Tech Cat Interview with Kevin Beggs
Lori: Hello, everybody! Hello. This is Lori Schwartz, your tech cat, coming to you with tech trends impacting your business. And it is Back to the Future Day in the world today, celebrating many years of that fabulous movie Back to the Future, and so many trends that were showcased in that movie are coming true, and we’re going to talk about some of these trends today as it relates to entertainment. We have the fabulous Kevin Beggs today, who is a sixteen-year veteran of Lionsgate, and he is the chairman of Lionsgate’s television group, overseeing development and production of scripted and non-scripted and all the various platforms, and he’s going to share with us really what he’s doing at Lionsgate. So let’s have a big digital welcome, ladies and gentlemen, for Kevin Beggs!
Kevin: Thank you.
Lori: So, Kevin, how’re you doing there? You’re based in, is it Century City?
Kevin: Santa Monica. Thank you, doing great. Great to talk to you.
Lori: And we’re very excited to have you today on this Back to the Future Day. Tell us all about what you’re doing at Lionsgate and really who Lionsgate is, because you hear the name Lionsgate, but it’s not always clear if it’s a production company, a corporation, so give us the insight into who you are.
Kevin: Okay. Well, Lionsgate is a publically traded entertainment studio. It’s about seventeen years old. It is known for it’s feature films, which include big franchises like Twilight and The Hunger Games and Divergent, as well as it’s television shows, some of which include Mad Men and Weeds and Nashville and Nurse Jackie and Orange is the New Black and many others. And we also have a very robust home entertainment and digital media business and investments in a number of channels, including Epix, which is a pay channel that we co-own with Paramount/Viacom and MGM; and Pop network, formally TV Guide Network, that we co-own with CBS. And we distribute and produce our own original content, sell it around the world, both in theaters and on TV screens and on devices worldwide. And we have been known in the TV business—and the part that I’m involved with— primarily as innovators that have launched new networks or put
impactful shows on networks that have been rebranding or changing direction and in so doing have tried to kind of integrally link ourselves with those networks and shows. So, Mad Men, maybe, is one of the better examples, which, really, put AMC on the scene as an originals destination, because originally it had for years been a network of reruns, great western movies, and horror movies, classics—American Movie Classics was the name—and they moved into originals with Mad Men followed by Breaking Bad and now, of course, have both Walking Dead franchises and a lot of other shows and completely changed the composition of their network and their sister networks and then went public at a very high valuation and have really become a huge success in the original-content platform business. With Netflix, we brought Orange is the New Black to them not long after they announced House of Cards. Both shows have done really well for us and them and so on. So that’s been a little bit of our legacy, and we do that. So we—a fair amount of streaming business, but it’s primarily been premium and high-end cable, with the exception of Nashville that we do for ABC, which has been a great broadcast show for us. But our brand, if you were going to talk about it in the originals space, is generally left of center; noisy; working with really interesting, innovative show runners that would be probably not so comfortable in the procedural- crime arena that most broadcast networks have found success in, ours are a different kind of storytelling and a different kind of storyteller, but it’s been a great ride in TV over these last seventeen years. It’s really grown within the company. When I got here to launch the scripted area, it was at zero revenue; this year it will be over six hundred million in revenue.
Lori: Oh my gosh.
Kevin: And that’s starting to—you know, it’s still nowhere near the size of our feature-film business, but it is a meaningful part of the company and the corporate contribution and growing all the time. With this kind of golden or platinum age of television, it’s expanding before our very eyes.
Lori: So, when you joined Lionsgate, was it a different kind of company and you guys sort of said, we want to be the company reinventing networks? Like, how did this phenomenon occur?
