March 9, 2012
With networks now so closely attached to their aligned studios on the scripted side, some may argue that unfiltered independence is dead.
The eulogy was written, many will say, when indie shingle Carsey-Werner Prods. stopped delivering original content around the dial. However, don’t tell that to the dozens of established and wannabe reality producers whose us-against-the-world credo is proving quite productive.
That can-do spirit is evident in the programming. Similar to their series creators, the protagonists behind such series as “Ice Road Truckers,” “Deadliest Catch” and “The Amazing Race” — just to name a few — demonstrate an adventurous attitude that is reflective of what often goes on in pitching sessions around town.
Take Craig Piligian, for example. As topper at Pilgrim Studios, Piligian has series at various networks strewn across the cable landscape and knows the key to being on top means standing up for both your shows and convictions. “You have to have that indie spirit,” says Piligian, whose titles include “Dirty Jobs” at Discovery, “Full Metal Jousting” at History and “Ghost Hunters” at Syfy, just to name a few. “I love being in the fight and doing it on our own.”
Piligian and the others are represented here in Variety’s Reality Impact Report know that it takes a combination of new ideas and plenty of salesmanship to make sure their shows are seen by the masses. While producers often go back to specific networks with whom they’ve shared success, the thrill in the chase is bringing a series to a different channel and creating another working relationship. The more shows a producer can have across the spectrum, the greater the financial reward.
Says Brent Montgomery, whose Leftfield Pictures shingle produces such eclectic fare as “Pawn Stars” for History and “Oddities” on Science. “This is a great time to be in this business.”
Founder, Original Media
Top shows: “Swamp People” (History), “NY Ink” (TLC), “Comic Book Men” (AMC), “Ink Master” (Spike)
The skinny: Corwin knew he was doing something right when earlier this year History invested big bucks in a Super Bowl commercial to tease the third season of “Swamp People.” The show represents what Original does best. “We identify interesting Americans and their worlds — people we might not know a lot about but would like to know more,” Corwin says. “They may seem different but we show they are actually very similar to us in many ways.” Original also prides itself on trailblazing, producing the first reality skein for AMC (“Comic Book Men”) and coming up with the ultimate high-stakes competition: “Ink Master.” “You can spit out food and you can take off a dress,” Corwin quips, “but a tattoo is permanent.”
See http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118051073 for full article.
Walt Flanagan behind the counter at Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash.
AS the man who hired him and the men who work for him will readily attest, Walt Flanagan, the manager of a comic book store here called Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash, is not necessarily cut out for a career in retail. He is shy and retreating, uncomfortable around new people and has a tendency to wander away from conversations.
But when two young visitors entered his store recently with a pressing question — “Is there any good, old-school Batman?” 16-year-old Connor McNamara asked — Mr. Flanagan, a 41-year-old man in a tattered New Jersey Devils cap, sprang into action. Emerging from behind his cash register he led Mr. McNamara and a friend, Joe Lombardi, 16, down the store’s narrow aisles, past the action figures of Leatherface, the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” murderer, and the ceramic busts of Boba Fett, the “Star Wars” bounty hunter, to a rack of graphic novels. There Mr. Flanagan had the privilege of introducing the neophytes to Frank Miller’s classic 1986 work “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.” “This,” he told them, “may be the greatest Batman story ever told.”
One $16.80 purchase later Mr. Flanagan explained his managerial policy, that he is happy to offer customers his recommendations but not to impose them. “I try to at least ask them what they’re into before recommending something,” he said. “Because what I like they might be, like, ‘This is trash.’ ”
Secret Stash is already a unique specimen in the peculiar world of comic book shops because it is owned by Kevin Smith, the writer-director and superhero enthusiast. And now it is the even more unlikely subject of an AMC reality series, “Comic Book Men,” which will make its debut next Sunday and shine a spotlight on idiosyncratic subjects like Mr. Flanagan, his co-workers and their store’s regular hanger-outers.
There are reasons why comic book sellers are caricatured in pop culture as obsessive, isolated souls. See, for example, the pedantic, imperious comic book guy on “The Simpsons” known as Comic Book Guy.
But where Mr. Smith’s films like “Clerks” and “Mallrats”mocked the anonymous and dehumanizing aspects of service-industry professions, “Comic Book Men” is at heart a celebration of the deeply particular personalities involved when geeky merchandise changes hands.
As Mr. Smith put it in a telephone interview: “Both the purchaser and the seller are very interested in the item. If you go to the grocery store, whoever checks you out ain’t necessarily interested in Cocoa Puffs.”
The recommendation of that same “Dark Knight Returns” graphic novel united Mr. Smith and Mr. Flanagan as teenagers in the 1980s, when Mr. Smith best knew Batman through the bam-kapow 1960s television series, and Mr. Flanagan told him he needed to expand his horizons.
When Mr. Smith’s filmmaking career took off with the 1994 release of “Clerks,” he began thinking of ways to pay back the friends who inspired his movies, including Mr. Flanagan, a favorite sidekick for hockey-kibitzing sessions and weekend road trips to distant comic shops in search of nerdy memorabilia.
“I always had it in the back of my head: One day I’m going to get a comic book store for Flanagan to run,” said Mr. Smith, who is an executive producer of the show. That opportunity presented itself a couple years later when Mr. Smith learned that the owner of a local shop called Comicology was planning to get out of the business and was willing to sell him his operation for about $40,000. (Mr. Smith said he talked him down to $30,000.)
