Title: Executive vice president, miniseries and motion pictures for television, NBC Entertainment; executive vice president, long-form programming, NBC Studios
Born: Chicago, 1953
Education: B.A. in elementary education, University of Arizona
Most Admired Person: Her husband, producer David Israel; Don Ohlmeyer, president, NBC West Coast
Career Turning Point: Working for producer Alan W. Landsberg, where "I learned how to sell."
Hobbies: Reading, movies
Personal: Married, no children
By FRANK SWERTLOW
With more than two dozen movies in development for the 1998-99 TV season, including an unprecedented 10 miniseries, Lindy DeKoven of NBC Entertainment more than qualifies as a Hollywood mogul. Indeed, the major studios only average between 15 and 25 films a year.
DeKoven is one of network television's highest-ranking women executives, controlling an annual budget estimated at between $200 million and $300 million.
During her reign as head of NBC's movie and miniseries division, the network has been the top-rated broadcaster for adults 18-49, the key demographic for advertisers. Last year, NBC had 12 of the top-rated 20 movies in this demographic.
DeKoven, who joined NBC in 1993, also has been bringing theatrical film producers, directors and actors to the Peacock network. They include "Platoon" producer Arnold Kopelson, "Armageddon" producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Kevin Costner.
While she takes pitches from producers, she often initiates ideas for films. One example is the upcoming miniseries "Not Between Brothers," which is being produced by Costner. DeKoven initiated that project by placing what she calls a "cold call" to see if the actor-director-producer would be interested.
Usually, DeKoven's lieutenants take preliminary pitch meetings and if they like the idea, the project moves up the chain of command to where DeKoven decides its fate.
Before joining NBC, DeKoven spent two years at Lorimar Television as vice president for movies and miniseries. Prior to that, she was a vice president for creative affairs at Landsberg Co., where she developed TV movies.
Question: What is your typical day like?
Answer: Putting out fires. There are a lot of internal meetings starting at about 8:30. I'm here to 7:30 (p.m.). Most of the day is composed of a lot of internal meetings, a lot of conversations with the promotion department, driving them crazy 24 hours a day. It is making sure all the support systems are really working on behalf of the films.
Q: What films have influenced you?
A: I am a big fan of the big movies "Gandhi," "Apocalypse Now." I like movies that have something to say. When you walk out of the theater, you feel good or you have learned something.
Q: What themes can't you touch that cable networks can?
A: Violence, sexual themes. But it doesn't always come down to that. Would we have done (HBO's) "Rat Pack"? Probably not. That film is going to focus on one segment of the audience, 25- to 54-year-old men. We have to bring in the largest audience. They can do movies that appeal to a certain segment of the audience and we can't. It would be too limiting.
Q: But "Rat Pack" had some very well-known names: Marilyn Monroe, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Frank Sinatra, President Kennedy.
A: But that was for a different viewer. Your 18- to 34-year-old viewer doesn't know who some of those people are. Where is the "relatable" factor, where is the commonality of experience they would have? Different times, different places, different era (it's) probably not something we would have done.
Q: How competitive is the movie-of-the-week arena?
A: Pretty competitive. Fox is not as involved as the other three. CBS seems to be tracking in a different way. They have created a series on Sunday night for their movies, a particular kind, the Hallmark (family-oriented film). And if it is not Hallmark, it looks likes Hallmark. They don't have a whole lot of diversity. You won't see an "Asteroid" or "Atomic Train" on CBS. ABC is a little different. We are not sure what their identity or brand is. They seem to be imitating some of the movies we are doing.
Q: How would you describe the NBC movie brand?
A: Eclectic, diverse.
Q: Why are you airing a record 10 miniseries at NBC when only a few years ago, the miniseries was an anathema at all the networks?
A: It is an opportunity to bring in more viewers on a one-time-only basis to strengthen the sweeps and, of course, strengthen your series the following next week. But the bigger question is, where are (the networks) going in general? Are we becoming a business of events altogether? That is the transitional question right now.
