Only a been-there/greenlit-that showbizzer like Leonard Goldberg could bring together the motley crew of Sumner Redstone, Michael Eisner, Leslie Moonves, Jerry Weintraub, Bill Blinn, Harry Sloan, Jonathan Dolgen, Arnold Kopelson, Ed Zwick and Peter Bart on a night when there was a compelling boxing match on TV.
But the Paley Center for Media months ago dated Thursday night for its salute to Goldberg's long career in film and TV, and his friends and longtime colleagues weren't about to let him down, not even for the spectacle of Biden vs. Palin.
It is a testament to Goldberg's legacy as an innovator and successful producer that the conversation was much more a lively discussion about television's present and future than it was a rose-colored nostalgia trip back into the past.
"The problem is, it's nobody's money," Goldberg opined when the conversation turned to the ever-spiraling costs of TV production.
During the years of his very fruitful producing partnership with Aaron Spelling in the 1970s and '80s (count the hits: "The Rookies," "SWAT," "Starsky & Hutch," "Family," "Charlie's Angels," "Fantasy Island," "Hart to Hart"), Goldberg recalled, "if we went over budget, it was our money. We decided when we would (need to) go over budget, because it was our money...If more people were given the opportunity to independently produce (today), I think you'd see people figure out ways to do it for less."
Variety boss Bart moderated spirited debate about the state of the biz, then and now, among Goldberg, Eisner (his former underling at ABC), writer Blinn (who penned "Brian's Song" and "Starsky and Hutch" for Goldberg) and multihyphenate Zwick (who cut his teeth in his 20s on "Family").
(Pictured above, from left, Eisner, Goldberg and Bart.)
The other aforementioned notables kept score in the aud. Redstone, sitting in the front row like a lion waiting for the right moment to roar, couldn't keep quiet about his appreciation for Goldberg (who is a CBS Corp. board member), and he cheerfully took credit for being part of the reason that "actors don't make as much" as they used to. (Google "Tom Cruise Sumner Redstone" if you need further explanation.)
"It's the script that counts," Redstone informed the room, without the need for a microphone that was too slow in reaching him as his thoughts poured forth.
Bart got playful with the aud too, calling out MGM chief Sloan's support for John McCain, and noting the GOP's general proximity to the nation's economic woes. He pressed Sloan for his thoughts on how showbiz would weather the storm. Sloan didn't hesitate with a response that went over well.
"I think the business is resilient," he said. Media and entertainment "have already been out of favor (with investors) for the past couple of years anyway. I think it'll be resilient."
Redstone chimed in, declaring that "Paramount has had the best two years in its history, and CBS is doing great" notwithstanding the broader woes in the advertising market. "Don't worry about the motion picture business," he instructed. Heads nodded.
What else did we learn tonight?
**The Brooklyn-born Goldberg was a "Mad Men" type once upon a time. He began his career at BBDO before joining ABC's daytime department in the 1960s.
**Zwick (pictured above, at right, with Blinn) was barely 25 when he Goldberg bumped him up from writer to showrunner on "Family."
**As an ABC programming exec, Eisner initially balked at Spelling and Goldberg's choice of Paul-Michael Glaser for "Starsky and Hutch." Goldberg played hardball and told him they would shut down production on the pilot. Eisner caved and called it an experience "that taught me a big lesson in how to operate at a network."
**In the mid-80s, Eisner recommended to Laurence Tisch that he hire Goldberg to turn around CBS at the same time Barry Diller was courting his old boss at ABC to become president of 20th Century Fox. Goldberg went to Fox, but never really enjoyed the job. "I found it wasn't about the product so much" as it was about getting the hard sell from agents and dealing with the whims of actors, Goldberg said.
**Don't tell Eisner that TV's golden age is long gone, and don't tell him there's no room in the contempo landscape for the bright guy or gal with a good idea to break in. And by the way, the medium's early days weren't all that old-timers remember them to be. "There were seven great things on 'Playhouse 90' and 7,000 pieces of crap....Today there are 200 great things and 2 million pieces of crap...The fact is, there is tremendous variety, and tremendous access" for creatives seeking their fame and fortune in TV, Eisner opined.
**"Back on Topps," the web comedy serial starring the ever-charming Jason and Randy Sklar that Eisner's Vuguru banner is producing for FoxSports.com, cost around $600,000 in total for 25 episodes running about 7 1/2 minutes each. Eisner said so, and he should know. He also let it be known more than once that he self-financed the pilot for his upcoming Nick at Nite stop-motion animation series "Glenn Martin DDS," and that he owns the show outright.
**As much as the creative community loves the intimacy and creative freedom of cable, it's hard to beat the high of knowing that your show landed in tens of millions of living rooms the night before. Take it from Zwick. "When we were doing 'thirtysomething,' we felt like we were participating in the culture. There's nothing more intoxicating than being part of that conversation. You want to be in those homes in those numbers," Zwick said.
**Zwick paid Goldberg the highest compliment that a hyphenate can give to a non-writing producer. Noting his keen sense of story structure, Zwick said Goldberg has a great "ability to understand what is the beating heart inside of a television show."
(Pictured above, from left, Goldberg, Eisner and Moonves. Pics by Kevin Parry/Paley Center for Media.)