Meet President Obama's $500,000 Hollywood Power Couple
This full story appears in its entirety in the May 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.
In a 20-page special report, The Hollywood Reporter examines the complicated relationship between Hollywood and politics. The issue includes an in-depth profile by contributing editor Tina Daunt of President Barack Obama's $500,000 power couple -- maverick Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos and wife Nicole Avant, the Beverly Hills-bred former U.S. Ambassador to The Bahamas. Elsewhere in the section, New Girl creator Liz Meriwether imagines her "sexy night with Mitt Romney”; former Designing Women producer Harry Thomason explains how he helped Bill Clinton's re-election bid, but why he can’t help Obama; and more prominent Hollywood voices, including those of Eva Longoria and Dustin Lance Black on the issues that get them riled.
OBAMA'S $500,000 POWER COUPLE
Netflix chief content officer Sarandos is the man everyone in Hollywood wants a meeting with. Avant, recently back from her post in The Bahamas, is a former music executive and actress who was a critical member of the L.A. campaign team that in 2008 brought in $21 million for Obama -- only $1.9 million shy of what the president’s hometown, Chicago, raised. Now the couple is working together, and are among Los Angeles’ most high-profile and talked-about power duos, a pair who bridge the worlds of technology, entertainment and politics like no one else in town.
At a no-press-allowed fundraising event featuring a who’s who of Hollywood political power players, held beneath twinkling white lights outside Sarandos and Avant’s 1923 Monterey Colonial home, first lady Michelle Obama remarked, “She is a pretty phenomenal woman. And Ted, what a smart man. You all have a beautiful family. You all have been just such terrific friends. I can’t thank you enough for your steadfast support and love.”
Before the evening of fundraising was done, Avant, 44, and Sarandos, 47, would raise nearly $700,000 for the president’s re-election. This put the couple on the list of the Obama campaign’s top-tier "bundlers," those who fundraise more than $500,000. In 2008, Avant was one of only four Los Angeles bundlers to raise more than $500,000 for Obama (the others were Jeffrey Katzenberg; David Geffen, who appears to be sitting out this presidential cycle; and Charles Rivkin, the former CEO of Wildbrain Entertainment who is now ambassador to France).
It’s no secret that Hollywood’s early love affair with Obama did not turn out as many had expected or hoped. But its long season of discontent seems to be ending thanks in part to Sarandos and Avant. And it’s none too soon. Hollywood is to Democrats what Wall Street is to Republicans -- a deep well of cash that must be tapped if Obama wants to win in November.
THR's special report also features a guide to 20 of the biggest political players in Hollywood, including George Clooney, J.J. Abrams, Haim Saban and Ron Meyer. In an industry constantly in flux, these are the names you want on speed dial if you’re a candidate looking to raise campaign funds.
NEW DETAILS OF HAIM SABAN'S ONE-ON-ONE MEETING WITH OBAMA
When push comes to shove this year, much of Hollywood will support the president. But for Haim Saban, it took a one-on-one meeting in the Oval Office with Presdent Obama. “I will tell you that we had a very good meeting,” Saban says. “I relayed my concerns. In my mind, the president was very classy. He didn’t ask me for anything. We talked about policy, the economy, what’s going on around the world. I thought to myself that it was time to get active again.”
SARANDOS ON HOW YOUTUBE LED TO HIS 'AHA' MOMENT FOR CLICK-AND-WATCH SIMPLICITY
Under Sarandos’ watch, Netflix has become an increasingly important portal through which Hollywood’s product can reach audiences. “Our original-content strategy is driven by a belief that networks and cable channels will evolve to be more like web channels,” says Sarandos. “If that turns out to be true, they will want to monetize their content themselves and be less likely to license their content to us. Look at HBO Go. I want to get good at original programming before they get good at direct-to-consumer relationships, delivery technology, device distribution, encoding and personalized user interface. … Between those two, I think I have the easier list of things to tackle.”
