Ryan Seacrest Productions CEO on a Future IPO, Push Into Movies and the Kardashians' TV Future (Q&A)
This story first appeared in the Feb. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Half a decade ago, Ryan Seacrest called up his William Morris agent of many years, Adam Sher, and said, half-jokingly: "So, you make calls for other people, right? Well, that's not very good." Seacrest then offered Sher an opportunity to make the enviable move from representative to CEO of Ryan Seacrest Productions. For Sher, it meant leaving his agency home of 16 years -- the Chicago native's first and only job, having worked his way up from the mailroom. Nearly five years later, the married father of two young sons has signed a long-term deal to remain as chief of a production company that counts E!'s Kardashian franchise, Bravo's Shahs of Sunset and the newly announced docuseries The Wanted Life among its growing portfolio. With his sights set on expansion into scripted (RSP is producing ABC's comedy pilot Mixology), film (two in development at Paramount and Universal) and digital, Sher, 42, has hired a string of executives and helped orchestrate a lucrative deal that saw Clear Channel acquire a minority stake in RSP, which employs nearly 40. Last year, he also was involved in negotiating a $300 million commitment for strategic investments from private-equity investors (and Clear Channel owners) Thomas H. Lee Partners and Bain Capital. In late January, Sher sat down in his mid-Wilshire office to discuss the future of the Kardashians, the challenge that keeps him up at night and the pluses (and minuses) of having Seacrest's name on the door.
The Hollywood Reporter: What's that one thing you haven't done yet at RSP?
Adam Sher: I'd like to see us get a big nonscripted network primetime format on the air, one that makes a pop-culture impact. That's the one thing we haven't done yet that keeps me up at night.
THR: What has stood in your way?
Sher: There's not as much blue sky as there used to be -- the business is more mature. I remember the first time I heard about Survivor as a young agent, and I said: "Oh my God, you're going to put people on an island, and they're going to not eat? Can you do that?" Or the first time I heard about Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and it was like, "Wow, someone's going to win a million dollars on television?" It's rare that you have that "Oh my God" moment at this stage. The other challenge is that we're an independent production company, and even though we have financial resources to grow and to bring in the best developers, we don't have a pipeline of tried-and-true formats. And we know that there's a preference from the buyers to buy shows where there's a ratings track record and episodes that they can look at.
THR: You're also trying to move into film, a historically difficult transition for TV companies. What has proved the biggest challenge thus far?
Sher: The speed. The vast majority of Ryan and my professional experience is on the nonscripted side, which is a business that moves very quickly. So waiting for drafts, people to read and notes is definitely the biggest challenge. Ryan will often check with me about when the next draft is coming in, and I just shrug.
THR: How did you decide on Food Fight and My Husband's Wife as your first two films out of the gate?
Sher: We decided we weren't going to try to launch a slate of movies because we didn't have the expertise to do that. Food Fight, which is at Paramount, is loosely based on the Jamie Oliver project we did at ABC [Food Revolution]. The other one came about because we were in a meeting with [Grey's Anatomy writer] Krista Vernoff to talk about a TV project, and before we started talking about the project, she told us a bit about her life. As she's talking, Ryan and I are looking at each other because a day before we'd had a meeting with [Universal Pictures co-chairman] Donna Langley, where she had told us about the kinds of movies she was looking to do. So Ryan and I are listening to Krista, going, "Oh my God, your life is a movie." Ryan and I called Kevin Huvane at CAA and said, "Will you please hear this pitch and tell us if you think we're crazy?" Krista had always envisioned Reese [Witherspoon] in the role, so CAA was great and called Reese and her partner and got us all on the phone together. We really think both of these projects are perfect for our core audience.
THR: Who is that audience?
Sher: Certainly from American Idol and from Ryan's radio show, we have that young, female-skewing fan. We feel like that's an area that's right for us to play in. The Nanny Diaries [which RSP previously had developed as a scripted TV project at ABC] fits very well into that, too. At the same time, I think we're trying to broaden what an RSP show or project can be. We used to define ourselves by popular culture, and while we still want to be part of that watercooler conversation, going into other areas is really important for us. In this last round of staffing, we brought in people that had very different backgrounds from anyone we'd ever had at RSP, and the goal was to see if we could start broadening the places we sold to and the kinds of stories we told.
THR: How long do you foresee the Kardashian franchise going? Will we be watching Kim and Kourtney's kids in 10 years?
Sher: There are babies coming, so hopefully … (Laughs.)
THR: At one point there were rumors that the G4 network could become the Ryan Seacrest Network, or at least rely on RSP to program it. What happened? And how appealing would such an arrangement be?
Sher: There was never any real conversation about that, but we're ambitious. I'd never say never to an opportunity of that size, but I don't think you'll ever see the Ryan Seacrest Network. But it wouldn't be outside the realm of possibility that we could try to find a way to program large blocks of content on a network or find an interesting way to partner with a network. Obviously, we have the relationship with AXS TV [a partnership with Mark Cuban, AEG and CAA], but that's not at a stage yet where they need RSP to supply hours of content.
THR: What's the end goal for this company? An IPO?
Sher: Right now we're still building, so it's hard to know exactly what shape the company will take and what opportunities will be there for us. Obviously Ryan's name is on the door, and I'm sure he'll want to own the company for a long time. And thankfully, he doesn't need the capital event to make a living. (Laughs.)
THR: Is having Ryan's name on that door a blessing or a curse?
Sher: Actually, it's 99 percent a blessing. The opportunities we're afforded because of who Ryan is and what his brand stands for are completely unique. The only time it's a negative is if we were to produce a show that didn't meet expectations -- people certainly like to write about that. So I get to wake up in the morning anxious about ratings because I know what will follow.
THR: What do you miss most and least about being an agent?
Sher: People always say to me, "Aren't you glad you're not an agent anymore?" And the truth is, I loved it. I really enjoyed the responsibility that I had for people's livelihoods and -- cheesy as it sounds -- their hopes and dreams. You represent a lot of glamorous people who make a lot of money, and that's neat and part of the job, but there are also people I represented who were just trying to make a living doing what they do. I took that responsibility very seriously, and I enjoyed it. Getting them that first big gig when you know you were changing the course for them … that I miss. What I don't miss? The staff meetings.
What's in RSP's Portfolio?
THE KARDASHIAN FRANCHISE, E!
Among them: Keeping Up With the Kardashians, heading into its seventh season, and Kourtney & Kim Take Miami, currently in season five.
MONTECITO BALLROOM, A&E
A docuseries about male competitive ballroom-dance instructors and the rich female Montecito, Calif., clientele to whom they cater.
THE WANTED LIFE, E!
A new docuseries centered on U.K. boy band The Wanted living together in the Hollywood Hills.
MARRIED TO JONAS, E!
The series, which revolves around Kevin Jonas and his wife, Danielle Deleasa, is shooting its second season.
A scripted comedy pilot in contention, which is set in the world of a sexy Manhattan bar and chronicles singles in search of love -- all during the course of one night.
SHAHS OF SUNSET, BRAVO
The series about an Iranian-American group living in Beverly Hills is in season two, with a third order expected.
MY HUSBAND'S WIFE, UNIVERSAL (FILM)
A romantic comedy about a woman who secretly decides to take matters into her own hands and find her ex-husband a suitable wife to co-raise their child.
FOOD FIGHT, PARAMOUNT (FILM)
A comedy based loosely on celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and his RSP-produced ABC reality show Food Revolution.