If Bruckheimer's the architect, TV prexy Jonathan Littman is the contractor
There’s no such thing as a summer slowdown for Jonathan Littman.
The president of Jerry Bruckheimer’s Warner Bros.-based TV division has (happily) resigned himself to the fact that the warm-weather months mean readying yet another new show to premiere in the fall. And this year is no exception, with Victor Garber starrer “Justice” set to bow on Fox as early as next month — marking the seventh consecutive year that Jerry Bruckheimer Television has landed a frosh series on one of the networks.
What’s more, most of those shows have been renewed, meaning Littman and his team will be overseeing a slate of eight series this season. That’s more than some small studios.
“We’re no longer a young startup,” Littman says. “We’re a mature company.”
Littman has been vital to Bruckheimer’s TV ambitions, a part of the producer’s posse since he first set up his small-screen company at Warner Bros. TV in 1997.
“They’re like a design team,” says WBTV prexy Peter Roth. “Jerry is clearly the architect and always has been. It’s his vision. But the contractor is Jonathan Littman, and he’s a brilliant executor of Jerry’s vision.”
Indeed, it was Littman who brought Anthony Zuiker’s pitch for “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” to CBS Entertainment prexy Nina Tassler, who at the time headed up drama development for the Eye. Tassler has recounted many times the story of how she was driving in her car, stuck in traffic near L.A.’s Laurel Canyon when Littman called her cell phone and told her she just had to hear the idea for “CSI” — even though CBS had already stopped taking new drama pitches for the year.
The way Tassler describes her relationship with Littman, and you’d think she’s talking about someone on the CBS payroll.
“Jonathan is my partner,” says Tassler, whose net is home to seven Bruckheimer shows. “We talk every day, if not several times a day … He’s an extraordinary manager who’s able to deal with the minutiae of the day-to-day and not lose sight of the bigger picture.”
Tassler says that Littman — who spent six years as a current-programming and drama-development exec at Fox before hooking up with Bruckheimer — “is always fine-tuning” shows and ideas, developing strong bonds with writers so that he’s able to help them through the slew of mini-crises that are part and parcel of any network show.
Those skills came into play a few months ago, when Littman had to do something he hasn’t had to do much of recently: Fight to keep one of his shows on the air.
While most Bruckheimer TV productions have been hits, last year’s “Close to Home” came close to cancellation. Indeed, most industry observers thought the show was a goner last spring when CBS announced a slew of early renewals — but didn’t include “Home” on the list.
Littman worked with the show’s writers to make some tweaks, and ratings started making a comeback as May approached. What’s more, Littman — along with execs at Warner Bros. — began lobbying Eye execs, arguing that a plan was in place to make season two of “Home” better.
“It reflected a tremendous amount of thought, a clear new direction for the show,” Tassler says of the Bruckheimer TV pitch for saving the show.
“Home” was renewed and will keep its 9 p.m. Friday timeslot.
Littman credits Bruckheimer with creating an environment that breeds success.
“He’s extremely involved in everything that’s going on, (but) he lets you do your thing,” Littman explains. “He gives you a lot of space and doesn’t micromanage. All of the execs here can operate with the feeling that even if they do make a mistake, they’re not going to get yelled at or fired. It makes it easier to do your job.”
As Bruckheimer Television has grown, Littman and Bruckheimer have had to expand their TV team. Their most significant ally, KristieAnne Reed — a longtime Bruckheimer film staffer — was upped to exec VP of the company earlier this year, making her Littman’s chief lieutenant.
“She’s brought in another senior voice our showrunners could lean on,” says Littman, who adds that Reed “is an incredible whiz with straight producing” and has allowed him to remain close to day-to-day production of shows.
Reed says Littman and Bruckheimer have one big thing in common: decisiveness. “They both know exactly what they want, and that makes my job easier,” she says.
Despite the success they’ve had, Littman believes the next few years will be critical for the company. He and Bruckheimer remain anxious to develop a comedy hit, particularly since the potential for backend coin in laffers is huge. And with the “CSI” franchise getting up there in years, they know the well will need to be restocked with new dramas.
“It’s time to get some new, young hits,” Littman says.