Kevin: Yeah, I’ll tell you. When I joined the company, it was very small, probably about twenty-five employees. It was a Canadian—it had just gone public as a small Canadian media company that had cobbled together a film library from Quebec, with a stage facility in
Vancouver and some American distribution assets and was kind of launching itself in this very indie-film space. Some early movies that got off the ground and got attention for Lionsgate were Gods and Monsters and American Psycho and Monster’s Ball, and then eventually we kind of rounded a corner and kind of made it into the big time, if you will, in the movie world by distributing and releasing a Best Picture winner, Crash. What happened is I was there about two years, and after about two years when I was there, Jon Feltheimer and Michael Burns joined the company. Jon had run Sony as the chairman of Sony Television for nine years and had previously been at New World and had a big success at New World Television that Sony ultimately acquired, and Michael Burns had been an entertainment-finance guy, and they knew each other well and were friendly, and they cobbled together some investors to kind of recapitalize Lionsgate, which was small and struggling although it had some great artistic successes, and they came in and Jon became the CEO and really started to run it in a way more like a traditional studio, in which the various different people running different small businesses started collaborating and working together, and that same spirit has continued ever since. And one company at a time, Jon and Michael started putting together acquisitions—Trimark, Artisan, Mandate, Summit—on the movie side to really grow our breadth and our capacity in the movie business, which really put us into competing directly with the majors. And so we have been called in certain circles the seventh major, we’ve been called a mini major; we’ve got a whole bunch of different descriptions of what we do, but we do all the same things that the big studios do but we do it, I think, with a smaller head count, clearly, and a more nimble attitude. And TV was a non-acquisition strategy that was growing the business one show at a time. It started with one and then it was two. Now we have over thirty, and without really acquiring things along the way, although now we’re at a size when acquisitions are more interesting because the company is much bigger and the stock has been in a pretty nice place, so that’s something that we look at and consider, but, generally, we’ve kind of done it brick by brick in the TV side.
Lori: That’s just so interesting. So, did AMC turn to you and say, we are looking for a show that will change the game for us, because they knew you would do it for them?
Kevin: Well, in a way, yes. The person running programming at AMC at that time, Rob Sorcher, had been at Fox Family, the very first place we ever transacted and sold a show to. We had been given a couple shows to produce and to finance, co-finance, by Pax Net, which is now
something else. But at the time, the first thing we ever sold, we sold to Fox Family, and Rob had just become the head of programming.
We did a series for him called Higher Ground, and a really great little show; a drama; very big budgeted, relative to what Fox Family had been doing. If you remember, that was the era of, like, Sweet Valley High and shows that were probably, I don’t know, three or four hundred thousand an episode. So this was their first million-dollar- budget show, which, back then, was pretty significant. We shot in Canada. We discovered Hayden Christensen, who became Anakin Skywalker, as a side note, on that show.
Lori: Nice, nice.
Kevin: And some other really great actors that went on to do amazing things. We did one season, and Rob left, and then eventually Fox Family sold to Disney to become ABC Family. Rob wound up at USA for a little while, then he was in New York. And I remember him saying, I’m going to go work at AMC to do programming, and I thought, wow, that’s just running movies, but okay. And then he called one day, saying, we’ve got this script from Matt Weiner, who was on The Sopranos, called Mad Men, and we need a studio partner, and would you be interested, and would you read it? And Sandra Stern, who is our president in the TV Group, was the COO at that time. She got a separate call from ICM, from an agent, saying, would you read this script. So a few different people were coming within bounds, and, frankly, they didn’t really know anybody in the business, and I don’t think any of the majors were that interested in working with them. And we read it and really fell in love with it, but even so, figuring out a financial model was difficult—expensive show, period, a network that was not proven in terms of selling to the international markets. If you go to the markets and say, I’ve got an HBO show, that commands a certain price; and if you got to the market and say, I’m coming to you with a show from a network you’ve never heard of, you have a challenge. So as it turned out, we couldn’t put together the financing to really make that pilot that they were intending to make. They really could find no partner. They made it on their own.
And when they finished it, they brought it back to us first, which was great, and Rob has been an amazing friend, and said, will you reconsider now that we have something to show you. And when we did have something to show to our international distribution team, and the whole company, frankly, everybody moved very quickly—Sandra flew to New York, made the deal in a day—and the rest is history. But it’s not easy for a new network in a world, back then, when people were not sure if cable was even a great business to do originals.
Lori: So, it was really the confluence of a lot of different things that came together to make Mad Men, and I’m sure there are similar themes bubbling up for Orange and all these other shows that just seem to become classic seminal hits and also launch new networks. Well, we’re going to take a break, but when we come back, I want to talk to you a little bit about what trends you see are happening in the business that have created, what many are calling, and you sort of alluded to, sort of a new golden age of television, plus now, added onto this, all these new digital platforms. So, when we come back, more with Kevin, Lionsgate, and the Tech Cat.
Lori: And welcome back, and we are chatting with Kevin Beggs, who’s the chairman of Lionsgate Television Group, and Kevin was giving us the inside scoop on how Mad Men came to be and how it sort of launched what is now a historical run for AMC. You were giving me a little insider’s scoop, also, on Matt Weiner, the show runner, how he sort of came to be with Mad Men, because I had always heard the story that he had Mad Men brewing in his head for years and years and years. What exactly happened with him?
