What Dan Greenblatt will always hold dear, as he retires from Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, is a piece of artwork that his son Ian did at age 7. The picture, which has hung in several offices throughout his nearly 25 years in the syndication business, features a drawing of Greenblatt with the words "My father's name is Dan. He is a re-run seller. He likes to watch TV" written underneath.
It's true. Syndication sales and Dan Greenblatt are like kid-favorite peanut butter and jelly: You can't have one without the other. Most recently executive vice president and general sales manager at Warner Bros., Greenblatt closed deals that launched hit shows in every genre—from magazine Entertainment Tonight
to off-net sitcom The Simpsons
to talk series The Rosie O'Donnell Show.
Greenblatt didn't start out to be a syndication sales guy. His parents repeatedly asked him, "What is this television stuff? I plug it into a wall, and there's a picture on the box. What does that have to do with being a dentist?"
Even after becoming a page at NBC in the mid 1960s and later landing key sales positions at Metromedia in the 1970s, Greenblatt dreamt of being the next Dwight Hemion, the 1960s and '70s producer of several Barbra Streisand, Burt Bacharach and Neil Diamond specials.
"Everybody who thought they were talented thought they could be him," remembers Greenblatt.
Eventually realizing "that this wasn't going to happen in my lifetime," he saw his future in sales. He realized that these activities were "paramount" to the success of the programming, equally as important as the shows' creative talent. Greenblatt notes that Entertainment Tonight, one of the biggest syndication gems of all time, essentially got on the air because of good sales tactics.
"This was to be the first satellite-delivered show. That was a great idea, except that, with few exceptions, no one had satellite dishes," he explains, recalling his days pitching the show at Paramount. "Not only did we have to sell the idea of the show, but we would also have to sell the concept of satellite dishes. It was pretty chancy."
When the ET
team got station managers to swallow their pitch, Greenblatt was hooked. Now he finds it hard to remember a time when he wasn't in sales. He can claim credit for many shows that became some of syndication's best stories. Paramount's Geraldo
and later Warner Bros.' Rosie
re-energized the talk genre. Warner Bros.' Friends
continues to dominate off-net sitcoms. ET, Fox's A Current Affair
and Warner Bros.' Extra
are some of the longest-running news magazines ever.
"I look forward to not having to compete with him," laughs Paul Franklin, whose big TV break was a sales job under Greenblatt at Twentieth Television. "I can tell you the guy is just flat-out brilliant."
Greenblatt is good at what he does, adds Franklin, who is now Twentieth's head of sales. Franklin ultimately moved into that spot "because of him. In many ways, he is a mentor of mine. He taught me a lot about what this business is and what makes it important."
Greenblatt is not going to miss syndication's widespread consolidation, in which it matters less that you have a strong product than that you have strong distribution resources.
"Maybe I'm not a gray beard. But I've seen [the industry] at its best, and I've seen it today. It was better before," says Greenblatt, who went through the recent merger of Time Warner, his company's parent, and America Online. "It's a good time to transition."
However, "I wouldn't discourage people from doing it," he adds. "There will always be a need for programming. The product will get distributed, and it will be an interesting business. It just won't be the same business."