As Mr. Smith figured it: “ ‘Clerks’ cost me $27,575. This is only like 2,500 bucks more, and we would have a whole store, and Walter would have it to run. So, boom, dream accomplished.”
The rechristened Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash (named for miscreant characters played by Jason Mewes and Mr. Smith in his movies) also employed another friend, Bryan Johnson, who used to run the Los Angeles branch of the store, now defunct, and directed an independent film, “Vulgar,” financed by Mr. Smith. But as Mr. Johnson, an imposing man of 44 with a long wooly beard, acknowledged: “I’m not a customer-service kind of guy. The good thing about working for Kevin is I could get away with a lot more than I would have otherwise.”
Secret Stash, located near a Restoration Hardware and a pottery shop called A Time to Kiln, is now the domain of the reluctant Mr. Flanagan and his subordinates, Ming Chen and Michael Zapcic, a hardy, goateed man who was a regular shopper before he became an employee.
“Walt is a very particular person, and I guess I didn’t annoy him all that much,” Mr. Zapcic said of his hiring.
The store is also a mini-museum for artifacts from Mr. Smith’s movies; a hangout for regulars like Mr. Johnson and Robert Bruce, an organizer of the Asbury Park Comic Con; a place for staff members to record podcasts; and a site for poker games and welcome-back-from-rehab parties for Mr. Mewes. It is also, occasionally, a place where business is transacted.
But much of the day is occupied by discussions of crucial factoids, like: Did Supergirl ever have her own animated television series? Were the original G.I. Joe action figures 12 or 13 inches tall? “It is my delight,” Mr. Zapcic said of Mr. Bruce after one such debate, “to prove him wrong.”
Mr. Bruce admitted.: “And he does at least once a week. Which proves I am not God, because I am infallible.”
“Infallible?” said a surprised Mr. Chen.
“Fallible,” Mr. Bruce said, shaking his head. “Fallible.”
Mr. Zapcic added, “That’s un-possible.”
A dreadlocked mail carrier entered to deliver a package from Lands’ End, and a young man with long hair and a leather jacket asked to leave some flyers, advertising his comics illustration class, at the register.
Finally a customer, Patricia Swales, came in, looking for birthday gifts for her husband, Tom, a lapsed comic book collector. Without condescension Mr. Zapcic led her to a copy of issue No. 300 of Wolverine and a piggy bank in the shape of the Mighty Thor.
Afterward Mr. Zapcic sounded genuinely elated to have assisted Ms. Swales with her search. “She didn’t get exactly what she wanted,” he said. “But she got what she needed, which is really cool.”
“Comic Book Men,” which will be shown on AMC following its hit comic book adaptation, “The Walking Dead,” offers a mixture of these day-to-day interactions; visits to the store by hard-core collectors (including one who owns both a 1960s-era Batmobile and the Green Hornet’s car, the Black Beauty); and freewheeling conversations among the Secret Stash employees, Mr. Smith and Mr. Johnson. AMC has ordered six episodes of the show.
Mr. Flanagan, who has also illustrated the DC Comics mini-series “Batman: Cacophony”and “Batman: The Widening Gyre” written by Mr. Smith, was not exactly thrilled when the camera crews and lighting rigs began showing up at Secret Stash.
But he said of Mr. Smith: “It’s his store. If he wants to do it, there’s not much I could say about it.”
Mr. Smith said he has never had to pay out of pocket to keep Secret Stash afloat since the first months of its operation, and Mr. Flanagan said proudly that the store had weathered problems including a wider comics industry downturn and the ascent of online shopping, which has made rare items attainable at the touch of a button.
“I don’t know if there’s many memories to be had of typing into a search engine, looking for this special book, as opposed to finding it in some hole-in-the-wall store you never were before,” Mr. Flanagan said.
What he was not sure the store could endure was the fleeting celebrity of reality television. By comparison, he recalled a visit he made with his two daughters to the Hoboken, N.J., bakery where the TLC series “Cake Boss” is set.
The one employee his daughters recognized from the show, he said, “looked like a bear in a cage at a zoo that people were throwing popcorn at.”
Of the overall experience Mr. Flanagan said: “It was just waiting outside for over an hour to get into a bakery. You get inside a bakery, you can’t move two inches because there’s so many people in there. People barking at you for the order you want.”
With some reluctance he added, “I guess that’s a great problem to have.”
Spike inks January airdate for Dave Navarro tattoo series
December 9, 2011
by Adam Benzine
U.S. net Spike has set a January 17 airdate for Ink Master (pictured), the forthcoming Dave Navarro-fronted competition series which marks its first venture into the tattoo lifestyle space.
The tattoo-based competition reality series will premiere in a 10 p.m. EST slot, and sees 10 of the nation’s top tattoo artists from around America battling for a US$100,000 cash prize, an editorial feature in tattoo magazine Inked, and the grand title of ‘Ink Master.’
Navarro, guitarist with rock band Jane’s Addiction, hosts the eight-episode series, with Chris Nunez and Oliver Peck serving as judges. Endemol USA-owned indie Original Media is producing the show, with Charlie Corwin and Jay Peterson as executive producers of the series.
The series marks a further step into tattoo TV for Original – its other shows include TLC series NY Ink and LA Ink, as well as series such as Swamp People, Storm Chasers and The Rachel Zoe Project.
