'Mad Men' Producer Leads Big Bike Ride to the Emmys

Courtesy of Peter Smuts
Smuts (center) poses on the edge of the red carpet with a contingent of Hollywood insiders and cycling supporters who rode to the Emmys.

On a scorching afternoon, producer Tom Smuts and other industry insiders set out to make a statement about transportation in Los Angeles — and wound up having fun.

On a day in which the world watched to see what happened onstage at the Emmys, Mad Men producer Tom Smuts made headlines simply by how he arrived at the awards — on a bicycle, in a tailored jacket. Smuts, who, along with the rest of the producers of Mad Men, was nominated for outstanding drama series, left the Microsoft Theater without any hardware (Games of Thrones surprised many observers in taking the Emmy) but he still considers his day a big win nonetheless.

In the six hours leading up to the moment Smuts pedaled up to the red carpet, The Hollywood Reporter shadowed the producer as he led a series of events that celebrated cycling as a fun, viable mode of transport and supported broad-based efforts to make riding in Los Angeles safer and more popular. Here’s a rundown of how the day unfurled.

Smuts previews L.A.'s new bike share program with (from left) LADOT general manager Seleta Reynolds, L.A. County Bicycle Coalition executive director Tamika Butler and Marcel Porras, associate director of transportation for the City of Los Angeles.

The driveway of Smuts’ Santa Monica home, located not far from the Brentwood Country Mart, was a hive of activity at 7 a.m. Roughly 20 lean, Spandex-clad cyclists prepped their bikes in preparation for a social but challenging road ride into the hills. Actress Erika Christensen (Parenthood and the upcoming Wicked City), an avid cyclist, rolled out with the group, as did three retired professional riders — Tim Johnson, David Zabriskie and Lyne Bessette. With Smuts leading the way, the riders cruised down to meet another dozen riders at a storefront on Main Street in Santa Monica, where high-end British cycling clothier Rapha will be opening its first boutique and club in Southern California in October. Rapha, a brand that makes both technical athletic gear and refined, tailored lifestyle apparel for cyclists, was on board as a supporter of the day’s events, as was bike manufacturer Cannondale. For the next two hours, the group meandered into the hills, ascending the winding neighborhoods of Amalfi Drive in Pacific Palisades and a five-mile climb up Mandeville Canyon in Los Angeles.

Smuts at a break on Venice Blvd.

The ride concluded back at Smuts’ home, where a lavish brunch spread awaited and the backyard bustled with well-dressed people who were prepping to bike to the Emmys. Smuts stood on a chair, and after making jokes about the family rivalry that would take place at the Emmys (his wife, producer Meredith Stiehm, was up for an Emmy in the same category for Homeland), gave a short talk that underlined the themes of the day — having fun on bikes and taking steps to make Los Angeles a safer place to ride. To that end, Los Angeles councilman Mike Bonin followed with a little speech of his own, touting his support for the city’s recently passed Mobility Plan 2035 and a policy called Vision Zero, a road safety policy with the stated goal of eliminating collisions that result in severe injury and death. A representative of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles Department of Transportation were there to support the event, too. The rest of the audience was an even split of sweaty hard-core recreational cyclists in Spandex and fashionably dressed transit riders getting ready to cruise downtown — two constituencies that don’t always hang out side by side. "The affluent West Side road cyclist may never use or care about bike lanes because they ride in the canyons, but they still have some common cause with urban commuting cyclists," says Smuts. "I feel like they need to see each other as allies."

After an hour of policy conversation, socializing, outfit tweaking and gourmet carb loading, a crew of roughly 45 riders set off for the Emmys. Actor Jon Huertas (Castle and Generation Kill), looked sharp in slim blue pants and a white dress shirt as he stood over a brand-new Cannondale provided for the afternoon. Other industry folks along for the ride included Alex Cary, an executive producer of Homeland, CAA agent Pierre Brogan and Through the Wormhole producer James Younger. Katherine Kelly Lang (The Bold and the Beautiful) was a last-minute addition, hooking up with the group shortly after she had completed the Malibu triathlon (finishing as the top female celebrity). Many of the women in attendance wore heels and elegant sundresses, and most of the men wore dress shirts and dark leather shoes. Smuts himself wore trousers and a blazer by Rapha, the same outfit he planned to wear on the red carpet in a few hours time.

Smuts and pro cyclist Tim Johnson.

The large group then paraded down the coast in Santa Monica, through the bustling shopping districts on Main Street and Venice’s Abbot Kinney Boulevard, before beginning a long trip down Venice Boulevard from the beach to downtown L.A. The temperature had climbed into the high 90s, but spirits among the riders were high, too, as they leisurely rode toward the Microsoft Theater. Huertas talked about how he’d like to help get bikes for poor Latino kids who can’t afford one. As we pedaled through Culver City, Smuts mentioned that his father had been an urban planner, and how he had passed down an interest in making the city’s urban spaces more livable, vibrant and safe. Two communities of cyclists bonded seamlessly during the 20-mile ride from Smuts’ house to the Microsoft Theater.

Though the day was mostly about riding, Smuts freely admits his ride (complete with a #bike2emmys hashtag) has a larger objective. "The big point is cultural," says Smuts. "There seems to be a great deal of animosity between cyclists and drivers, and it goes both ways. Part of what I’m trying to do is wrap cycling advocacy in a different way — that is more playful than confrontational, more stylish than street — that could help change the relationship between drivers and cyclists."

Katherine Kelly Lang, who raced the Malibu Triathlon earlier in the day.

About a mile before we reached the cordoned streets of downtown, the group pulled over for a photo op at a pop-up station to promote the bike-share program (similar to New York’s Citi Bike) that is being launched downtown next spring. Smuts and leaders of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, a local advocacy group that helped with the afternoon’s logistics, posed with the sharp white bikes that will soon be fixtures in downtown L.A. (and elsewhere down the road). "I think it’s important to think about the needs of people without access to safe places to ride or even bikes," says Smuts.

Then it was off to the red carpet. Smuts led a similar ride last year, but at that time, the Television Academy took a cautious approach and limited the head count. This year, the academy and broadcaster Fox were far more accommodating, allowing the 12 cyclists who were attending the show to ride right up the red carpet and valet-park their bikes. Another dozen or so cyclists were allowed to join the group up to the red carpet (and exit with the limos and Uber drivers). A detail of five or six officers from the Los Angeles Police Department accompanied the group into the venue.

Smuts and Johnson approach the Microsoft Theater.

Though the red carpet beckoned, Smuts and his fellow showgoers headed to a nearby hotel, where he had rented two suites (one for women and one for men) where everyone could freshen up and hydrate before the Emmys got underway. Smuts, who insists he felt "really comfortable" in the extreme heat, admits that he took a quick shower before he hit the red carpet.

Although the outcome at the show itself was not what Smuts had hoped for ("I was surprised at how disappointed I felt. I was so happy for Jon Hamm, but I think the show deserved it."), he was satisfied with the way his daylong celebration of cycling played out. "I was extremely happy with how the day went. I saw new opportunities for more effective advocacy — and it seemed like everyone who participated had fun."

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