because we were looking for something very special,” he said.  Although he commented that the footage turned out to be amazing, in some ways using the new equipment was very difficult to pull off.  One aspect of the camera that the DP does find exciting is the cost, which will allow more potential filmmakers to make such a high quality purchase. Another member on the panel was Rodney Charters, the DP from Fox’s 24, which also used the 5D this year on what is to be their final season.  Echoing Tattersall, Rodney had good things to say about the camera.  As for the choice to use it on House, the final diagnosis will come from the show’s fans when they tune in on May 17th.

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