It’s been a good summer so far for producer Charlie Corwin. He has teamed with Ben Silverman and helmer Joel Schumacher to develop a series based on Susanna Moore’s “The Big Girls,” to be written by Adam Mazer. Schumacher is in discussions to direct.Corwin’s Original Media shingle is also developing a feature thriller with Schumacher.
The prolific producer has 13 shows on the air or about to preem, most in the “docu-soap” genre. He’s awaiting word from History on a third-season renewal for “Swamp People” following a strong sophomore sesh in which the show averaged 3.9 million total viewers, up 26% over the first season.
“The type of reality television I do is, for the most part, about identifying worlds that I feel are exciting and have not been exposed fully and finding the characters in those worlds that best epitomize them,” Corwin said.
“Swamp People” is a prime example of a show that fits that template. The show follows alligator hunters, turtle farmers and other residents of Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Basin, whose way of life is completely foreign to most viewers. “In a lot of ways, they’re the greenest people around,” Corwin said.
Contact Sam Thielman at firstname.lastname@example.org
Adam Mazer Inks Deal to Pen HBO’s ‘Big Girls’ Pilot
The “You Don’t Know Jack” writer will base script on Susanna Moore’s 2007 book; Joel Schumacher attached to direct pilot.
6/27/2011 by Lacey Rose
Adam Mazer is back in business with HBO.
The Emmy-winning screenwriter is set to pen a pilot based on the 2007 book, The Big Girls, written by Susanna Moore (In the Cut). The project centers on a young psychiatrist at a maximum security women’s prison who attempts to treat the criminally insane while grappling with her own damaged psyche.
The project is a reunion for Mazer at the premium cable network. He wrote the 2010 HBO telepic, You Don’t Know Jack, starring Al Pacino as Jack Kevorkian. The project scored Emmy wins for its writing as well as its star.
Joel Schumacher is in discussions to direct the pilot, which will be produced by Electus’ Ben Silverman (The Tudors, The Office, The Biggest Loser) and Original Media’s Charlie Corwin (The Rachel Zoe Project, NY Ink, The Squid and the Whale).
Mazer is repped by ICM and Inphenate.
Photo credit: Jason Merritt/Getty Images
No Pain, No Fame
The city’s newest tattoo parlor doubles as a reality-TV set.
By Rachel Baker
April 24, 2011
For the New York spinoff of TLC reality series LA Ink and Miami Ink, star Ami James and producer Charlie Corwin wanted a set that would be more than just, well, a set. They wanted an open-to-the-public tattoo shop, art gallery, and event space that just happened to be under round-the-clock film-crew surveillance. So they hired a team of architects and production designers to transform a former Christian Science church in Soho into the 4,600-square-foot Wooster Street Social Club (43 Wooster St., nr. Grand St.; woostersocial.com), now taking tattoo customers by appointment, with plans to accept drop-ins by the time NY Ink debuts on June 2. Though much of the décor is legitimately appealing—vintage fifties barber chairs, mid-century floor tiles sourced from the Flatiron Building—the space is not without such reality-show contrivances as a confessional room and a padded boxing ring for cast members to duke out disagreements. Basically, it’s The Real World masquerading as a tattoo studio masquerading as art. Or, as Corwin puts it: “I think of the show as a performance-art piece in the gallery.”
Charlie Corwin on Giuseppe Cipriani, Socialista’s Demise & ‘New York Ink’
By Steve Lewis
April 21, 2011
Charlie Corwin is a player. More often than not, it’s the other guy from one of his ventures that has his photo in the funny papers or in bold letters, but it’s Charlie making things happen. I don’t think he’s complaining, as he’s insanely successful and pursuing all sorts of endeavors that are satisfying his creative needs. Charlie isn’t limited to being a bean counter, although his work does provide him with lots of green beans. He’s married to one of my cocktail servers from bygone days, the beautiful and brilliant Olivia Ma Corwin, who’s a mogul in her own right. She got out of the club biz by creating the pet clothing company Kwigy Bo. All the right pooches are wearing Kwigy Bo. I’ll let Charlie tell you about what he does and is planning to do. Pay attention, you might learn something.
I know you in three capacities: first as a friend; second, you’ve dabbled in the club world in this world of lounges, if you will; and then third as a filmmaker. Tell me about your film career.
I’ve always been entrepreneurial in media. My first company was a record label, second an internet company, and I sold both of those and moved on to start Original Media, which is my production company. We started by making television, and then we moved to movies, and now we do both. We have something like 14 series on the air now, all reality, although we do scripted also. Anything ranging from Stormchasers on Discovery to the Ink franchise. We do The Rachel Zoe Project, Swamp People for History, which is our new big hit about the alligator hunters of the Atchafalya Swamp basin in the Louisiana Bayou. And the movie side of things we do sort of Sundance-y independent films. I’ve shot 5 movies in New York, and all of them have premiered at Sundance: The Squid and The Whale, Half Nelson, Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, August, and most recently a movie called Twelve which Joel Shumacher directed.
Let’s chat about your latest venture. I went to a party for New York Ink, one of those parties I thought wasn’t going to be very good, but it turned out to be really great, which is always the best thing. Tell us about New York Ink and the tattoo shop.
This all started about 5 or 6 years ago with the first show, called Miami Ink. I was a big fan of Taxi Cab Confessions, and I thought the tattoo paradigm presented a really easy way to tell real stories. In other words, when people typically get tattoos, they typically get them to commemorate crossroads in their lives, be they inspirational or commemorative, sad or happy. And while they’re lying in these chairs, literally and figuratively naked, being painfully and permanently inked by a tattoo artist, they tell the story behind the tattoo to the artist, and it takes on this confessional paradigm, where the artist is like a punk rock priest telling their story to them. After I created that show, it became a hit, and we started to franchise it. We opened New York, which partners with Ami James, who’s also the star of the show. Our shop is called The Wooster Street Social Club, and it’s also the location for New York Ink, the newest installment in the Ink franchise.
