President, executive producerOrganization:
Phil Gurin Co.Education:
B.S. TV, Radio and Film from Syracuse University: M.F.A. in dramatic writing from New York UniversityCareer Turning Point:
Moving to Los Angeles in 1988Most Admired Person:
Fine dining and spending time with sonPersonal:
Divorced, 13-year-old sonAs executive producer of 'The Weakest Link,' Phil Gurin has emerged into the limelight with several new television shows in the works
Bounding into his second-floor office in Studio 9 at NBC in Burbank,"The Weakest Link" executive producer Phil Gurin reaches for the previous night's ratings sheets. "We won our time slot, again," beams Gurin to his publicist. "The numbers are good."
Like Anne Robinson, the acerbic English star of the hit show, Gurin is dressed from head to toe in black and looking every bit the part of the successful television producer.
As usual, it took some time. After graduating from New York University with a Masters of Fine Arts in dramatic writing, Gurin did his share of Hollywood grunt work before starting Gurin Co. in 1997. Since then, he has produced hundreds of hours of television, making a good living but working in relative obscurity on shows like "The World's Most Amazing Animal Rescues I, II and III."
"The Weakest Link" has changed all that. And now Gurin's company is producing a number of new shows, including "Stop Making Sense," a reality comedy for Fox, and "The Jack Cash Show," a game show pilot for FX.Question:
How do you explain the success of "The Weakest Link"?
Answer: I like to think it's about the unexpected. Anne Robinson is a major reason why the show is a success. She's an unusual character and it was a ballsy move by NBC to use a middle-aged British woman as host of a primetime game show. It could have blown up in all our faces. The fact that it didn't is a testament to the format and to Anne. She's very severe, but it's mean with a wink.
Q: What do you think about the explosion of reality programs and game shows?
A: Reality shows have always been around. The change in public perception about reality programming is because they're much more visible on the network level now. But in syndication and cable they never went away.
Q: The change is that shows are now in the big dollar slots.
A: Absolutely. I believe that "Weakest Link" is the least expensive hour in primetime. Couple that with the fact that we get really strong demos, this summer we're No. 1 in the 18-49 (demographic), which is what everybody cares about.
Q: Your show originated overseas. Why are American networks increasingly looking across the Atlantic for programming ideas?
A: It's easier to go to a buyer in the United States and show them a tape, a ratings history and demographic research. It's like having done the pilot and the studio and the network doesn't have to pay for it. You pop it in your machine and the buyer sees what the show is. And that's been true of "Millionaire," "Weakest Link" and "Big Brother." That's a lot easier to sell if the format works than a paper idea.
Q: Critics blast reality programming for appealing to people's baser instincts.
A: I don't think we're necessarily dumbing down the American public. We do have general knowledge questions as well as pop culture questions and I would argue that they are not dummy questions. All storytelling is the story of character and conflict and if you're not going to get it in a really good sitcom or drama you'll find in a reality show.
Q: Criticism is on the rise regarding violent and degrading content on TV. You have a 13-year-old son. What is your responsibility?
A: I have only one tabloid show on my resume. I tend to avoid the kind of shows that I would be embarrassed to watch with my son and his friends. I think the responsibility, however, is both with producers and with families and parents. As a parent, it's my problem if my son is watching something he shouldn't be watching.
Q: Should the government have any role in regulating content on the airwaves?
A: I don't think it's the government's business to tell somebody what they can and cannot do. I don't think a producer or a network should go out and glorify killing somebody, but that becomes a moral issue, a personal judgment.
Q: What about the complaints that non-union reality shows are taking jobs away from guild members?
A: I've got 60 people working for me on ("The Weakest Link") who are feeding their families. Good people and lucky people will continue to work.
Q: How is the television business changing from an economic standpoint?
A: It's changed for both good and bad. I wish I was doing television in the 70s. Cable wasn't around, market share was so strong, budgets were crazy and people were owning their own shows. Now the business climate makes it so hard for producers to own their own shows. The good news is because I'm a smaller company I can get in because my overhead is so low. The networks, in the reality world, like going to the smaller guy who's hustling and who's creative because there is not a big infrastructure that you have to pay for.
Q: Your career has been dominated by game shows and other reality programming. Is that what you set out to do?
A: I had no interest in working on game shows. When I came out to California in 1989, I had lunch with Mark Summers, who at the time was the host of "Double Dare," the biggest show on Nickelodeon. I did a couple of shows for Nickelodeon, some game shows and some reality shows. After that, I met a television producer named Gary Benton. I had written a James Bond trivia quiz book and Benton's company was interested in doing a movie about the life of Ian Fleming. They found me, I wrote it, and working with Gary Benton I did a bunch of stunt shows for Fox which is really how I got into the reality business.
Q: What was your first break as a producer?
A: Fox bought my first show. It was called "The World's Most Incredible Animal Rescues." I was partnered with John Ratzenberger, who played Cliff on "Cheers." That opened my company. In the last four years or so, we've probably done 15 or more specials, 15 or more pilots and about nine or 10 series.
Q: What are your goals?
A: We're getting into the drama business but I don't want to get out of my core business because I love it. Reality shows, alternative programming, comedy, hidden camera, game shows this is fun. It's also immediate. With "Weakest Link" we're going to shoot 14 shows over the next eight or nine days. That's 14 prime time episodes. You couldn't do that with a drama or a sitcom.
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