Kevin: Well, what he has shared with me and many other people over the years and his reps and I verified in a bunch of different places is that he was—so Matt Weiner was writing on Becker, a comedy that was produced by Paramount and CBS, with Ted Danson, and, I think, making, probably, a very good living as a comedy writer in a time when comedy was particularly lucrative; and if you were on a show, particularly going twenty-two episodes a year, you could do really well. I don’t think his heart was in it—even though he is incredibly funny, and Mad Men is infused with comedy, which is one of the reasons why I think it just stands out—but I think deep down he wanted to do something closer to Mad Men or ultimately Sopranos and things that he’s worked on in the drama side. So he talked to his agents and they said, look, you’re in the comedy side; why don’t you spec something, write something; we’ll send it around, see what happens. So Mad Men was a spec that he wrote. And I’m not sure what happened with the agency side, but his manager, Keith Addis, as Keith told me, got it to David Chase, who was running The Sopranos, which had been on for three or four seasons at that point. You know, we’re in the middle of that, as I recall, a long break. You remember there was an eighteen- month break between Sopranos season five and season six.
Lori: Yeah, it was painful to all the fans.
Kevin: Super long. So, I believe what happened is that Matt— evidently David was FedEx’d on a Friday night. By Saturday morning, David Chase called back and said, I want to hire him; move him to New Jersey, Monday. And Matt went to New Jersey and worked on The Sopranos for multiple seasons and got an Emmy and really established himself as a phenomenal drama writer and learned the inner workings of a drama room from one of the greatest show runners out there. When that all wound up, that was the time that AMC was looking around. Rob Sorcher, his head of development Christina Wayne were contemplating getting into scripting, who was around, who was available that had the prestige that they were looking for. And I’m not sure who reached out to who, but one way or another, Matt and that script got onto their radar, and that’s when the whole process began, which I alluded to in the last segment, in which Rob then went to look for a studio partner, and the rest is history. So that’s how we came together. So it was about, when it was all said and done, it was something like five or six years past the point that he had even wrote it that it even found the momentum [unclear].
Lori: Yeah, these things don’t happen overnight. Well, looking at sort of the industry now, you know, stepping aside, because, again, Mad Men is something that people think was just born, but in terms of trends and other things that are bubbling up in the industry, what kind of trends are you seeing, because I know you guys are now creating a lot of content for Netflix and all these other platforms. So what are you sort of seeing bubbling up across the board in this new landscape of television?
Kevin: Well, the big, big, big, super big trend is the move away from closed-ended; stand-alone; procedural; crime, medical, legal franchises and toward more serialized, novelistic storytelling; and that really began in cable, which was not as reliant on the overnight rating. It had a dual revenue stream at a time when broadcasts had one revenue stream in both affiliate fees and advertising, and people could take longer journeys into shows and settle in with them, like a great book, and you didn’t need the flash, bang, wow of did you watch last night. That, really, was what HBO began, more than anybody, and that other cablers—pay and basic—emulated. And then it’s kind of through technology been brought to its ultimate fruition via streaming and the ability to binge watch, or with VOD, if you’re watching it through traditional cable and broadcasts. But that ability to watch something in two or three episodic bursts, to go back, to re-watch, like
a great book, it’s really the best example. That changed everything, and that’s why there’s been this explosion of shows and cable and streaming that are all very focused on kind of creative acclaim, noisiness, word of mouth, have you seen… That kind of auteur-driven show, and we’ve been very fortunate to be in business with people like Matt Weiner and Jenji Kohan and Clyde Phillips and others that really kind of live in that environment and are in the business for that only.
Of course, the financial windfalls have come after the creative success, but no one goes into cable or one of these shows thinking, this is going to be a moneymaker. You go into a Law and Order or a CSI or any of those kinds of shows and say, you know, not only am I going to get a massive audience, if I do this right I’m going to make hundreds of millions of dollars, and that is the goal. And when broadcast was one- revenue stream as opposed to now with multiple, they had to have that, but everything’s changed. Netflix has been at the forefront of that, but even long before Netflix was a twinkle in Reed Hastings’ eye, HBO and others were pioneering this kind of show that told the story over multiple episodes as opposed to wrapping it up in one. That is exporting itself around the world more quickly via streaming technology, which is why Netflix has got its [unclear] everywhere, and it’s a little slower to take hold with free-to-air broadcasters around the world that are advertiser driven, just like our own, but it’s the shows that people are watching and the ones that they’re talking about, and if you read the trades or even just People R Us or anything the kind of shows that find their way into the cultural conversation are all those types of shows.
