Golden Globes Producer on Ricky Gervais, Drunken Guests and His Kanye West Scare
Dick Clark Productions CEO Allen Shapiro talks the booming live events business and the challenge of creating new reality TV hits: "A network television show, you’ve got two weeks."
This story first appeared in the Jan. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
In mid-December, just ahead of the two biggest nights on his calendar, New Year's Rockin' Eve and the Jan. 10 Golden Globe Awards, Allen Shapiro appears almost giddy about the seven-plus hours of live television he and his 75-strong staff is readying. The 68-year-old CEO of Dick Clark Productions (and managing partner at Mosaic Media Investment Partners) presides over these massive undertakings, which regularly draw more than 20 million viewers apiece, as part of a portfolio of more than 10 awards shows and unscripted series. It can be nerve-wracking. "Certain performers, you wonder what shape they're going to show up in," he says with a laugh. "And no matter how good it is, you're going to have to get up the next morning and go look at the ratings." It's been three years since Shapiro returned to the helm of DCP, after Red Zone Capital Management sold the group to Mosaic, Mandalay Entertainment and Hollywood Reporter parent Guggenheim Partners (since spun off to a Guggenheim executive).
In the time since his homecoming — he was CEO from 2004 to 2007, first leveraging the buyout from Dick Clark himself before selling to Red Zone — Shapiro has expanded into the reality space (ABC's short-lived Rising Star, Fox's Knock Knock Live). But live telecasts remain the bailiwick at the house that American Bandstand built. DCP produces such perennial events as the Miss America pageant and the American Music Awards — each of their histories told by black-and-white photographs lining the company's Santa Monica offices. Shapiro, who got his start in music law before becoming general counsel at Playboy Enterprises in 1972 and holding such titles as chairman of TV Guide Network and a founder of talent management and production company Mosaic, invited THR to his office to talk everything from the Globes' wild-card host Ricky Gervais to reality TV's struggle for the next big thing.
With the Globes, what's the biggest challenge putting on a live show at the relatively small Beverly Hilton?
This is a small, intimate ballroom that people have weddings and bar mitzvahs in. The load in and load out, the trucks, the crew … it all becomes a matter of scale. Just to make it look like a big television event is not easy. There's also the challenge of moving all the talent in and out. There's not much infrastructure built in. So we're using hotel rooms for everything, constantly shuttling people back and forth. It's complicated. But that's what makes it so special. You can tell that it is this small, cool party you're not getting into.
Ricky Gervais goes off the cuff a lot. Is that fun or frustrating for you?
When you look at other shows, like the Academy Awards, the host is working on that show for months. They're rehearsing, and there are big production numbers. The producer knows what they're going to do. Whether it's Ricky or Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, we don't see the material until the Saturday before the show. But the audience picks up on that. Our hosts are all unbelievably good at improv, so even to the extent we think we've seen it, it can still change at a moment's notice.
The Tina Turner print is one of several large black-and-whites by Norman Seeff that hang in Shapiro’s office. Other subjects include Ray Charles, Mick Jagger and Patti Smith with Robert Mapplethorpe.
People drink at the Globes. Has that ever presented a problem?
Yes. (Laughs.) Yes, it has. Forgetting the Globes, one of the most famous clips in our library is of Anna Nicole Smith presenting at [the 2004 American Music Awards]. She just went on and on and on, and eventually Dick had to go out and almost drag her off the stage. We do so many live shows, it would be impossible not to have those moments.
What in your experience with live TV has given you the most anxiety?
It was something that worked out just fine, but Kanye West was going to be the opening introduction for one award. And I knew, from friends of his, that it was the night he was going to propose to Kim Kardashian. It was not the biggest show, and I thought he was going to cancel on me. He didn't. It was our first Hollywood Film Awards, we'd just gotten involved with it, and I was convinced we were going to start off with empty space.
The paperweight, a gift from his wife, is the only thing that decorates Shapiro’s desk.
Awards shows have proliferated because networks want live events. But how tough is it to create new franchises that matter?
There's a shorter attention span. When I started in the record business as a music lawyer, a record could build to become a hit over months. You would break it in once in Denver and then it would be picked up in Cleveland, then someplace else. Most radio stations today are owned by big chains, they're programmed by one guy. It either happens or it doesn't. The same thing is true of a movie. You've got one weekend to break a movie for the most part. If it doesn't happen, it's over. And a network television show, you've got two weeks.
What have you learned from DCP's recent big swings in reality that didn't last more than one season?
You have very little time to make it work. We will keep trying things. We will look around the world. There's our partnership with [Israel's] Keshet where we are getting formats internationally. All you can do is keep taking swings at the bat.
The book, a rare original copy of a tribute to Charlie Parker, was a gift from the late jazz saxophonist’s wife, Chan Parker.
Are there any international formats that have your interest right now?
We're working on something [The Amazonas] with Keshet. It's like Big Brother, Survivor and The Amazing Race, but it treks through the Amazon. We're just now going out with it. And because we're on the back of the Israeli production filming the American version, it allows us to reduce the cost in a way that, if we set out to do it on our own, we could never do. As the audience for network television is getting smaller, everybody is challenged not only to create great content but to create it at a price that is affordable.
Mosaic acquired Time Life's infomercial business. What's the draw of that space when TV habits are shifting more toward proactive viewing?
I find direct marketing and home shopping to be one of the great growth areas of our time. Let's go back 12 years … an infomercial would come on, and if you didn't write the number down, you were done. Now all you have to do is remember the product. And, technologically, in six months or a year, you'll be able to watch an infomercial, press a button and go, "I bought it." Then you're talking about impulse buying. So I'm bullish.
Do you think TV will stay dominant in advertising?
Nothing sells product like television. Although the total audience is smaller, it's still great. Advertisers have still not found any way to sell product better. There's something about sitting in front of a television. You've made a decision to spend that time.
You worked for Hugh Hefner at Playboy in the '70s. What's your take on the magazine ending nudity?
Nudity is available everywhere now, so that can't be your brand. And you have to keep current. If you look around here, we have a very young team. They have a lot of authority, and they're driving the boat. I don't think there's anyone in digital over 30 years old. When I worked at Playboy, it was a young man's lifestyle magazine — clothes, cars, alcohol, sports. When Hef wouldn't let another young male take control of the magazine, they lost an element and didn't recover in a certain way. It was an unbelievably strong trademark.
Shapiro, pictured between Tom Hanks and Steve Martin, was an active member of the Gourmet Poker Club, started by his former partner, the late Dan Melnick.
What's your best memory of working with Clark?
You can't imagine what it was like to be a kid from Chicago, who grew up in the '50s running home from school to watch Dick Clark on American Bandstand — and to one day buy the company. There'll never be anything like that first day walking in. It's like being a guy who plays for a team, and then 25 years later, you're Bill Russell and you buy the Boston Celtics.
You teamed with Tyler Perry and Fox on faith-based event The Passion. What can you say about it?
It's a huge event in the Netherlands. It's the Christ passion play done on this mammoth scale, in front of 100,000 people, live, outdoors on huge screens. We need either a mammoth park, an arena or a stadium. We're just looking at locations in New Orleans now. I think it's going to be a big event.
Do you have any reservations about the faith-based projects hitting a saturation point?
That audience is big. Every time something comes out and hits big, people go, "Oh, what a surprise." But it's constant.