TV Pariah: Apocalypse Now

Publish date:
Updated on

Outspoken producer and manager Gavin Polone has spurred a fair amount of controversy throughout his career—the latest coming earlier this month when he moderated a joint Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and Hollywood Radio & Television Society panel on fragmentation of the TV business.

Polone established himself as an agent at ICM and UTA before founding his aptly named Pariah Entertainment in 2001. He has made his mark in both film and television, serving as executive producer of the 2002 Jodie Foster movie Panic Room, as well as for TV series Curb Your Enthusiasm, Gilmore Girls and Revelations.

Polone's panel, labeled “The Coming TV Apocalypse,” sparked a good deal of conversation within the creative community about whether he treated a serious subject too lightly, pushed his agenda too hard or deserved to be lauded for drawing attention to an issue that had been largely ignored. Panelists—including Kevin Reilly, president, NBC Entertainment; Mark Pedowitz, president, Touchstone TV, and executive VP, ABC-Disney TV Group; and Rich Frank, former president. Disney TV, and principal in The Firm—weren't fazed.

B&C's Jim Benson talked with Polone last week about the hornet's nest he stirred up.

Do you really think industry fragmentation will lead to some sort of apocalypse, or were you just trying to entertain the crowd?

There was certainly an element of hyperbole to it, but I'm not really that off when you draw the analogy from certain other industries. … Several of the airlines have been propped up by the government and, in my opinion, should be allowed to fail. The music business has changed radically in the last five, really 10 years—for a lot of these same reasons: new technology and [inflated] overhead. … If we are getting into this mechanism where your entertainment comes on demand, it's possible that a network doesn't have any meaning any more, and that is going to disrupt the business as it is today.

It doesn't mean it is a bad thing; it means it is just going to happen.

So were you satisfied with the responses you got from the panelists?

I think the complacency evident in their answers is just very unsatisfying, and, in my opinion, we have these real problems, and people are ignoring them. These businesses aren't really working for the most part.

Studio television doesn't really make money unless you're super lucky—and that's not a business. … Business is something that is sustaining over the long term. I have reason to believe that's not happening here, and that [there are] certain institutional problems that are endemic and are going to lead to real serious consequences for people who make their living in the television business. It is already happening.

What needs to be done?

I do think that there needs ... to be some consolidation. Just like there are too many airlines, there are too many choices for entertainment.

And given the expense of producing what we call regular television entertainment, maybe there needs to be less of it. And like I said before [at the panel], there's not enough talent to fill all the hours available.

Maybe if there were fewer slots, then more of the better talent would group together on fewer numbers of shows, and they would be better. And then that would pull people away from their other diversions and make for better television and a healthier business.

What does your viewpoint stem from?

I am creatively frustrated, and, again, it is part of the same problem. I think that there was a time when you really had people who were more involved in the creative side making the decisions and television seemed better to me. … I've gone back and looked at old TV schedules, and if you compared them [with today's prime time schedules], they were better, and there was certainly less replication.

And one thing you can't deny is that there are a lot of shows that are similar to each other on network television today.