Lori: So, that’s a big sort of swing in a different direction. So, let me ask you, because I had this experience. So I was watching Outlander, which is right in my sort of demo sweet spot, right? Like, hot guys and period pieces, and I certainly love time travel. I mean, to me, it was missing a spaceship; otherwise it was, like, the greatest show ever.
Lori: But what my experience was I watched it on the iTunes portion of the first chunk of it, and then I ultimately subscribed to Starz, which is, like, what they want, so that I could watch the rest of it. But what I found that was sort of slightly irritating was that in the app I had to watch pre-rolls and post-rolls from the last episode, so that the nonlinear app experience was still based on a linear viewing experience of coming back next week and seeing last week’s cliffhanger. So, are you guys thinking at all about, well, what is the
new user experience now that we don’t need cliffhangers? What is an episode now?
Kevin: Yeah, well, we—look, you know, we make the shows and ultimately deliver them to the various clients, all of whom have different environments. I watch a lot of Netflix. I’ve been watching a lot of Amazon. They all have variations on a theme, but, really, those two, and Hulu also, where we have a bunch of shows. They immediately just put you into the next episode, and you can accelerate it. I mean, Netflix just starts it without asking. Amazon invites you to press—you know, do you want the next one? I think Hulu does the same. But none of those kind of give you recaps. I haven’t seen Starz, but in general, people just want to move right into story.
Kevin: We had a whole thing on Weeds, and Jenji Kohan—again, as usual, way ahead of the curve on everything—after the first three seasons, she wanted to do away with the main-title opening sequence, and it was a real—we really, like, struggled. We debated it. Oh my gosh, the main title. As a child of the 70’s and 80’s and then growing into adulthood in the 90’s and on, you know, the main title was kind of the palette cleanser that prepared you, to remind you, why you liked the show so much, so by the time it started, you were kind of in a Cheers frame of mind, let’s just say.
Lori: Right. Right.
Kevin: Or Friends or Quantum Leap or whatever the show was. I go back to Six Million Dollar Man. They retold you the whole story in thirty seconds of what happened to Colonel Austin.
Lori: Sets it up.
Kevin: So, it was just my instinct was, Jenji, how do you get rid of this great iconic name title, when we’re seeing little boxes. You’ve had everybody from, like, Bob Dylan to Pete Seeger do a version of the Elvis Costello—do a Weeds main title, because every week was a different artist singing it.
Lori: Right, I loved that.
Kevin: That’s a great thing. Oh my gosh, what are you going to do about that, you know, and she just said, no, no, no, we’ve moved out
of Agrestic. It doesn’t even make sense anymore. Now they’ve moved to San Diego, you know there’s no little boxes. And she did something much more creative which was every week she had a main title card that was tied thematically to the episode, and you were kind of playing a little bit of what’s she going to do this week. It worked out great. As much as we missed the song, it really worked, but, frankly, it was already kind of anticipating a move toward, just get me into story.
Lori: Right, right.
Kevin: And I think that’s where people are. And, again, when you think about a great book that you’re reading, unless you are somebody that wants to go back and read the last page of the last chapter just to refresh yourself, generally you’re just pushing ahead, going, more, more, more, more, more, more story. And that’s what people want.
If you want more story, and they’re not getting that story in theaters in the way they used to, based on the kind of movies that are being made—big tent pole, use the action, comic-book-character stuff—but that kind of discerning grownup fare that ordinary peoples of the world and movies that might make you really think and reconsider your entire life, that stuff is in TV right now. And people don’t want a preamble and they don’t want an epilogue. They just want the story.
Lori: The story. Kevin: Yeah.
Lori: Yeah, I know, I totally agree. I mean, I found it—it took me out, you know, because I was in the zone, and especially if you’re binging, but you’re absolutely right, because I actually wanted my husband to speak in a Scottish accent for a while after I binged Outlander, because cognitively I was so in that world, because I was watching, like, eight hours of it one weekend or something, something crazy.
But it is really powerful. I mean, I’ve heard a lot of people, I think even Spielberg was recently quoted in the Times just talking about how it’s all about television now.
Kevin: Yeah, yeah. Well, he’s had a toe, arm, leg in TV for a long time, but they’re only upping their involvement. And going back to the big ten-part mini that he did at Syfy early days, right? Taken?
Lori: Yep, yep.
Kevin: And just exporting that whole thing, which is basically so much stuff that, in a way, he couldn’t get in to Close Encounters, you know, into one big movie.
Lori: Yep, yep.
