If it weren't for Pete Aronson, The Bernie Mac Show
might not be on television today. When Aronson arrived at Regency Television, a joint venture of New Regency Enterprises and Fox Television Studios, he was looking to do a "smart black comedy." After seeing Bernie Mac on HBO's The Chris Rock Show, he called Larry Wilmore, whom he knew from working on The PJs
at Touchstone Television.
Coincidentally, Wilmore had recently submitted a script idea to Regency. When Aronson described the show he wanted to do and said he knew just the person to star, Wilmore told him about his script and said he already had someone in mind.
"Bernie Mac!" they said at the same time. And the show was born.
"Pete Aronson's passion is probably his most important trait," says Wilmore, executive producer and creator of Bernie Mac, who took home an Emmy last September for Best Writing on a Comedy Series. "He really passionately backs writers and is passionate about ideas, concepts and talent."
That passion helped him develop another Emmy Award-winning Regency show, Malcolm in the Middle, as well as newcomer John Doe. He also has spearheaded efforts on The Education of Max Bickford, Roswell, UC: Undercover
and Freakylinks, all co-produced with Twentieth Century Fox Television.
"Pete is an executive who does what he does for all the right reasons. He genuinely loves television and has immense respect for the medium and admiration for the work of those who spend their lives creating good television," says Jordan Levin, The WB's president of entertainment.
In the mid '90s, Aronson held a high-level development job at Disney but found himself more involved with corporate affairs and less with putting TV programs on the air. Even though it was a great job, "I wasn't ready to be my dad." He left and took a development deal at Warner Bros. Television, working there for 18 months until becoming president of Regency.
Regency is a perfect job for Aronson. It is part of independently financed New Regency Enterprises, founded by Arnon Milchan. As a result, he does not have to answer to any network regarding development of his shows, which allows him to do a few shows with a great deal of creative freedom.
"This is not a volume business," he says. "We only do stuff we really want to do."
It also means he gets into the occasional disagreement with a network president, but he has found the end result, shows like Malcolm
and Bernie ,
to be well worth it. He also appreciates that he has the best of both worlds: a partnership with a studio and a network, neither of which can exert ownership control over his shows.
Aronson essentially grew up in television, interning during college for Don Imus at WNBC Radio in New York and then entering NBC's page program. There, he answered phones and scheduled meetings for Brandon Tartikoff, the legendary late chairman of NBC Studios and Entertainment.
After nine months, Tartikoff told him the job he wanted—producing TV shows—didn't exist in New York, so Aronson moved to Los Angeles and began working as a production assistant for Witt-Thomas Productions. The job wasn't glamorous—"picking up my boss's dry-cleaning"—but it took him where he wanted to go: producing such shows as The Golden Girls, Soap
and Empty Nest.
After a brief stint in feature-film production—he found the pace too slow—he returned to television, working for Disney, where he developed Home Improvement, Boy Meets World, Ellen
and Dangerous Minds.
Watching all those shows go from a germ of an idea to a spot in prime time got into Aronson's blood and brought him back to where he is today.
"I think we make great television here," Aronson says. For him, that's what counts.