Tell me how this space transcends the normal, traditional tattoo parlor, and how tattooing has hit the mainstream. Everyone’s getting one. My Mom told me the other day that she wanted a tattoo! She’s 81!
These television shows have made tattooing mainstream in a lot of ways, or they have at the very least helped it along the way. The percentage of Americans that now have a tattoo is staggering. I can’t remember what it is, but adult Americans with tattoos is a number something like 40%. It’s a huge number and it’s gone up since we started doing these shows, it’s infiltrated pop culture, like a Warhol Campbell’s soup can or Brillo pad box. With this space it has become something different—it’s in Soho, so it’s not on St. Mark’s Place, it’s not a dive, a rat hole. You’ve been there, it’s a very beautiful loft. You put a restaurant in there—you put anything in there—and it would be beautiful. The idea of having it in Soho, in the art gallery Soho district, and it being an art gallery itself, is we are now elevating what was considered “down” market, what was considered “street art” into fine art that is worthy of being presented in a gallery environment. So that’s the idea.
One of the themes for the space is it’s a multi-platform artistic venue, it’s an interdisciplinary artist place for artists to create all different kinds of art that will hopefully cross pollinate—that’s the Warholian part of it. But one of the central questions I was faced with, being a reality television producer who was making a show about art, was how to make it appealing—to some people, those are strange bedfellows. Whether or not they’re irreconcilable is up for debate. So it’s the question of whether you can make a show about art, in this case tattoo art, and have it play to the soccer moms in the red states, and also have an artistic venue (like the one I’m describing in the center of Soho), and still have credibility among the artist community. This became the challenge. And so rather than try to solve that riddle, I decided to make it the theme of the space itself.
Let’s talk about the space. What else is going to be going on in that space besides traditional tattooing and a section for filming?
The way I think of it is like the Russian dolls. At the center of it you have the human canvases, the clients, the people that come in to get tattoos on their skin, and that art itself. Around that, the larger circle of the television show itself, where you have producers and directors, camera people, and sound people walking around with shoulder-mount cameras filming a television show—creating a television show. Around that you have the actual walls of the space, where we are curating exhibits from mostly street artists, and other organic urban artists. So we’re going to be doing a rotating mural on the wall, which will then get piped into a projector, and project it onto the wall while you’re in the space. So there will be multiple artistic endeavors unfolding in real time while you’re in the space getting tattooed.
And there will also be events. The events are going to be driven by art, so they’re going to be real avant-garde kind of events. Think—sketching days where you’re just sketching all day during a drawing seminar, with live models. Or we’re planning a kind of 24-hour film festival, where you have to shoot, edit, and deliver a short film in 24-hours. So there are all sort of artistic-driven events.
You were involved with one of the most hard-luck projects of all time, Socialista. It was really a great place, it had a good run, and people really loved it, but it got banged out because of bullshit. Tell me about your role there.
I was always fascinated—and still am—with nightlife in New York. I think it’s the stuff of dreams. I had met Armin Amiri, who was one of the owners, and really running Socialista. I had met him originally through my wife Olivia when he was working at Bungalow 8 with Amy Sacoo. I’ve known him for many years. When he opened this place he went and showed it to me and I was blown away by the location. It’s just a gorgeous location with windows onto the river in the Jane Street Hotel. I was warned that that space was cursed, because there had been several other things in that space over the years.
I have that theory, by the way. I passed on the space, personally, for clients of mine a number of times. You actually took it while I was still with the clients who were insisting, and I was saying no. You saved me, vindicated me.
You’re welcome. Armin invited me to invest, and at that time it was Armin and his partner Giuseppe Cipriani. The plan had the upstairs as a nightclub/lounge, and downstairs was to be a restaurant. It was a Cuban-themed nightclub, and Cuban-themed restaurant—hence the name Socialista—but the food in the restaurant was going to be run by Cipriani, who obviously has a lot of experience running restaurants. I loved the idea, and I love Armin, so I went out and I brought in a bunch of my friends, including some big names, to invest as well.There was a small group of high-profile investors that opened Socialista, and it was great. Giuseppe never showed up, basically. He never showed up to run the restaurant.
He had other problems.
He had other problems. So Armin was left to run the restaurant, and ultimately—
I don’t want to make him sound like he was being flaky. He was distracted heavily.
He was under indictment for tax evasion. So ultimately two things killed Socialista: Number one, and I don’t know the details of it so I shouldn’t speak on it with authority, but Giuseppe ended up making a deal with the government.That included him paying a large fine, and as part of that fine he taxed all of his restaurants—including Socialista. That’s how he covered the fine. And we were not up-and-running long enough to be able to cover that. I’ve never told that story before, but that’s the truth.
The other part of it was we had a very unfortunate incident with Hepatitis A. There was a bartender that worked for us who had gone home somewhere in Central America, I cant remember exactly where, for the weekend or something. He came back to work and he had unfortunately brought it back with him, unknowingly. Later he started feeling sick and figured out he had contracted Hepatitis A, which is not a good thing if you’re in the restaurant business serving drinks. It turned out that the night that he had worked also happened to be the night of Ashton Kutcher’s birthday party. Which made for a very awkward aftermath: a lot of phone calls asking people to get tested, which led to news trucks outside, putting microphones in everybody’s face before they walked into the club. You couldn’t come back from that.
