We Gave Meaning to the Word ‘Broadcast’

I disagree with Hollyblogger Arthur Axelman’s assertion that my tenure at NBC brought “a bewildering sameness … and C and D level casting and production values

Arthur Axelman’s Hollyblog, “Pulling Strings in Hollywood: The Business of Making TV Movies,” is full of irresponsible statements and erroneous information.

I was executive vice president of movies and miniseries at NBC from 1993 to 2000. I have a hard time reconciling with reality Mr. Axelman’s claim that “The Lindy DeKoven and Tony Masucci years brought a bewildering sameness (blindly uninspired children in jeopardy week after week) and C and D level casting, production values and stories that turned audiences away with didn’t we see this crap before?”  

I know Mr. Axelman was once a prominent member of the movies and miniseries team at the William Morris Agency, and later became a producer. But if he was actively selling movies and miniseries during my years at NBC, I sure don’t remember meeting him or hearing about his projects.

Additionally, Mr. Axelman asserts that NBC “turned over the actual production of a major portion of their inventory to O’Hara Horowitz.” Not true. Michael O’Hara and Larry Horowitz did an outstanding job producing several low-budget movies with new actors like Ryan Reynolds, Paul Rudd, Scott Foley and Sarah Chalke. Not sure I’d consider them “C and D” talent. Their ability to produce very successful low-budget movies allowed NBC to have a diversified slate like any good movie studio.

The high-budget movies and minis were winners like “Merlin,” “The Odyssey,” “Gulliver’s Travels,” “Noah’s Ark,” “The Sixties,” “Serving in Silence,” “Crime and Punishment,” “Asteroid,” “The Temptations,” “Pandora’s Clock” and “Alice in Wonderland.” Many of them won Emmys, and the audiences loved them. The production values on several of those miniseries were state of the art.

During those years, the talent behind and in front of the camera included Barbra Streisand, Glenn Close, Sally Field, Jon Voight, Hilary Swank, Christian Bale, Ben Kingsley, Neil Simon, David Wolper, Robert Halmi Sr, Morgan Freeman, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Denise Di Novi, John Davis, Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, Lynda Obst, Ann-Margret, Martin Short, Helena Bonham Carter, Mary Steenburgen, Michelle Williams, Judy Davis, Ted Danson, Jerry O’Connell, Patrick Dempsey and many more.
Again, not exactly “C and D” talent.
There were many socially important movies during that time. Consider “Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story” starring Glenn Close, who won an Emmy for her performance as the Army Colonel who disclosed she was a lesbian, which resulted in her discharge. How about “The Long Island Incident” about Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy’s battle for gun control following her husband’s murder aboard a commuter train?

Or “A Woman of Independent Means” starring Sally Field about the blossoming women’s rights movement. And “Because Mommy Works,” starring Anne Archer as a mother who is denied custody of her child because she works.

And then there was the highly successful Monday Night Movie franchise which appealed to young women and dealt with highly sensitive and relevant subject matter like anorexia, domestic violence, human trafficking, date rape and pregnancy. I’m not sure I’d refer to that as “uninspired children in jeopardy.”
Our goal was to offer a wide variety of stories and bring as many viewers as possible into our tent. We gave meaning to the word “broadcast.” Longform also served as a promotional platform that helped launch new shows like “Friends,” “ER” and “Frasier.” The producers who provided NBC with their best projects helped NBC’s longform division spend eight straight seasons as the top rated broadcast network among adults l8-49 from l993 to 2001.

It appears the only person who wasn’t watching them was Mr. Axelman.
The movies Axelman describes in his article as “elevating the genre” were produced during a time when there was little competition, the long gone three-network era. This was way before Fox, the CW, basic and premium cable, the internet and prior to the relaxation of the fin-syn rules. It was a completely different environment and not the least bit applicable to the one we were working in, or the one we live in today.

However, despite the fact that we were operating in a much tougher competitive environment as belts were tightened and the bar was raised, we continued to turn out many movies that did, in fact, elevate the genre.
Successful producers and agents continue to change with the times. It’s possible that Mr. Axelman wasn’t able to adapt to the needs of NBC’s longform division and therefore wasn’t able to sell us anything. More producers competed, including many from features. As the competition got more sophisticated, the product got better. And while broadcast networks have forsaken movies and miniseries, there is still a lot of great work being done on cable.

Trust and autonomy flourished during our time at NBC. We had the creativity and freedom to develop outstanding movies, make independent decisions, and work with wonderfully talented and experienced people. There were plenty of good movies at NBC, Mr. Axelman. All you had to do was watch them.