Fates and Fortunes

Conversation with Carlin

6/24/2009 04:54:13 PM

Word broke today that Scott Carlin, HBO’s president of domestic distribution, is departing his post (see the story here). He’s yet another top-notch, well-liked TV executive who is embarking on a new path.

Television’s difficult economics are certainly forcing some of the executive changes we’ve been seeing lately, but Carlin seems ready and excited about whatever’s coming next.

I caught up with him for a quick chat this afternoon. He speaks about some topics that I’m sure many television executives consider too “woo-woo” for them, but I really appreciated where he was coming from. If you want to change the world, where’s a more influential and broad-reaching place to start than television?

Here are some of the highlights from our conversation.

F&F: I just wanted to give you the opportunity to talk about this change. How are you feeling about it?

Carlin: First off, HBO has been a gift. I have absolutely nothing but gratitude for the entire experience at HBO.

There are a lot of things pulling at me that were driving me in other directions. I think now is the time to follow my heart to pursue some of these other people and opportunities that have been showing up in my life and see what happens.

I’m focused on the ‘transformational’ media space. I just joined the board of a company called our first get-together of 500 artists, entertainers, business people, and spiritual people. We’re looking at what the opportunities might be for transformational media.

F&F: What is ‘transformational’ media? Is it along the lines of the some of the stuff that Oprah is doing?

Carlin: Yes, Oprah is the nexus. Her upcoming OWN Network is all about the transformational space.

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition also is a good example of a show that’s aspirational but still very commercial.

It’s not just about self-help but also about improving the quality of the world, including business and the environment. It’s improving the quality of the world through programming – and it’s one of the areas that’s calling me. I just got my master’s degree in spiritual psychology and I’ve met a lot of interesting people by doing that.

I really believe that you have to respond to the things that show up in your life and there are so many things that have showed up in my life in the past year or six months.

F&F: How do industry people react when you talk about this? I feel like some people would be very receptive but others wouldn’t take you seriously.

Carlin: It really depends on with whom you are speaking. Some people’s eyes definitely glaze over – ‘what does this have to do with me?’ But you have to know who your customers are. If you do that, you find you get a very different response.

F&F: So how are you feeling about all of these changes? Having gone through something like this myself, I know that these transitional times can be pretty terrifying.

Carlin: I am wild with anticipation – in some respects, I feel more alive than I’ve ever felt before. I have a sense of the infinite possibility that’s out there. I don’t have some secret big job lined up – this isn’t about moving to another big job – this is about potentially creating something that has new meaning to me. How that manifests itself, I don’t know

In this time of great change and great upheaval, the rules are being rewritten. There are some really exciting ways to participate in the entertainment business and business in general and do some things that could be very meaningful. There might be interesting opportunities in syndication or basic cable, but that’s not what’s driving me to go do this. I want to feel differently. I want to do some things I’ve been constrained from doing up until now.

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