Kevin: And it found its way into this whole other mythology. And that’s the other thing we’re finding. We’re doing a lot, frankly, in tandem with our feature group, which is so exciting, and we’re auctioning big books and big franchise properties that only would have been in the province of features before, the creators and writers of these books are interested in both TV and movie. They’re not sure which one goes first, or maybe we’re on a parallel track, or
Lori: Oh, neat. So the science—
Kevin: Yeah, sci-fi genre mostly, and you may be taking aspects or maybe an entire backstory that’s just one chapter out of fifty, but that might be the setting for an entire series.
Lori: That’s so cool. Well, when we come back—that’s absolutely fascinating, because you’re talking about the breaking down of what traditionally has been pretty strong silos at networks. But when we come back, I want to find out, how do you keep up with all these changes? You know, a lot of executives I talk to say it’s their kids or they do a lot of reading or they attend a lot of conferences, so I’d love to hear—you’re overseeing so many different things, how do you keep up with all this? When we come back, more with Kevin Beggs and Lionsgate and the Tech Cat.
Lori: Hi, everybody. And we’re chatting it up with Kevin Beggs of Lionsgate Television, and Kevin is really sitting in the middle of this historical time in television and all these great stories he has about the new mythology of what’s happening in the industry. It’s just happening to you. We were just saying it’s not like you’re doing anything on purpose. I mean, you’re working hard and you’re really smart, but it’s also just happening. So my question to you is, how do you keep up with all of this stuff? I mean, do you have millennials working for you; do you have young kids? Like, how do you feel connected to all of it?
Kevin: Yes and yes. So we do, we have a lot of millennials working here. We keep our ears and eyes wide open to everything they’re talking about and experiencing. I have a sixteen-year-old daughter and a twelve-year-old son. They’re constantly Instagramming their way through life, and they’re experiencing content. You know, TV is something that they occasionally will turn on, usually for—in my son’s case—a sporting event, but he’s on his iPhone just YouTubeing during the whole game, and I’m the one saying, look at that replay. Check it out. And oh, yeah, yeah; you know, I’m watching PewDiePie or any number of things. And then through their circle of friends they discover shows. He’s obsessed with Dance Moms, and by virtue of him becoming obsessed with Dance Moms, he figured out how to download the Lifetime app, which is kind of funny thinking about a twelve-year- old boy downloading the Lifetime app and putting it onto our array of app buttons on the television, in addition to on the iPad, because he wants to watch wherever he is, and I’m in there pitching and doing a lot of projects on many networks all the time, and it just gives me no end of enjoyment to think about him binging through Dance Moms and bemoaning the fact that he’s out of episodes and yet never turning on a television. But he’s well aware of the brand. He knows Lifetime, and he can tell you what it’s about. And my daughter is catching up on series like Supernatural, which she got my son into until it made him afraid at night. But that show, I don’t think it’s on anymore. It was on for, like, eleven or twelve years, but for her it’s a whole new experience. Me telling her about the history of the WB and then UPN and then merging to become C—it’s all irrelevant. Like, she wouldn’t care less. She thinks it’s a really good show, and she moved from that, interestingly enough, to Criminal Minds.
Kevin: And I think I would seriously would be hard pressed if I asked her right now, Katherine, what channel is CBS. She could not give me the number, but she knows—
Lori: Does she understand CBS, or–?
Kevin: Yeah, she would know what it is, but I don’t think there’d be any part of her that thinks that we [unclear] right now, the way we still do and think about it as a position, a number, is it a low number, a high number. You know, she’s just watching the show. I doubt if she knows that it’s a CBS show.
Lori: Are they leveraging all the short-form platforms, like Snapchat and Vine?
Kevin: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Snapchat. I don’t know about Vine. Instagram, Snapchat. Facebook, they say, is for old people, so that’s for mom and dad. But, yeah, I mean, all of those—all of the other ones. Right now Instagram becomes a really important one because they’re both musical. My daughter, also, is really big on SoundCloud, where she puts all her original music and compositions.
Lori: That’s so interesting. So, are you then coming in and saying to folks, we need to do something on Snapchat. I mean, does that drift into some of your strategy?