No, there’s no coming back. Nightclubs are an addiction. I’m addicted, your wife is addicted. Even though Olivia and I are not in the business anymore, there’s a certain part of our brain that’s tapped in that wants a little bit more. I write about it, I got out that way, and I also design clubs. Did you get hooked? Or are you retired?
Oh I’m hooked, I’m hooked. I didn’t lose enough to be scared away. First of all, I don’t regret the Socialista investment. I still love Armin, and I’ll probably invest with him again. I think it was a fantastic experience while it lasted. It ended too soon, and that was very unfortunate, but I had so much fun while I was doing it, and I would absolutely do it again. I have lots of friends, you included, who are nightclub proprietors whom I trust implicitly, and would be happy to go into business with.
CHARLIE CORWIN NAMED TO THR REALITY POWER LIST
April 5, 2011
#48 – Charlie Corwin
Co-founder and CEO of Original Media
“I look for worlds and characters,” says Charlie Corwin, who got his start as a music producer founding LiveMusicChannel.com in 1999. These days, his producing credits include everything from the feature films Half Nelson and The Squid and the Whale to The Gayle King Show — with The Rachel Zoe Project, Be Good Johnny Weir and TLC’s tattoo franchise L.A. Ink, Miami Ink and, now, N.Y. Ink (premiering in June) in between. “We try to find big personalities that can epitomize and personify their worlds so we can pull the curtain back,” he says. Of the 13 shows Corwin has in production and scheduled to air this year, he’s particularly excited about Inkmasters, a new tattoo competition/elimination series modeled in the vein of Top Chef and Project Runway. “The stakes are uniquely high,” he says. “You can take off the dress, you can spit out the food, but for this, you’ll have something permanently inked on your body.”
Bottom Line: Putting the “great” back in “great outdoors,” this forest follies is informative and fun all at once.
Discovery Channel, how you tempt the armchair survivalist in me.
Thanks to Discovery programming, I am privileged to watch the heroic, if occasionally staged, efforts of men like Bear Grylls (“Man vs. Wild,” “Worst Case Scenario”) battle the elements, eat bizarre “protein” and otherwise suck it up in the name of showing us softies some of Mother Nature’s harshest realities all from the safety of my sofa. So, thank you.
But until I saw “Dual Survival,” I didn’t know what I was missing.
This masterful if unimaginatively titled bit of programming strands independent survival experts Cody Lundin and Dave Canterbury in several challenging environments to show us how they do, or do not, rise to the occasion. So far, so average. But Lundin and Canterbury have very different approaches to survival, and once they start butting heads, it gets hilarious pretty quickly.
Give Lundin most of the credit. Canterbury is the stereotype of the hardened survivalist: former Army sniper, lives with Mother Nature as his adversary. Lundin, however, wants to attune with Mother Nature and hasn’t worn shoes (or long pants) in 20 years. He hikes in boreal wilderness, on snow, on an island off Nova Scotia — in socks. To Canterbury, Lundin’s ideas are “bush hippie crap.” Lundin, who thinks by going unshod he is getting his cells to evolve, notes, “My mitochondria can kick Dave’s mitochondria any day of the week.”
Great stuff, sprinkled among the sometimes useful details. Lundin does come up with a brilliant “greenhouse” improvised shelter, but Canterbury’s deadfall traps are a big zero. (Has anyone ever caught anything using a deadfall on these shows?) Even the narrator gets to poke a little fun, noting more than once that someone has broken a “cardinal rule” of survival.
Try and look beyond the overweening soundtrack telegraphing “danger” every two minutes, and ignore the extended recaps bookending each commercial break — they’re designed for those with short-term memory loss. Come for the porcupine clubbing, stay for the Dharma and Greg bickering. You’ll be glad you did, and you’ll be glad you’re home as you do — insufficient mitochondria and all.
Airdate: 10-11 p.m. Friday, June 11 (Discovery)
Production: Original Media
Cast: Dave Canterbury, Cody Lundin
Executive producers: Charlie Corwin, Jay Peterson, Tim Pastore
Co-executive producer: Brian Lovett
Supervising producers: Melissa Hetzner
Producer-director: Bengt Anderson
Director of photography: Derek Carver
Movie studios may still have enough dough to run full-page ads for a special tribute in Variety honoring the trade paper’s venerable Peter Bart, but it’s become pretty obvious that most of Hollywood is in the grip of a deep recession. When I showed up for lunch yesterday at the Peninsula Hotel, the hotel’s swank Belvedere restaurant–normally buzzing with agents, producers and aging TV actors–was practically deserted. When I found my lunch date, producer Charlie Corwin, we had our pick of any booth in the place. (It’s like this everywhere–a friend in New York says the restaurants and theaters there are empty as well.)
Corwin made his money from the Internet, but for the past few years he’s quietly become an intriguing player in Hollywood. The company he co-founded, Original Media, has been involved with everything from hip indie films (“The Squid and the Whale” and “Half Nelson”) to edgy reality TV shows like “LA Ink,” “Miami Ink” and “Storm Chasers.” He’s now producing one of NBC’s most ambitious new shows, “The Philanthropist,” which is due early next year, starring James Purefoy as a maverick billionaire who uses his clout and connections to help people in need around the world.
