Not long after taking over as president of Disney's Touchstone Television last year, Mark Pedowitz faced one of his first major decisions. A new series on tap for midseason, coming off a promising pilot, had veered drastically off course during the filming of the first few episodes. Pedowitz had previously played the role of trusted lieutenant to several top executives at ABC and the Disney TV unit, but now he was the general making the call: pull the plug on the medical drama or try to save it by shutting down production and retooling it.
Pedowitz, who started at ABC in 1991 and rose to head business, legal and financial affairs when ABC and Touchstone merged in 1999, was acutely aware of bottom-line considerations; he might have been expected to take the fiscally cautious path and kill the show. But Pedowitz decided to absorb the cost of suspending production for the eight-day cycle of filming one episode (typically a $300,000 expense), and the quickly overhauled Grey's Anatomy—“something that could have gone the other way,” he says—went on to join Touchstone's Desperate Housewives and Lost in a triumvirate of hits that turned around ABC's fortunes this past season.
Pedowitz had quickly proved he was no mere bean counter—proved it to others and, not insignificantly, to himself. After all, when Disney COO (and now CEO-elect) Robert Iger and Disney-ABC Television Group President Anne Sweeney pitched the Touchstone job to him, Pedowitz thought to himself, “You've got to be kidding me.” At 51, he figured, he was too old by Hollywood standards for such a job.
“You realize in your career that things might have been, could have been, should have been,” he says. “And you realize you thought that aspect of your career passed by.” But it hadn't. Touchstone head Steve McPherson was being bumped up to ABC Entertainment president, and Pedowitz got the call he thought was no longer in the cards.
“THE CHART MASTER”
In addition to fixing Grey's Anatomy, Pedowitz had plenty of other items on his Touchstone to-do list. He inherited the pilots for Housewives and Lost, and it was his job to help secure the shows' success by remaining vigilant about quality control during their freshman seasons. And he had to ensure the future of Housewives by locking up creator Marc Cherry to Touchstone through at least 2007.
But Pedowitz also had to keep new studio content flowing. He put 22 pilots into production for the next season and sold nine of them as series, including four to other networks—making it nearly 30 prime time series that Touchstone has supplied to other networks since Disney acquired ABC in 1996.
Pedowitz describes himself as irreverent, pragmatic and instinctual (a quality he says has made him a strong negotiator), but the Brooklyn, N.Y., native also admits that he is “probably right-brained.” That may explain why his business-affairs team has long referred to him as “The Chart Master.” He relies heavily on a deal-making computer model that tracks proposed contract terms and counteroffers; when there is no more room left on the chart for further counteroffers, Pedowitz tells his staff it is time to close the deal.
Charts or no charts, Hollywood power brokers recognize Pedowitz as a gifted negotiator.
“I like dealing with him because he gets it,” says attorney Jon Moonves, who represents some big names, including Touchstone's Cherry. “He is smart, tough, fair—one of the best brains about the TV business.”
A SINK-OR-SWIM BOSS
Pedowitz doesn't spend a lot of time dispensing his TV-business wisdom to his staff. A young litigation attorney recruited by Pedowitz to business affairs at ABC remembers how he would send e-mails to his boss “asking him how to do the job.” The replies seemed to be deliberately vague. “Mark is a sink-or swim-boss,” the attorney recalls. “It was maddening at the time, but it is the best way to learn. It worked.”
While Pedowitz may not be the easiest boss, current and former employees say he wins their loyalty by doing something rare in Hollywood: protecting them and making sure he has their back.
That management style may have been influenced by a memorable father-son talk that took place shortly after Pedowitz's 40th birthday. The message was twofold from his father, Milton (who is retired from the trucking and rigging business; Pedowitz's mother, Evelyn, was a supervisor of clerks at the Kings County courthouse in New York). “Maintain your integrity,” his father urged, and “just treat people the way you want to be treated.” Yes, that may sound like familiar advice in most quarters, but if you work that way in Hollywood, you stand out.
Pedowitz also credits producer David Gerber, with whom he worked in the 1980s when both were TV executives at MGM, as the source of other maxims that “have actually helped me do this job.” The list includes “treat your people well, push them as hard as you can and empower them” and “make sure, if you are going to succeed or fail, that no one can say it was an inexpensive piece of crap.”
These approaches came into play during Pedowitz's successful intervention with Grey's Anatomy, as he encouraged the creative team and pulled out the checkbook to buy time for the show. So far, the sink-or-swim boss is floating along quite nicely.