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Gavin Polone warns Hollywood's Internet invaders: It ain't easy

October 20, 2011 |  4:32 pm

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If you consume as much media as I do, you'd know that it has become accepted wisdom over the last few years that Silicon Valley's tech wizards are the new big brains in the entertainment business. After all, Apple's Steve Jobs ran rings around the music business, and everyone in Hollywood is desperately trying to exploit Facebook and Twitter's social network savvy. Everywhere you look these days, someone is taking a pot shot at the tin-eared execs in the music biz, the backward-thinking dolts who run network TV, and the empty suits that populate Hollywood.

But one of my favorite contrarians, TV and film producer Gavin Polone, is now saying, not so fast, buster. A producer of such films as "Panic Room" and such TV shows as "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Gilmore Girls," Polone has penned a provocative column for Vulture that offers a full-throated defense of — gasp — old-school TV executives, arguing that when it comes to making good TV, "there's a long learning curve that traditional networks have been through and it's far more involved, management-dependent and difficult than these new-media guys think."

In recent weeks, tech companies like YouTube, Yahoo and AOL have all announced deals to deliver original TV content, following in the footsteps of Netflix, which said earlier this year, to great fanfare, that it planned to fund and distribute two seasons of "House of Cards," a new series from David Fincher and Kevin Spacey. Some have said the entry of these Web brainiacs into the TV market would be disastrous for broadcast networks.


But Polone isn't impressed. He contends that most Internet companies, having scrupulously avoided hiring old-school Hollywood talent, are relying on Web geeks who have no real experience creating filmed entertainment. Polone is hilariously dismissive of this notion, saying that it's a bad idea to hire people just because "they are all comfortable with each other's ugly clothes and sexlessness." He'd rather work with the kind of experienced executives who know "what notes to give in development and which script to pick to make into a pilot and which finished pilot would make a better series."

Netflix may have gotten a ton of attention with its Fincher and Spacey deal, but where does that really leave it? With all its eggs in one basket. The odds of one new show being a hit are slim, even with A-list names attached. Unless Netflix is doing it just to drive traffic, it feels like a guy who goes to a casino and puts all his money on one hand at the poker table. There's a reason why film studios have a slate of films and networks develop hundreds of scripts. It's costly, wasteful and involves all sorts of unctuous hand-holding, but as Polone puts it: "They do it because there is no other way to come up with a few hits."

Not that every network exec gets Polone's praise: While he offers kudos for CBS' Les Moonves and Fox Broadcasting chief Kevin Reilly, he merrily slimes ex-NBC czar Jeff Zucker, noting that Reilly, who developed a string of hits at FX ("The Shield" and "Rescue Me") and at NBC ("The Office," "Heroes" and "30 Rock") was "stupidly fired by Jeff Zucker, who was somehow promoted after failing for years at the job he hired Reilly to fill."

The name-calling is great fun, especially coming from Polone, who's something of a champion trash talker. (He once described the stars of "Friends" as "the six morons America loves.") But Polone's larger point is worth pondering. We in the media have a tendency to celebrate the cool new kids in town at the expense of the cobwebby old pros who've quietly built up years of decision-making skills.

Years ago, when I made a crack at lunch about the tired ideas of old Hollywood, Joel Silver — much-maligned himself as a dinosaur (Premiere magazine once dismissed him as "The Selznick of Schlock") — offered a spirited defense of the executives he knew best, the old Warners filmmaking team of Bob Daly and Terry Semel. Maybe they didn't make a host of Oscar-drenched critical darlings, but they knew how to run a successful business. As Silver told it, whenever he had a prickly dilemma, he would go to Semel or Daly, who had lived through so many management and talent crises that they could literally predict how the dilemma would play out, anticipating each twist and turn in the road the way a chess master can see 10 moves ahead in a match.  

Put simply, this is the value of experience. And while Silicon Valley is loaded with bright ideas, if its alpha geeks plan to compete in the showbiz big tent, they will inevitably need to join foces with someone who has the kind of experience to successfully maneuver past all of the mine fields that lie in the way. If creating hits was easy, everyone would be doing it. So I guess it's especially refreshing to see Polone, who has probably picked a fight with every network exec in town, acknowledging that some of those same execs might actually know what they're doing.


Gavin Polone: The iconoclast

Netflix confirms deal to offer original talent

-- Patrick Goldstein 

Photo: Gavin Polone. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

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