With His Hail-Fellow-well-met attitude, Greg Meidel, president of Twentieth Television, has been called the “ultimate salesman.”
“Greg really understands the ‘show’ in show business,” Dana Walden, co-chair and co-CEO of Fox Television Group, said. “He is beloved by all the station groups and buyers of our shows because he is a wonderful guy and has so much passion for our shows. He has always been very connected to the idea that we are all lucky to be working in this great business and his gratitude is infectious.”
But not too far underneath that shiny, positive surface lurks a savvy businessman.
So committed is Meidel to the principles of business that the license plates on his car read EBITDA — earnings before interest, taxes, debt and amortization. It wasn’t something Meidel came into the business knowing, but rather vital knowledge he picked up along the way.
In 1997, he was chairman of Universal Television and his bosses were Frank Biondi, with whom he still plays tennis, and Ron Meyer. Meidel came to the office on a Monday morning after having been out late at the Emmys with Dick Wolf, whose Law & Order won that year for best drama in its seventh season. Meidel was understandably a little bleary-eyed when the meeting started, but also enthusiastic about Law & Order’s prospects in the aftermarket, given its win.
Instead of embracing Meidel’s enthusiasm and enjoying a morning champagne toast, Biondi and Meyer grilled him. How much money could the show make? What was its earnings potential? What kind of cash flow — or put another way, EBITDA — could it throw off for the company? His head spinning a little, Meidel left the meeting with the thought, “I’m getting a new license plate.” EBITDA it was and EBITDA it remains.
Minding the Bottom Line
“This is an exciting business, but you also have to manage expectations in terms of revenue potential, profit potential and the actual bottom line,” Meidel said, making a statement that’s truer than ever for many companies in the ultra-competitive TV world.
“Greg is not just a sales guy, he’s got a really good mind for content,” said Dr. Phil McGraw, who has been close friends with Meidel ever since they met when Meidel, who was then at Paramount, pitched McGraw and Oprah Winfrey on bringing The Dr. Phil Show there to be produced and distributed.
“Greg is one of my most trusted and valued advisers ever,” McGraw said. (He’s also one of his favorite tennis partners, with the two playing on McGraw’s clay court as often as four times a week.) “I don’t think I’ve ever talked to him about business that it didn’t end up making me money.”
Meidel, a self-professed TV addict, got his start in the business working for Rich Frank at Paramount Studios. Frank and his lieutenants had previously worked for rep firms and TV station groups, and they brought that financial discipline to television distribution, an area that had previously lacked that expertise.
Frank required his sales force to do a revenue analysis on each show, and those analyses caused licensing fees to increase sharply. That didn’t make TV station executives happy at the time, but did result in exponential revenue increases.
“It was a game changer,” Meidel said. “It gave us tremendous insight into how the business was going to go and how we could grow the business.”
Meidel was at Paramount from 1979 to 1992, climbing through the ranks until he was named executive vice president and general sales manager, Paramount Domestic Television. There he oversaw distribution of such off-network and first-run series as Cheers, The Arsenio Hall Show, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Entertainment Tonight. “I was fortunate enough that I was never penalized for being young when I started out,” he said. “Even my bosses at the time were young. They would throw you out there and you would either sink or swim.
“If you were able to swim, the possibilities were endless. You would be the only person holding yourself back. That gave you tremendous opportunity and tremendous responsibility.”
In 1992, he was named president and chief operating officer of Twentieth Television, where he was in charge of all first-run and reality programming for the Fox network and for syndication.
“He’s the consummate gentleman,” Jack Abernethy, CEO of the Fox Television Stations and B&C’s 2018 Broadcaster of the Year, said. “Everyone that has ever worked with him speaks highly of him — both people he’s worked with and people he’s competed against. He’s just a larger-than-life guy, and he’s been doing it at a fairly high level for a long time.”
From Fox, Meidel became chairman and CEO of Universal Television Group, where he was responsible for all television properties.
In 2001, he returned to Paramount, where he became president of programming for the domestic television division. Under Meidel’s purview, Paramount launched Dr. Phil as well as The Insider, and he oversaw such genre leaders as Entertainment Tonight and Judge Judy.
After Paramount was folded into the overall CBS Television Distribution banner in 2007, Meidel returned to Fox, where he was named president of MyNetworkTV and added oversight of Twentieth Television in 2009.
Making Big Deals
Since he’s been there, he’s done huge deals for Modern Family, which debuted in syndication and on USA Network in 2013, and brought out such shows as It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia off of FXX and, most recently, Last Man Standing.
Even though the business has changed dramatically since he started, Meidel’s enthusiasm for it hasn’t changed even a little.
“I think the legacy businesses will be around for a long time,” he said. “There are a lot of naysayers out there who say that they are challenged, but the advertising climate is healthy, broadcast is healthy and the quality of series that being produced is amazing. It’s a great time to be in our business.”