As is often the case with digital innovators, it’s unclear to many whether Netflix’s impact on the distribution of Hollywood product will be constructively transformational or dislocatingly revolutionary. “Everyone was worried about how these things would interact with each other,” Sarandos says, “but when any kind of entertainment technology takes hold, it always expands the pie, and people are willing to spend more time and money on entertainment if it’s good. But the great proof point was YouTube. For me, that was like the ‘aha moment.’ It had to be click-and-watch, simple, and that’s how we built the Netflix product.”
HOW A BLOCKBUSTER CARD BECAME THE PERFECT VALENTINE'S DAY PRESENT FOR NETFLIX'S SARANDOS
Netflix was something Avant and Sarandos didn’t initially have in common. “I didn’t know what he did,” says Avant, “and when I talked about how I loved all the old Miramax films, I told him how I loved going to my local Blockbuster, standing in the foreign film section and choosing movies at random. His face kind of dropped, and he said: ‘Blockbuster? Really?’ ” Sarandos told Avant he worked for Netflix. “And I said: ‘Oh, that thing that you send through the mail? I don’t have that,’ ” she recalls. “He said, ‘We’re going to go into streaming,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, whatever.’ When we started getting serious, I cut up my Blockbuster card and gave it to him for Valentine’s Day. He still carries it in his wallet.”
Also in this week’s issue is a special tribute to late TV legend Dick Clark, featuring personal memories of the pop-culture arbiter from those who knew him best. Ryan Seacrest pens a touching remembrance of his friend and mentor, in which he shares the top five lessons Clark taught him. Ben Fong-Torres, in a humanizing eulogy, offers up his own recollections of meeting Clark in1973 for a Rolling Stone interview. And members of Clark’s inner-circle -- including heavy-hitters like Clive Davis, Larry King, Warren Littlefield and Peter Guber -- contribute their personal recollections.
Some of the Clark tribute highlights in THR's cover feature:
SEACREST'S '5 LESSONS HE LEARNED FROM DICK CLARK': 'LITTLE THINGS MATTER’
“Sure, he was known for his boyish looks,” Seacrest writes, “but he was also a true gentleman — always, without exception. He opened doors for ladies. He sent cards and gifts and other kind mementos to his family, friends, colleagues and fans. But most of all, he always said, ‘Thank you.’ He once told me, ‘Little things really do matter.’ And those two small words definitely do.”
BEN FONG-TORRES ON CLARK SMOOTH-TALKING HIS WAY OUT OF A SCANDAL
On the eve of the Congressional “payola” hearings, ABC ordered Clark to divest his music businesses – 30 something companies in all. But at the hearings, the clean-cut, no-nonsense Clark made a good impression on the politicians. As he told Fong-Torres, “The chairman, Oren Harris, said something about the fact that you’re a bright young man, and I hope we haven’t inconvenienced you. ‘Inconvenienced?’ Hell, they took my right testicle and almost my left!”
LARRY KING ON THE KEY TO HIS SUCCESS: 'DICK CLARK WAS HIMSELF'
"Look at the way he advanced musically," Larry King writes. "I am sure you could have gone to Dick Clark on his deathbed and he would have told you the Billboard Top 40. Some guys try to command a room. Some guys get lost in it. Dick came gentle into the room. He was easy to take. The camera liked him, the microphone liked him. He knew something we both learned early on, that the only secret in the business is, there’s no secret. Be yourself. Dick Clark was himself. The Dick Clark you saw, that was Dick Clark.”
HOW CLARK SAVED THE GOLDEN GLOBES
As producer, Clark took a hands-on role in making the show more professional and arranged for the Globes to be syndicated nationwide. Making the show better proved challenging, Clark recalled in a legal deposition for the recent lawsuit between the HFPA and DCP over the broadcast rights to the telecast. “The organization was made up of many different minds with different backgrounds and cultures,” said Clark. “They often didn’t agree with themselves, and we would have conversations.” Says Mirjana Van Blaricom, a former HFPA president: “If not for Dick Clark, I doubt the show would be so successful. At the beginning, he helped in getting the actors to be presenters.”