Corwin doesn’t need much help when it comes to clout and connections. One of his good pals is NBC’s Ben Silverman, who greenlit “The Philanthropist” after hearing Corwin’s pitch over drinks one night at the Chateau Marmont. Another good buddy is Sting, who was a producer on “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints,” another one of Corwin’s indie pictures. The money man for “Saints” was yet another good pal, Bobby Sager, a former corporate raider from Boston who’s now … a maverick billionaire who uses his clout and connections to help people in need around the world.
In other words, Sager’s the role model for “The Philanthropist.” It’s quite a nice little circle. When Silverman, who’d been Corwin’s agent at William Morris, wanted to see a maverick billionaire in action, Corwin took him to Las Vegas to meet Sager and go to one of Sting’s Police reunion shows. Corwin insists that Sager is the real deal. “He’s devoted his life to changing the world,” he told me. “He’s a hands on, boots on the ground kind of guy. His beat is Palestine, Pakistan, Rwanda and Iraq.”
To hear Corwin tell it, a TV show about Sager would be like going globe-trotting to every hot spot around the world with a swashbuckling do-gooder as your guide. “One week he’s in the West Bank, then he’s in Iraq, then he’s in Tibet with the Dalai Lama,” Corwin says. “Bobby also goes to Rwanda, where he created a business that makes scarves, made by the women whose husbands were murdered during the genocide there, working alongside the women whose husbands had been in jail for murdering them.”
It could be totally cheesy, but it could also be guilty-pleasure-style Feel Good TV: following a guy who cuts through the red tape, writes the checks, can get the U.N. ambassador or CIA station chief on the phone in the middle of the night. So why has “The Philanthropist” had such a rocky start?
Corwin recruited YET another good friend, writer-producer Tom Fontana, best known for his work on “Oz” and “Homicide,” to run the show. Corwin says Silverman loved Fontana’s treatment so much he agreed to put the show on the air without seeing a pilot. “It was a good lesson,” says Corwin. “When things seem too easy, they probably are.” First, the writers strike happened, delaying the show. After the strike ended, Fontana went back to work and started to turn in scripts for subsequent episodes. Suddenly the network suits began to grumble that Fontana’s take on the Sager-inspired character–known in the show as Teddy Rist–wasn’t quite working.
“They decided the scripts were going to too dark of a place,” says Corwin. “Our character was supposed to have a dark side–he has a dead son, so he has something of a hole in his soul–but I guess Tom went into too dark of a place.” Corwin refused to put any blame for the ousting of Fontana, who had given the show its biggest boost of credibility, on Silverman. “Look, NBC understands its audience and who it wants to talk to better than I do,” he says. “So I have to defer to them when it comes to a course correction.”
The network brought in “Battlestar Galactica’s” David Eick to run the show and has hired Peter Horton to direct the first episode, which has been filming in London, South Africa and the Czech Republic. Corwin’s most intriguing idea for the show involves a new kind of higher-consciousness corporate branding for the program. The network has already been recruiting companies like Lexus and Anheuser-Busch for product placement opportunities, but Corwin imagines a different kind of brand integration.
“We’re still trying to make it happen,” he says. “But we’d like to integrate different corporations’ philanthropic initiatives into the stories we’re telling on the show. Google funds a lot of nonprofit tech-based medical research, so–and this is obviously hypothetical–if they came up with a cure for a disease in Africa, Teddy Rist would utilize their product in the show. It would be a way for a company to make their image the product they’re selling.”
The key question: With the world’s economy in a shambles, is this actually a timely moment for a show about a rich guy who cures ills? Are we eager to see a member of the wealthy leisure class as a hero? Or are we looking for feisty blue-collar Joe the Plumber types? Sitting in an empty restaurant of a posh Beverly Hills hotel, Corwin is convinced that the show has an especially resonant message.
“This is about a guy who chooses to move away from the bottom line of business toward the bottom line of humanity,” he says. “I think the world is desperate for a transcendent moment. We need to connect with each other. I don’t want to politicize the show–it’s supposed to be an entertainment–but to me, this is a story about people going through fundamental change. Obviously, that same kind of change is a hallmark of the Obama campaign. So that’s a definite point of commonality. We’ve had a wake-up call that we need to do something to help the world, which is definitely what you’ll see every week on this show.”
Forget about Sting. If it’s about helping the world, surely “The Philanthropist” will make room for a guest spot by Bono.
If you haven’t heard of Charlie Corwin, you’re not alone – few people would recognize the 35-year-old’s name even though he’s one of the hottest producers in Hollywood.
This Tuesday, for instance, Corwin will find himself in a familiar place: at the Sundance Film Festival for the worldwide premiere of his latest film, “August,” which is about the end of the first dot-com boom and takes place in New York the month before 9-11.
“August” is the fourth film to come out of Corwin’s Original Media, and the fourth to have its premiere at Sundance. If it is as successful as his previous films – “The Squid and the Whale,” “Half Nelson,” and “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints” – Sundance awards, Golden Globes and Academy Awards will soon follow its premiere, just as they did with the other three.
A lawyer by training, Corwin’s track record in film and television – he also produces the tattoo shows “Miami Ink” and “LA Ink” for TLC, and “Storm Chasers” for Discovery – is one reason why Dutch production studio Endemol in November plunked down $50 million for a controlling interest in Original Media and retained an option to acquire full control over the next few years.
So confident is Endemol, the studio behind “Deal or No Deal” and “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” in Corwin’s ability that it plans to use Original Media as its platform to expand in the US.
