From the early 1980s at MTV Networks to his current tenure at independent studio Bungalow Media + Entertainment, Bobby Friedman has held important media jobs, been involved with memorable shows and movies and made some friends.
A lot of them.
“He knows absolutely everybody — it’s uncanny,” Mark Rosenthal, former MTV Networks president, said. “In the broadcast and cable television industry, the programming industry, the advertising industry — he knows everybody in New York City. It’s wild and it’s funny and it’s great.”
Friedman’s bio is packed with impressive corporate jobs. Co-chairman of New Line Cinema and president of New Line Television, which he launched for the studio. President of AOL, Interactive Marketing, TV & Ad Sales. Chief marketing officer at Time Warner Inc.
Involved in Big Deals
He also has helmed entities to successful exits via acquisition. He helped Classic Media, owner of the Golden Books properties, produce new kids’ content and get sold to DreamWorks Animation, now part of NBCUniversal. After that, as president of RadicalMedia from 2006-13, he advanced the cause of branded entertainment with shows like Grey Goose’s Iconoclasts for Sundance TV and Oprah Winfrey Presents Master Class for OWN.
“I believe that over time, branded content is going to become more important as dollars get more difficult to find,” Friedman said. On the other hand, demand and supply factors are favorable now. “I think there’s probably no better time to be in the content development and production business, because there are a lot of buyers.”
Friedman also thinks there will be more acquisitions of content producers. “And I do think a lot of the new content platforms will survive,” he said.
After Radical Media was sold, executive opportunities were available for Friedman at the kinds of firms he was accustomed to. But longtime TV executive Jeff Sagansky, a friend and mentor, persuaded Friedman to go full-on entrepreneur and invested in Friedman’s new venture, founded in 2013: Bungalow Media + Entertainment.
Bungalow credits include the NBC philanthropical series Give, The Real SVU for Lifetime, upcoming series The Preppy Murder on AMC and SundanceTV, and Corvette Heroes for History. The latter is a follow-up of sorts to a famous 1980s giveaway of 36 Chevy Corvettes by VH1 in Friedman’s time. The same 36 vehicles are rehabbed in the series and given away in a sweepstakes. Speaking of 36, Bungalow also made 36 Hours, with The New York Times, for Travel Channel.
“What we’re trying to do is to create content and product where we think we have a competitive advantage, and that competitive advantage can either be because we think we do it better or we have certain assets exclusively that someone else would not find,” Friedman said.
He spoke with particular pride about The Preppy Murder, which explores a famous murder case in New York in 1986. AMC Networks added to an original series order for the show and is simulcasting the resulting five episodes on two networks.
When Elaine Frontain Bryant, executive VP and head of programming at A&E Network, met Friedman years ago, his track record was a little intimidating. But they quickly became friends.
“I just couldn’t believe how warm and wonderful he is,” she said.
Frontain Bryant calls him unassuming and creative. “He surrounds himself with really smart development people, so every meeting is a worthwhile meeting,” she said. “I love it when he calls and says I am bringing a project, because I know it is going to be a worthy one and it will be time well-spent.”
Friedman made his career-defining move to MTV Networks from an account executive job at Grey Advertising (on the Joy dishwashing liquid account) thanks to a connection to legendary media mogul Sanford Weill. Weill’s American Express co-owned Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment, the precursor to Viacom’s ownership of MTV, VH1 and Nickelodeon.
Bringing a Marketer’s Touch
“I joined MTV, a place where, at the time, my packaged goods experience was really helpful,” Friedman said. “At MTV, even though it was a small group, it was really the inmates running the asylum. None of us really had any experience that led to being able to create this new company.”
His imprint is seen in shows like MTV Spring Break, which originated in Fort Lauderdale in the mid-1980s, when Friedman was in charge of consumer and trade marketing, promotion and licensing for MTV and VH1. It was revived this year in Cancun.
Through it all, Friedman has maintained his base in his hometown of New York. He jokes that he’s never had to move more than five blocks away from Park Avenue and 86th Street since leaving college, although when he was starting New Line’s TV division he commuted to Los Angeles every other week. And while New Line was making the Lord of the Rings movies, he spent about one week a month in New Zealand. “An amazing experience,” he said.
One other thing to know about Friedman, Rosenthal said, is that he “can be one of the funniest people around.”
In the early days at MTV, Rosenthal said, executives would unofficially receive a “Weasel of the Week” award, a stuffed weasel in a glass case. “You never knew how you got it. It would just show up one day in your office if you were deserving of it,” said Rosenthal.
Friedman got the weasel award now and then. “And in what all of us who remember it think was the ultimate weasel maneuver, when Bobby left MTV for his next gig, he took the weasel with him,” Rosenthal said.
Rosenthal wasn’t sure Friedman would want that printed, so he checked with Friedman, who quickly gave the go-ahead.
As a friend would do.
This story was updated on Oct. 29.