WHO: Kevin Beggs, Lionsgate TV Programming and Production President
WHERE:Julienne, San Marino, Calif.
WHEN: April 27, 2009, lunch
THE DISH: How’s this for some good news: There is a new buyer in town.
Shortly after Lionsgate, the indie studio behind the huge horror franchise Saw and TV series Mad Men, Weeds and Crash, acquired TV Guide Network for $255 million in March, the network made a run for the off-network rights to HBO’s Entourage. Spike TV ultimately won out, but the cash bid that TV Guide made for the Hollywood-set comedy was just the beginning of the new sorts of swings the network is expected to take under the studio’s ownership.
“We’ll be looking for big events—‘events’ meaning meaningful shows—that also give a future indication of the taste of the network,” says Lionsgate TV Programming and Production President Kevin Beggs, one of the key people charged with helping direct the creative programming decisions at the network day-to-day.
The Lionsgate and TV Guide teams started meeting twice a week before the deal was finalized, and the network has quickly become an important project among Beggs’ responsibilities. The results of the collaboration should start to become apparent on-air by the end of summer or beginning of fall. Beggs tells me this during lunch at Julienne, a sidewalk café near his home in tony San Marino. Begg’s community is a town near Pasadena that is figuratively even farther from Hollywood than it is on the map. (Read: The restaurant menu says to turn your cellphone off.)
Industry insiders expect the company to change the name of the network, but when I ask whether it will be called TV Guide a year from now, Beggs says it’s too early to tell. For now, the focus is on combining the “creative and human-resource power” among the smartest TV brains at Lionsgate and TV Guide under the network’s boss, Ryan O’Hara. They must do what any successful network has to: make it a “destination itself, not just an incidental way to get somewhere else,” Beggs says. To that end, TV Guide is “looking at businesses they weren’t looking at previously.”
They are reviewing the Lionsgate library and utilizing the studio’s intel about “the realities of the marketplace beyond their walls,” Beggs says, to determine the mix of acquisitions, originals and in-house production versus product from outside suppliers.
The red-carpet coverage and TV Guide’s programming about hit programming, such as its American Idol–centered shows, appear to be staying. “We think that mix of entertainment-based programming that celebrates excellence in television, music and film is right. And the originals we bring to that mix will probably have some connection to those worlds,” Beggs says, citing the success of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy in helping Bravo break through as a template for the effect the group is going for with new originals.
In terms of acquisitions, Beggs says, “We’ll probably look for shows that if you happen across your guide and see it on TV Guide with the scroll or not, you’ll say, ‘Hey, this is a fantastic show.’”
Whether any of the recent speculation about potential stakes investors may take in the network is realized or not (Lionsgate is reportedly in talks to sell up to 50% of it), that won’t likely have any bearing on the re-jiggering process Lionsgate and TV Guide have underway, according to Beggs. He doesn’t think a new stake in the channel would affect anything he’s doing “because the main agenda for me is creative.” If the company sold a new stake, “we’d be running [the network],” he says.
Beggs’ role in evolving TV Guide is in addition to his coterie of duties overseeing the studio’s new and existing TV programs, including the forthcoming projects Nurse Jackie for Showtime, Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter for IFC and Blue Mountain State for Spike (perhaps the company will get the benefit of Entourage after all, if Spike uses it to launch the studio’s new show).
Beggs is also busy the day we have lunch pitching a burst of non-fiction fare (“Lionsgate TV Ramps Up Reality Slate,”B&C, May 4). And he’s co-chairperson of NATPE and president of the Hollywood Radio & Television Society.
Still, Beggs is focused on TV Guide Network. “The channel business is new ground for a lot of us, but in a funny way the business objectives are very similar to what we spend our days doing when we’re selling,” he says. “What’s the mix of product? What’s going to be that noisy breakout? What’s the message to the creative community? We ask all that same stuff.”
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DINED ON: Julienne is one of Beggs’ regular breakfast spots. It’s in his neighborhood, which is one good reason. That means he can grab a bite before making the cross-town trek to Lionsgate’s offices in Santa Monica.
It also offers several outstanding dishes. Beggs orders a tostada, and the best word to describe it is “beautiful.” I have the server’s rec: a cauliflower and leek tart served over greens. (Go there. Order that. Trust me.)
Dining at Julienne, which grew out of the founder’s home-based catering business, it is clear we are not in Hollywood anymore. (Locations throughout the Pasadena area, in fact, are often used in film and TV shoots as the real world elsewhere in the U.S.) There’s ample free street parking on this quiet, shop-filled block, which feels like a sleepy, landlocked version of Santa Barbara/Laguna/La Jolla/Carmel/take your pick of any already chilled-out California town.
Beggs has lived in the Pasadena area since crashing with his cousin and substitute-teaching fresh out of UC Santa Cruz. While it’s an exclusive place to live, San Marino is also good for keeping a rising executive’s ego in check. “You’re not on a daily basis running into people you work with,” Beggs says. “And nobody here cares what we do. It is a complete non-event.”
Just in case he forgets which world he’s in, Beggs and his wife have a manual at home that the city of San Marino gave them once they’d saved up enough to move to that side of the tracks. It features stick figures explaining rules such as single-family housing only (illustrated by a nuclear family and “x2” next to a house with a line through it). And then there’s Beggs’ favorite: A drawing of two guys playing ping-pong in a garage with an “X” over it to indicate garages are absolutely only to be used for cars.