And to think Corwin started Original Media after selling his first company, LiveMusicChannel.com, because, in his words, “we had a ton of cameras laying around and nothing else to do.”
“We started in digital and reality television because that had the lowest barriers to entry for someone with no track record,” Corwin said.
What Corwin did have, however, were connections.
NBC Entertainment co-chairman Ben Silverman met Corwin after high school on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and the two became fast friends. During his days at William Morris, Silverman served as Corwin’s first agent, and he has maintained that relationship after his move to the Peacock network. Silverman struck a first-look deal with Corwin shortly after arriving at NBC and Corwin was in the middle of shooting the scripted drama, “The Philanthropist,” for the network before the writer’s strike began.
“Charlie is passionate and committed,” Silverman said. “He loves film and TV and has great taste. That is a perfect combination. Talent also enjoys Charlie, as he is very supportive and always about getting things done.”
So far, Corwin has been able to fly under the pop culture radar screen because he doesn’t mix often with the Hollywood powers – he works out of his Big Apple office.
That may change in 2008 if “August” follows the usual Corwin path.
“Deal or No Deal” producer Endemol USA is acquiring a controlling interest in producer Charlie Corwin’s Gotham-based Original Media — a move that gives the reality powerhouse a presence in the feature film and scripted TV businesses.
Neither side would discuss specifics, but the total value of the deal is estimated to be in the ballpark of $50 million, according to people familiar with the situation.
On the feature front, Original has produced arthouse faves “Half Nelson” and “The Squid & the Whale.” Its reality successes include TLC’s “Miami Ink” and “L.A. Ink” and Discovery Channel’s “Storm Chasers.”
Over the summer, NBC U entertainment co-chief Ben Silverman signed Original to a first-look deal for scripted series. That pact has already yielded a 13-seg order for “The Philanthropist,” a drama from Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson.
“One of the appeals of this deal was that it instantly diversifies us and gets us into some businesses we just weren’t in,” Endemol USA CEO David Goldberg told Daily Variety.
“We see ourselves as an independent studio. We just can’t sit back and be a nonscripted production company if we’re interested in dramatically expanding our U.S. imprint and our global imprint.”
Goldberg and Corwin said Original would continue to operate on a day-to-day basis as an indie production company.
“But now it will be with the added leverage, capital, infrastructure and entry into foreign markets that Endemol brings,” Corwin said. “It’s about them facilitating the growth of my business because it’s now our business.”
Corwin said Original would continue to work in both film and TV, with Endemol’s leverage and cash flow being particularly useful on the feature side.
“I’ll be able to make bigger movies that have broader distribution,” he said.
Goldberg said Original will remain Gotham-based but will increase its Los Angeles presence. “There will be things we do strategically to fold them into the Endemol family … but it’s important that these companies retain their identity.”
Original will maintain a small office in Miami.
Endemol’s purchase of Original marks the company’s first big buy since hiring A. Ron Milkes to serve as senior VP of acquisitions (Daily Variety, April 24). Goldberg said he and Milkes already are looking at other companies and may snap one up by year’s end.
“Our philosophy is to acquire companies where we have tremednous faith in the management and creative skills of the owners, and then to encourage them to function autonomously,” Goldberg said. “They are in no ways takeovers.”
In addition to “Deal,” Endemol USA produces “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” for ABC, “Big Brother” for CBS (with Allison Grodner Prods.) and “1 vs. 100″ for NBC.
Sept 27, 2007, ET
The broadcast networks have stepped up the stockpiling of scripted series in face of a potential writers strike.
ABC and NBC both handed out series orders Wednesday, three months ahead of the kickoff of the official pilot season in January.
ABC has given a six-episode order to “Section 8,” a sci-fi drama from “X-Men” writer Zak Penn and producers Gail Berman and Lloyd Braun. NBC has greenlighted “The Philanthropist,” a drama series from Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson.
That follows series orders to the anthology “Fear Itself” (NBC), to Jerry Bruckheimer’s “Eleventh Hour” (CBS) and a series commitment to Ryan Murphy’s “Queen B” (Fox) — all in the past week.
ABC Studios/BermanBraun’s “Section,” which Penn will write with Michael Karnow, revolves around everyday people with exceptional neurological abilities recruited to work for a secret branch of a government agency.
Karnow came up with the idea for the show after researching programs employed by the CIA, former KGB and other intelligence agencies that had used people with psychic and other abilities on complicated cases.
While it revolves around people with special powers, “Section 8″ will be based in reality, Penn said.
“We’re going to be grounded in science fact, drawing on real exceptional abilities one can actually find existing today like Oliver Sacks’ neurological anomalies,” he said, referring to the well-known cases of the neurologist. “We will also focus on the impact the abilities have on (the characters’) personal lives.”
While their branch is secret and as such has no name, the accidental agents, aka Alphas, self-depricatingly refer to it as “Section 8,” after the clause used for discharge from the U.S. Army because of mental issues.
Under its first-look deal with NBC Uni TV, BermanBraun pitched the project to NBC, which passed on it, as it felt it was too similar to its hit “Heroes.”
While there are some parallels to the NBC series, “this show is close-ended, isn’t globe-spanning and has none of the same structure and storytelling techniques,” Penn said.
