Robert Greenblatt and David Janollari are Hollywood anomalies. Successful independent producers and part of the force behind HBO's critically acclaimed Six Feet Under, they may be either the last of a dying breed or the genesis of a new one rising from the ashes of consolidation.
While the two say they have been busy since the day five years ago they left their respective studios—Fox and Warner Bros.—it's HBO's Six Feet Under
that put them in the limelight. The show about a family-owned funeral home was nominated for 23 Emmy Awards given out last night (and had already won five creative awards in Emmy ceremonies held last week).
With networks and the studios that develop for them now often falling under one roof, critics say creativity in the programming business has been noticeably stifled. Greenblatt and Janollari think more network executives should take a page from their book: Find writers who have something to say and then let them do their work.
"The way to save television is to find writers with vision, support that vision, get it on the air and then protect it," Greenblatt said last week as the studio approached its fifth anniversary.
Giving writers their space is a formula that has worked for shows like Six Feet Under, created by Academy Award-winning writer Alan Ball, also its producer/director.
"That's what HBO does," Greenblatt says. "It finds writers they believe in and then supports them almost unconditionally. They get out of the way and let the writers put their vision on the air, rather than micromanaging it and giving notes and doing focus groups and having 10 people from New York weigh in and give more notes. ... We really try to keep the process out of the way rather than having it subvert the show."
Greenblatt and Janollari go back a way. At Fox, Greenblatt was instrumental in developing such network-defining shows as The X-Files, Ally McBeal, Party of Five, Melrose Place, King of the Hill
and Beverly Hills 90210. He has also had a hand in developing HBO's The Sopranos
and The WB's Dawson's Creek.
As head of creative development for Warner Bros., Janollari played a key role in developing such hits as Friends
("a money-printing machine," he says) and The Drew Carey Show. Greenblatt and Janollari have five shows on the air. Besides Six Feet Under, the duo also is executive-producing PBS's American Family, UPN's One on One
and Sci Fi Network's The Chronicle. Its The Hughleys
launches in syndication this year.
Their recent success, they admit, is built on years of experience working deep inside the business and then bolting from the corporate structure. And maybe that's the trick.
"We wanted to create a writer's haven," Janollari says, "a boutique of sorts, where it was really about trying to put great shows on in a great atmosphere."
Five years and 23 Emmy nominations later, it looks like they may have done it.