Kevin: Well, look, we have a really smart, young executive here that came on about two years ago named Jordan Gilbert, who came out of digital at Yahoo and Universal and really, really is immersed in the world of YouTube creators and online creators. And we brought him in just to say, be in this world, scout around, find stuff; and the first company he brought back to us is run by a guy in kind of a collective of film makers around him, Freddie Wong. RocketJump is their brand and their website, and their big success, amongst many things on YouTube, was migrating kind of a short-form series called Video Game High School into a long-term series, which, ultimately, has been on Netflix and sold around the world and done really well for them. And we got to know those guys, and that gave us kind of a nice window into YouTube creators that are into more narrative storytelling, and we made an overall deal with them in the TV space to kind of take some of their ideas that they were working on for some time and move them into traditional TV or even streaming platforms. And out of the gate, they sold a show that’s going to come on sometime in the first quarter on Hulu called RocketJump: The Show, which is kind of a docuseries following them as they make their action shorts, and it’s kind of the episode’s built around the making of each one. I think there’ll be six or eight episodes that will come onto Hulu. I’ve seen the first two.
Really fun. And the shorts play at the very end, and then you see the movie that they’d been making. The second thing we’re working on with them, and we’re close to closing a deal at a platform, is a pure- scripted anthology, kind of a twenty-first-century unlined homage to The Twilight Zone.
Lori: Oh, cool!
Kevin: And that’s—they’re really excited about that. That’s called Dimension 404, or D404, which is kind of a nod to that message that you get if you ever come to a crashed or defunct website that says D404. And the notion is in this online Metaverse, who’s out there and what’s going on and kind of twists on technology and kind of cautionary moral tales, not unlike the Rod Serling classics. So that’s going to be a pure-scripted thing, and they have other shows behind that. So that we can look at and say, look, what can we bring to the equation. You know, we’re not YouTube creators; we’re not those innovators, but we, as an independent television studio, can sell to thirty or forty suppliers; and we probably took Freddie and his team to fifteen or more to pitch Dimension 404, and the usual things are out there, oh, anthologies are hard, this, that. So it became a couple of places that we honed in on, but the places where we’re going to wind up and where we think we’re going to do it is in places very millennial focused. And they are hoping, and I think they’re right, that Freddie’s six or seven million YouTube subscribers are just going to go wherever he goes, and if they go to a traditional outlet to watch this interesting anthology show, it’s going to be great. In this arena, we can offer Freddie and his guys a lot of expertise, first of all, selling it to the various players; why we should go to them; how they’re going to produce a long-form, scripted thing in ways that they haven’t done before and with an actual kind of traditional budget and figuring out a writers’ room and other things that would be new to them but are kind of instinctive to us. And I think if we do it right and if along the way they got signed by a major agency, they may be, basically, coming to the market with a hot, big, new series, learning kind of as they went from kind of these grassroots beginnings as these scrappy YouTube creators and they still do both. And we think that’s kind of exciting.
We can offer something to them in that equation, and they can offer us a lot in return.
Lori: And that model that you’re talking about, to me, sounds very much like what MGM used to be, which is nurturing stars. Like, you’re literally managing his career, in a sense. Is that what’s starting to happen?
Kevin: Well, we’re certainly part of it. I mean, they’re pretty self- reliant, so they don’t need a ton of help, but it’s just in a funny way you get into what you do, you know, I’m in the television niche. Other people are in movies, other people are in theater, people are in digital; and there’s not a lot of crossover. You’re kind of in your silo. And what’s exciting about this new content-driven era is that stuff can migrate, but to migrate, you actually have to be known. Well, to be
known, you actually, in this case, got to show up and sit in front of people who may not know anything about what you do and kind of tell them what you do, and then they talk to their kids, and they say, Freddie Wong, oh my god. I can’t tell you how many people that we would go take these meetings with that started the meeting by saying, I’m a hero at my house today because I’m meeting Freddie Wong, the guy behind Video Game High School.
Lori: Right, right, right.
Kevin: Although they hadn’t watched it themselves, they checked in with someone, and it was going to be kind of a red-letter day for them to come home and say they met with Freddie. And that is great, and I think, by the way, that goes in all kinds of ways: movie people going to TV, and TV people moving to movies, and vice versa. You sometimes have to get out of your lane and out of your comfort zone, and when we do, really interesting things can happen.
Lori: Do you think that what’s going happen with the current millennial crowd is as they age they’re going to move to longer form with their stars?
Kevin: You know, I think they’re going to follow what—I think if this story supports it and they are engaged for twenty-two to forty-five minutes, they will go. If it’s filler and they—I think this audience is so honest in the one-click world, when you can be out of something immediately if it’s not good or doesn’t capture your attention, there’s no reason for you to stick around. All of us grew up kind of like, well, there’s three channels, and there’s nothing else on, and my alternative is homework or this TV movie on NBC, I guess I’ll stick around and watch the TV movie because it’s a little better than doing your homework. It’s just such a different environment, so you have to have the goods. If it’s not there, it’s not there. There’s obviously a whole class of YouTube creators that are more kind of lifestyle-brand driven, and they’re not into long-form narrative. They’re really into kind of stream of consciousness about what’s going on with them or trends. But Freddie and his team, who are huge movie fanatics and grew up watching Spielberg and Zemeckis, and they can quote any genre movie at any time about anything, long-form is interesting to them, but they’re not slowing down at making their shorts. The shorts are fantastic, and they have a rabid fanbase that follows.