When “Section” hit the marketplace, it attracted multiple bids. ABC won the project after offering a six-episode production order off a detailed pitch and clever visual aids by Penn — a graphics package displaying the look and the graphics of the potential show as well as a special effects-enhanced video of what one of the characters on the show would look like: a guy with perfect balance who throws a roll of 10 quarters that land in 10 cups of water. The quarters video made it to YouTube and Break.com, where it has quickly amassed millions of views.
“Philanthropist,” from the Levinson/Fontana Co., Original Media and UMS, is based on an idea by Charlie Corwin. It centers on a renegade billionaire who uses his wealth, connections and power to help people in need no matter what the risks or costs.
“It’s an incredible, inspirational character who is dark and complex but also modern and contemporary,” NBC chief Ben Silverman said. “He is a young John Wayne without the uniform; he is James Bond-meets-Robin Hood.”
The order for the show hinges on casting that character. Depending on whether the show goes for midseason or fall 2008, it would get a six-to-eight or 13-episode order, respectively, a decision that will be made in December, Silverman said.
Fontana, who penned the pilot script, is exec producing the series with Corwin and Levinson. Jim Juvonen, who developed the concept with Corwin and Fontana, will serve as a co-executive producer.
Other big projects this development season include Fox’s “The Oaks” and “The FBI” as well as CBS’ “The Kingdom,” all with series commitments.
By ANTHONY KAUFMAN
Charlie Corwin and Clara Markowicz call their Gotham-based shingle Original Media. While the moniker could describe their content — everything from Oscar nominee “The Squid and the Whale” to the Discovery Channel’s “Tornado Alley” — the designation also points to their innovative business strategy.
“Our intention is to build a multimedia micro-studio,” says Corwin, who co-founded LiveMusicChannel.com in the late ’90s. “We intend to produce, acquire, develop and distribute media across multiple platforms, from film to TV to broadband and even cellphones. There is a serious revolution in terms of how content is financed and produced and distributed,” adds Corwin. “We try to be open-minded in terms of that paradigm shift.”
When veteran producer Peter Newman (“Dogfight”) brought Corwin and Markowicz onboard “The Squid and the Whale,” the duo’s first feature film project together, he was impressed with their clear-sightedness.
“This is the first time in a long time I’ve seen young producers come into this business with a very clear set of objectives,” says Newman. “They’ve been able to identify films that were of high quality, that were made for a good price and where their involvement could make a difference.”
In addition to “The Squid and the Whale,” Corwin and Markowicz helped produce “Half Nelson” and “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints,” both critically lauded Sundance sensations acquired for distribution.
They’re also in post on Sol Tryon’s “The Living Wake,” starring Jesse Eisenberg, and at work on episodes of “Live at VH1.com,” “MTV.com Live,” “Skate Maps” for Fuse and “Miami Ink” for TLC. There are also projects about danger-seeking meteorologists for Discovery and freestyle motocross riders for Fuse.
Friends since they were 18, Corwin, the development side of the duo, and Markowicz, the production chief, continue to expand their 4-year-old operation: They bowed a Miami bureau last year and are opening offices in Los Angeles next month. “We’ve been lucky to work with talented people,” says Corwin, “and if we can continue to recognize and support that talent, we’re doing our job.”
“That’s why we’re both in this business,” adds Marcowicz, “because we love to work with talented artists, be it musicians, writers, d.p.s or directors.”
Ages: Both 33
Base: New York City
Model producers: “I like to think that we take a little bit from every person we’ve ever worked with,” says Corwin. “We pool all that together and put our own spin on it.”
Hard lesson: “You’ve got to stick with your projects,” says Corwin. “In every movie we’ve done, there were multiple different casts and financing sources that dropped out then recommitted. It would have been possible for all of those films never to get made. But there was a decision to grind it out and stick with those films.”
Now playing: Sundance darlings Ryan Fleck’s “Half Nelson” (ThinkFilm) and Dito Montiel’s “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints” (First Look).
Lacey Rose, 07.28.09, 04:00 PM EDT
In an industry where most shows fizzle and even more never make it to air, Charlie Corwin knows little of failure. Between the summer and fall television seasons, his Original Media production company will serve up seven shows across six networks, with several more on the way.
A lawyer by training, the 36-year-old producer has built an impressive stable of TV fare (General Electric ( GE – news – people )-owned Bravo’s The Rachel Zoe Project, TLC’s Miami Ink and NBC’s The Philanthropist) and films (Sundance darlings Squid & The Whale and Half Nelson) over the past seven years. In 2007, Dutch reality television giant Endemol took notice, forking over $50 million for a controlling stake in his firm.
Corwin sat down with Forbes to discuss his recent leap to broadcast, the value of brand-integration and what’s next for reality television.
Forbes: The reality genre has evolved from competition to game to docu-soap. What’s next?
Corwin: I think reality television is headed into the area I’m best known for, which is creating character-driven documentary series, or docu-soaps. It’s played on cable while network reality has been more focused on game or competition/elimination shows, specifically tent shows like [News Corp.-owned Fox's] American Idol and [Walt Disney-owned ABC's] Dancing with the Stars. But those kinds of shows are more expensive, and one trend in the industry is obviously to bring production costs down. Plus, they only lend themselves–or at least lend themselves best–to broadcast networks.
Think about it: Cable has the cumulative effect of running and re-running things, where the networks have adopted more of the event style of programming. Someone gets kicked off the island, they do a morning show the next day and that’s the end of the cycle. I think you’re going to start to see networks do more of the character-driven documentary series shows I’ve done for cable. They’re less expensive and very entertaining, so long as you can find broad entry points and characters that are interesting to watch.