Q: Is part of the reason for that kind of event programming the competition with cable?
A: Not just cable, lifestyles. Seventy percent of the married women in the country are in the workforce. This is significantly different from 10 years ago. Families have so many things on their plate and so many options now. Broadcast television isn't perhaps the first option, as it was 10 or 20 years ago.
Q: To what extent has the erosion of audiences to cable affected your business?
A: Cable has had an impact and it is difficult to compete with cable movies. They have different requirements. They are subscriber-based. We are advertiser-supplied. They don't have broadcast-standard issues and we do. Their budgets are higher, ours are lower. They do fewer movies, we do more. In some ways, it is unfair to compare the two. To some extent we have succeeded with one hand tied behind our back.
Q: Has the growth of TV newsmagazines affected your ability to generate ideas?
A: We haven't been able to go there. Many of those ideas have been done in six- to 10-minute segments on "Dateline" or "20/20." It has forced us to go in a different direction. It's changed the business.
Q: HBO always seems to dominate the TV movie genre when it comes to the Emmys. Why?
A: Their marketing and presentation is better than ours. HBO and Turner do good cable movies and we do, too. But there is this patina that cable movies are better than ours. We did win best miniseries for "Gulliver's Travels." We won Emmys for "The Odyssey." That seems to get lost. But the fact is, we don't do as good a job promoting ourselves in that way as HBO does.
Q: How high are movie budgets at the cable networks?
A: In most cases, double (our budget).
Q: An average cost of an NBC movie?
A: Between $3 million and $4 million, sometimes more.
Q: "The Odyssey" and "Gulliver's Travels" were aired in the past season. Now you have "Crime and Punishment" and Shakespeare's "The Tempest." Why go to the classics rather than generate your own stories?
A: We've never been genre-specific. I can tell you that when the second "Gulliver's Travels" aired, we had every producer in town pitching us every classic known to man and we chose to do "Odyssey." It's always about the story. In the case of "Crime and Punishment," it is something I wanted to do. I felt the time was right. It is a terribly risky proposition, but we'll see. "The Tempest" was a project that Bonnie Raskin brought to me and I was very nervous. I got the script and I said, "This is something we can get an audience for."
Q: Would you do a Clinton-Lewinsky movie?
A: I don't think we could compete with the live miniseries that is going on. I have no interest in doing that.
Q: With more TV stars jumping into theatrical films, are you seeing a change in the casting of TV movies?
A: When the actors in "Friends" began going toward features and were no longer available to us, it began an exodus of stars from hit shows like "ER" and "Frasier." Since then we have relied less on talent and more on concept, more on story. If you look at "The '60s," which is a miniseries for February, there aren't any names that are recognizable to a regular person.
Q: Why are theatrical types like Robert DeNiro and Jerry Bruckheimer moving into television?
A: They are able to see the fruits of their labor very quickly. For "The '60s" project, we told (producer) Lynda Obst, "We want this on in a year," and she knew from the moment she walked in here that it was going to happen. They are also coming in with projects they have a passion for but have not been able to get going in the feature area, and can here.
Q: You used to be in the production world yourself. Contrast that with the job you have now.
A: People think it is much easier on this end. People think you just sit here and say to producers, "What do you have for me today?" We are not passive. We are very involved. We sell the producers. We're urging them, pushing them, cajoling them, nagging them.
Q: What is the biggest surprise you've learned about this job that you didn't know as a producer?
A: That there isn't as much passion with the producers as I was hoping. This is especially worse now, I think. There is such a strong desire to get movies made and it is impacting so hard on the economics that the desire to get a green light on a project is totally myopic. Once the green light is there, the passion and enthusiasm sometimes wanes.
Q: How much of your decision-making is based on research and how much is based on gut feeling?
A: We hardly look at research, and the turning point was "Gulliver's Travels." I got back the research and it said no one would be interested, and I said, "That's it, no research." It's 100 percent gut, and you have to hope it works.
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.