Mel's Diner: Paul Buccieri: An Anti-Pundit With A Plan

Paul Buccieri: An Anti-Pundit With A Plan

Who: Paul Buccieri, president-CEO, Granada America
Where:Bel-Air Bar & Grill, Bel-Air, Calif. 
When: Monday, Oct. 27, 2008

The Dish: Everybody I meet in television knows Granada America President-CEO Paul Buccieri. His reputation as a top TV exec and producer, not to mention a genuine, standup guy, precedes him.

Buccieri’s not the kind of guy who is profiled to death, or who pops off in the press about every thought to cross his mind. Rather, he’s the rare person in this great business who you will generally see quoted only when there is an actual transaction for him to address (though he is becoming a familiar face on reality-TV power lists).

Call him an anti-pundit, and exactly the sort of brain I like to pick in confusing times like these. In some 17 years in the business, he’s been a creator, producer and executive. We met nine years ago, at a photo shoot for HouseCalls, a syndicated show from Chris-Craft/United Television, where he was in programming at the time. I was a brand-new staff writer at B&C, and he was welcoming and generous with background insight on how the money flows and the business is structured.

I had a hunch this week that Paul might have some more wisdom we hadn’t heard yet, this time about dealing with the tentacles of the national financial crisis now grabbing hold of TV. He didn’t disappoint. “When there’s adversity or challenges, there’s opportunity,” he says. “Tough times show how resourceful one can be, and imaginative, creative. Now is the time for model shifting.”

And that’s exactly what he was doing as we dined at the unassuming Bel-Air Bar & Grill. He just got the green light for WCG GameQuest, a show slated to air on Sci Fi Channel next year in an unusual arrangement with advertiser Samsung Electronics. Sci Fi gets the show for free, while Samsung pays the production cost and shares ad inventory with the network. It’s similar to the Texaco Star Theater model from days past that a few folks are now dabbling in, and Paul says he has long wanted to pursue.

In short, Samsung was looking for a TV vehicle that could shine a light on World Cyber Games, and Granada won the deal with a pitch for an elimination reality series that will determine the best all-around gamer in the U.S., he says.

“As people are trying to squeeze budgets, this is a model hopefully everyone can win at,” he says, and most importantly, one that could lead to the creation of high-quality shows. “Hopefully that translates to viewers because, of course, in times like these the first things to get cut are marketing costs.”

Buccieri has four other projects coming together right now that hew to more typical models, and a fifth with yet a different approach. He is coming up on a year in his role at Granada America, the U.S.-based production entity of European producer-broadcaster ITV PLC. As he does, the company known to this point largely for producing shows such as Hell’s Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares, Phenomenon and Celebrity Fit Club is enjoying its best-performing year yet. “I’m only limited by the ideas I can come up with,” he says.

Dined On: Bel-Air Bar & Grill gets the prize for most incognito place for a business meal I’ve been to for Mel’s Diner. It’s literally in a shadow—of the Getty Museum, as the restaurant’s Website points out. It’s remarkably easy to get to, located next to a gas station at the corner of Sepulveda and Moraga, right off the 405.

This place is a low-key, classic California spot with a bar, restaurant seating, a patio and good salads. Buccieri is a triathlete and eats healthy so he usually opts for the grilled chicken salad, but went with me this time and tried the BBQ version.

Paul says he likes the fact that he never sees anyone from the biz here—except, of course, for the people he’s meeting. He takes most of his work meals here, and the restaurant is perched exactly halfway between his office in Sherman Oaks and colleagues on the Westside.

Bit of trivia: Paul had dinner here with Jennifer Bresnan the day she got the gig as CBS’s reality chief. They had known each other a long time and finally had dinner here on a Monday night, he says. “Her phone was ringing all night as word leaked out.”

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