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Network chiefs meet, and only Barry Sonnenfeld shines

October 16, 2007 |  3:42 pm


Oh, Barry!

What would we do without the eccentric, wisecracking producer-director Barry Sonnenfeld? Assigned to moderate the Hollywood Radio & Television Society's annual “Network Chiefs Summit” on Tuesday, Sonnenfeld opted to leave his infamous fake mustache and cowboy hat at home and rely on his biting wit to steal the show.  (Well, that and the martini glass he was holding when he walked on stage, which he later confessed was full of water.)

The TV industry gathering, co-presented by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences at the Beverly Hilton hotel, attracted a record turnout -- 1,000 guests. Was the large crowd anticipating fireworks in a showdown between Fox's new Entertainment President Kevin Reilly and Ben Silverman, co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios, the man who replaced Reilly at NBC?

Reilly and Silverman played nice, and so did ABC President of Entertainment Steve McPherson, a close friend of Reilly’s who got himself into a bit of trouble this summer for criticizing Silverman before the press at this same hotel. Together with CBS President of Entertainment Nina Tassler and CW President of Entertainment Dawn Ostroff, they faced both serious and “scatological” questions from Sonnenfeld.

The possibility of a strike and how writers are compensated came up many times. Sonnenfeld stuck up for the writers throughout.

Like in this question to the group: “It seems to me that the whole residual question, getting residual should be transparent to the writer no matter what form it’s on, whether it’s iPods, DVD or cable. That should be your problem, but not the writers. First of all, is that a brilliant statement?”

Kudos to Tassler for being the gutsy one to take it on, but her explanation that the networks are in an “experimental” stage and everyone should “wait and see” what effect Internet sampling will actually have on network shows drew this from the moderator:

“When you get hired to be the head of CBS, we don’t know if you are going to do a good job or a bad job, but you get paid nonetheless . . . . In the past, like with DVDs, it’s turned out better for the corporations, so I think you should just step up and give the same residuals.”

Question to Reilly:  "Would I be better driving cross-country in a car with Leslie Moonves in a really bad mood or Steve McPherson?"

Reilly:  "I’ve done the second one. It was really colorful. We’ll talk after."

The only Reilly-Silverman moment was produced by a question Sonnenfeld posed to the group, even though it sounded like he was mostly interested in Silverman’s take.

Question: "Ben, you’re the only single guy, so you may have a different take on this, but what are your weekends like? And Ben, as a follow-up, do you get more sex as an independent producer or network president? How many hours do you watch dailies, read scripts, look at cuts on the weekend, and does your family have a problem, because, really, I can’t imagine this job?"

McPherson: "Depends on the time of year, honestly. It’s a big, big drain on us. I have two little kids right now. You try to carve out time, late at night when kids are in bed."

Tassler: "Reading novels, exposing yourself to materials other than the cuts."

Reilly: "You’ll never finish. You just have to stop. You never to get the point where you’re done."

Ostroff: "I have a lot of kids. It just grounds you. You go out and live a different life. I do a lot early, early in the morning so I can do less on the weekend."

The last to respond was Silverman who quipped: “When I’m not dating [the other network presidents’] kids.”

To which Reilly retorted: “I have boys.”

-- Maria Elena Fernandez

(Photo by Stephen Shugerman / Getty Images for HRTS)

Editor's note: An earlier version of this post left out the Hollywood Radio & Television Society, which is the producer of the event.