Lori: That is insane. Well, we’re going to have to take a break in a minute, but one of the things that I was thinking would be fun is if you
could give us the scoop on any upcoming shows that are going to be launching or any new projects or anything that you’re involved in with Lionsgate that we’re instantly going to become fans of, because, obviously, all these shows are so seminal now, when they drop it seems like the world stops, literally when they launch. So, when we come back, more with Kevin Beggs, Lionsgate, and, hopefully, some exciting scoop on some new shows.
Lori: And welcome back, and we are chatting with Kevin Beggs, who’s the chairman of Lionsgate Television Group, and he was just about to drop some serious scoop for us on some upcoming new shows that I think will probably be some of the shows that everyone’s talking about for the next couple of months as it seems that all the shows that you are dealing with are. I mean, god, what a fantastic run Lionsgate is having. So, tell us about some of these special shows.
Kevin: Okay, thank you. Well, just premiered our second season a week ago of Manhattan, which is on WGN America. The first season’s episodes can be found on Hulu. A great period drama about the mad dash to create an atomic bomb at Los Alamos during World War II; the kind of amazing drama and spy craft that was floating in and around that facility; the kind of government story that was being sold to the scientists that this was all about beating Hitler to the bomb and bringing it in to the Holocaust, when, in fact, it really was more oriented toward the war in the Pacific and coming up with a military solution to what people expected would be a drawn-out, three-or-four- year conflict, even after the war was essentially over with Japan in terms of a preeminence in the Pacific. So, a really great show called Manhattan for the Manhattan Project and one we’re so proud of. So, season two, the second episode this week was on last night, and you’ve got eight more to go for this second season. Another show that premiered two weeks ago and today, happily, it was just announced that we got our second season pickup, which is a very quick turnaround, is a single-camera comedy from Jason Reitman, a young writer named Zander Lehmann, and a show runner named Liz Tigelaar called Casual. This is a show about contemporary dating in Los Angeles in the kind of thirty- and forty-something crowd. It’s about a woman who’s coming out of a divorce, and she and her sixteen-year- old daughter move in with her single brother who’s kind of a bachelor and kind of a playboy; and he runs and founded an online dating site; and he kind of espouses to his somewhat-traumatized sister but also a little bit more conservative—and she’s a therapist, by the way, trying
to save other families, but not keeping her own together—but he’s espousing to kind of hook-up dating and Tinder and casual and all these other things plus his own website. And she’s somewhat horrified, but, of course, wades in, although a little trepidatiously, to great comedic results. And the irony, of course, is that the sixteen- year-old daughter is probably more mature and balanced than both of these guys.
Lori: I love it.
Kevin: So, that’s a really fun show called Casual. You can see episodes on Hulu weekly. They premiered week one with the first two, and then this second week was episode three, and then thereafter, they’re rolling them out weekly. Anyway, they picked it up today.
Even just before our little session started, the press release hit, so we’re really excited about that, and we’ll start a second season soon. And if you’re a fan of Jason Reitman and his body of work, you will love this show.
Lori: Let me ask you something, Kevin. Do you know intrinsically when you see a show that it’s going to be a hit, or is it more about the people who are making it, or do you just get a sense now, now that you’ve been doing this for a while and you’ve seen what’s hitting, do you understand, do you have that vibe?
Kevin: Well, you know, look, auspices are amazing, but that’s not—it’s never a true guarantee that the show is good, because there’ve been plenty of amazing auspices around all kinds of great shows that were hyped and didn’t come to fruition. So it really is about the idea and the concept and the take, if you will, of the thematic exploration that the writer wants to go into. When Jenji Kohan talked to Showtime and then to us about Weeds, and she wanted to get under the skin of kind of the upper middle-class aesthetic and lifestyle and what happens when you maybe tumble out of that and then also kind of, I think, examine kind of American’s schizophrenic relationship with drugs, that seemed to me like a really interesting theme worth exploring. I grew up in Marin County, which is kind of the hot bed of kind of cultural and crazy innovations from hot tubs to serial marriages and all kinds of different things, and that just seemed so timely for me from growing up half on a commune and half in a regular house in the suburbs. So, to me—
Lori: Oh my god, that’s a whole video show right there.
