HOLLYWOOD HAS A REPUTATION for eating its young, or exposing them to images of peers being diced up with chainsaws for fun and profit. When it comes to mentoring them, the record is a bit spottier.
Yet that’s exactly what a small group of veteran industry insiders have been doing since Don Ohlmeyer, the one-time NBC chief, rang up the dean of Pepperdine U.’s communications department and offered his services.
Far from the usual hit-and-run speechmaking or extension class, Ohlmeyer’s novel idea was to hand-pick a dozen or so students and have them spend a considerable amount of time, two-on-one, with the likes of Grant Tinker, director Jim Burrows or agent Bob Broder. Initiated last year, the “mentoring fellowship” starts anew in January, representing the kind of program that could put the little school marked by the big cross on Pacific Coast Highway — overshadowed in most respects by USC and UCLA — on the map.
“As far as I know, it’s a first of its kind,” said Susan Salas, associate professor and director of broadcasting at Pepperdine’s Seaver College. “It was a remarkable learning experience. The feedback from the students was ‘Omigosh.'”
OHLMEYER’S INTEREST BEGAN percolating from a desire to give something back, and the choice of Pepperdine was based largely (and somewhat arbitrarily) on proximity to his Malibu home. Since then, however, his personal commitment has steadily grown to include overseeing student-produced sports broadcasts and teaching two courses — one in connection with the mentoring effort, which has been pared down to just 10 slots for the upcoming term.
Not surprisingly, competition among students to get into the program — open only to seniors — has been fierce. Each of those admitted spends six hours with two different mentors — learning about scheduling, say, from Fox’s Preston Beckman, or agenting from UTA’s Peter Benedek.
To Ohlmeyer, the idea was to escape the theoretical and provide kids a taste of the real world, while affording execs a chance to contribute beyond just writing a check or delivering a few well-chosen platitudes. “For them to share the time is a real investment in the future of these kids,” he said. “None of us went into the business having spent six hours with Lew Wasserman learning how to make movies.”
Salas has been “pretty overwhelmed,” she said, by the depth of Ohlmeyer’s involvement, which has also entailed recruiting buddies like CBS chairman Leslie Moonves and sportscaster Al Michaels to sit down for documentaries Pepperdine students will produce, which could be made available to colleges lacking oceanfront access to the 90263 zip code. The program, she added, has given the participants to “a huge wake-up call” as to what’s required to succeed.
As for Ohlmeyer, who left NBC in 1999 and then spent a year producing “Monday Night Football,” the chance to share his experience has been gratifying — harnessing some of the industry’s collected wisdom and channeling it toward those embarking on their careers.
“There’s an opportunity for the generation that has been in power to pass on more to the next generation,” he said.
DISCUSSING THE PROGRAM, I couldn’t help thinking of a “Star Trek” episode titled “Space Seed” — the one where Ricardo Montalban eats all that scenery, before returning even hungrier in “The Wrath of Khan.” After marooning Khan and his cronies on a barren planet, Mr. Spock muses to Capt. Kirk that it would be fascinating to return in the future and “learn what crop has sprung from the seed you planted.”
A similar thought comes to mind regarding the fellowship, wondering where these students will be a decade or so from now. In fact, if I haven’t been chased into retirement by wanton ageism or suffered early senility after watching “The Next Next Next Joe Millionaire II,” I fully intend to check up on them.
“My goal now is to be successful in my career so that one day I can become a mentor,” one of the students wrote in evaluating the maiden year.
That’s the idea, kid, helping create a big “circle of life” in Hollywood — and not just the lions eating the wildebeest part. So once you’ve scaled the mountain extend a hand down, or risk facing the wrath of Don.