Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Study the business

So I was reading the Baywatch oral history over in Esquire (I know, I know).  While it was full of all the backstage dirt you'd expect, there was also some sound business advice in there.  The show was initially ordered by NBC, but after a season on the air, the network found it too expensive to produce.  That's when another opportunity came along...

Michael Berk (Executive Producer, Co-Creator): Baywatch had started getting distributed in Europe by a very small company called Freemantle — it now produces American Idol — that said, "Can you guys produce new episodes of Baywatch?" We said, No, the show's been cancelled. They said, "Well, there's a market for it."

Douglas Schwartz (Executive Producer, Co-creator): My uncle, Sherwood Schwartz, who was the creator of The Brady Bunch and Gilligan's Island, said, "Doug, this is the golden opportunity that you will probably never have again. Baywatch can be your Brady Bunch. Go and buy back your rights. See if you can put it into first-run syndication, because you have something the other shows don't have — a hit show in foreign television"

Michael Berk: We ended up buying the rights to Baywatch back for $10.

Douglas Schwartz: Except now we owned it 100-percent. Then it took us the rest of 1990 to put the money together and get it in syndication. We went to David Hasselhoff and offered to make him an executive producer if he would lower his salary by 50 percent — because we had to get the budget down.

Michael Berk: He didn't want anything to do with it at first. But through Hasselhoff's popularity in Germany, we were able to get $300,000 an episode from continental Europe. 

Now some of you snobs might scoff at owning a piece of a fluffy T&A show like Baywatch - but then you probably don't remember that in its day, Baywatch was the most popular show in the world.   Schwartz and Berk got rich because they recognized a golden opportunity when it was presented to them AND they were dealing with rights-holders who didn't realize the value of what they had.  That $10 made them millions!

This is why I say there's no reason not to study the business, lest you find yourself with a similar opportunity.  If this was an obvious money-making proposition, Berk and Schwartz would never have been able to gain those rights.  Instead, some savvy told them that this largely untested strategy could pay off in spades.

So study up on the business.  Read The Hollywood Reporter and Variety.  Stalk The Wrap and Deadline Hollywood.  And those are just the main stream business trade papers and sites for starters.

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