Kevin: Well, that’s a different show, but I was sold the minute Jenji mentioned the idea, and I thought, that’s loud, that’s noisy, that’s going to resonate. And so you never know. There’s been plenty of shows that we thought just were unbelievably amazing but didn’t quite go the distance. You know, we loved Boss, which we did two seasons of for Starz, and Kelsey Grammer got a great Golden Globe. Starz didn’t pick up a third season, and I think subsequently they expressed that they might have done it a different way had they thought about it a little longer or circumstances changed. So there’s some missed opportunities, but, generally, it’s a good, bold idea that you can really get your head around and you kind of have to extrapolate internally, like, will this travel internationally, which is a big part of our revenue; will this get a lot of press and a lot of reporters and critics writing about it, bloggers thinking about it; will it be noisy? In this market of three or four hundred scripted shows in the U.S. alone, putting aside the international shows, stuff really has to break out. It has to be noisy and loud and get attention. It doesn’t mean that the show has to be over the top or nutty or crazy; it’s just the idea has to be singular enough for people to say, oh, that’s the show about… Oh, that’s the chemistry professor who started selling meth. And when you can start telling people about it in those short-form elevator- pitched versions, you know you’re on to something. And so as in depth as these shows become, incredibly complex with rich narratives and lots of layers and theme upon theme upon theme, the ones that still break out still can be boiled down to a sentence or two, and when you can’t do that, it’s a lot harder to get people’s attention and to get them focused and to plug in. Sometimes they will, you know, a show like The Wire, which probably has had more fans off the air than it ever had on HBO, very hard to define that. I’d be challenged to do it less than a paragraph, yet, over time, because of HBO Go and video and bing viewing…
Lori: It’s doing well. Right.
Kevin: It’s a classic, and people have discovered it and re-discovered it, but would it ever be something that would immediately caught me out of the gate, you know, get that kind of attention. Thinking about, like, The Game of Thrones, who had an audience who were fans of that book that flocked to that and then it grew and grew and grew based on the quality and word of mouth. So you need something, and that’s why books right now and articles and graphic novels and comics are so in demand, because you need some leg up, or even movie title adaptations, movies that are going into TV series, and we have a few
of those. That helps you break out of the clutter and at least get a sampling. If you get a sampling and people like it, they’ll stick around.
Lori: So, is it now—are the deals and the contracts that you’re making with the Hulus and the Netflixes and the Amazons, are they different every time, because the windowing is continuously changing and the—
Kevin: Yeah. Yes, they are. Lori: So it’s just new each time?
Kevin: Every time that’s new. So, as I mentioned, Sandra Stern, our president of the TV Group who also oversees all the business affairs, every one of those is a from-scratch negotiations because—
Lori: God, that is insane.
Kevin: She’s fond of saying, like, on any network show, you know, it’s two phone calls and you’ll have a deal, because the precedents in the forty or fifty years of doing it, everybody kind of knows you get this and I get that and you get these rights and I get these and we get this. And every one of these—you know, the Netflix deal was a nine- month process after we sold it.
Lori: God, I mean, it’s a lawyer’s heyday, but it’s so difficult. I mean, I just know friends of mine who are selling to people they’ve never sold to before, you know, and when the brand comes in and then who has it for the first year and then who has it for the second year, and it’s just so interestingly complex. Now, Kevin, where can folks hear from you again? We’re going to wrap up soon, but are you speaking anywhere? Are you blogging? I mean, where can we get some more of your insights?
Kevin: I’m not blogging anywhere. I’m doing something in New York in a few weeks, but I think that’s an investor conference. I will keep you posted. I’m not sure at what next thing I will be around, but you can count on seeing me at NATPE and MIPCOM and MIPTV and the L.A. screenings in which we sell our products to the international buyers around the world. But I’m sure there will be something, but we’re online. At lionsgate.com you can find a fantastic website that has a whole bunch of links to various press and articles.
Kevin: And I’m around.
Lori: Fantastic conversation with Kevin Beggs. I learned so much today. Chairman of Lionsgate TV Group. So, check out lionsgate.com to see what other fabulous shows are going to be launching, and we’ll see you guys in a week on the Tech Cat Show. This is Lori H. Schwartz. It’s been fun, and, boy, did I learn a lot today. Thank you so much, Kevin.
Kevin: My pleasure. Looking forward to talking again. Lori: See you guys next week.