Former casino manager bets on TV

Hollywood has its rules of how to do business. Then there are people like Vincent Dymon, who make up their own.

A year ago, the 37-year-old former Chicago casino manager took $8 million of his own money and invested it into making television shows through his Radar Entertainment shingle.

His first big bet, “Jury Duty,” a courtshow featuring celebrities as jurors, has paid off, with the series picked up by stations for a second season in syndication. On the heels of that show, he has self-financed 11 more pilots he’s pitching to syndicators.

Dymon’s doing all this out of a TV production facility housed in the basement of the lavish Four Seasons Hotel in Westlake Village, about 35 miles north of Los Angeles.

The hotel was built by David Murdock, chairman and CEO of the Dole Food Co., the fruit and vegetable giant, who had initially wanted the TV studio to produce health and wellness programming for his own cable channel. After production plans stalled, he let Dymon take over.

Dymon didn’t have much choice but to go out on his own. No one in Hollywood would take his calls when he first tried to set up “Jury Duty” nearly two years ago.

It’s funny how ears perk up around town when you’re spending your own money.

After getting some advice to produce a pilot, Dymon decided to pony up $1.7 million to bring onboard Bruce Cutler, the defense attorney in the Phil Spector murder case, to serve as the series’ judge, and hired showrunner Susan Winston, a former exec producer for “Good Morning America,” to oversee the production.

From Chicago, Dymon then cold-called virtually every distributor in the country, landing Foster/Tailwind to broker barter deals, meaning stations pay no cash up front but hand over half of the advertising time. Trifecta Entertainment & Media now serves as the sales agent.

“I did whatever I needed to do to sell my show,” says Dymon, who says he was in the casino business because of his father. “I was under his thumb, but my dream was to become a writer.”

Deals started getting made for “Jury Duty” and by Sept. 17, when the show bowed, it had racked up clearances in more than 75% of the U.S., including top markets New York (WPIX), Los Angeles (KCAL), Chicago (WCIU), Dallas (KTXA) and San Francisco (KBWB).

Dymon’s ability to get the show sold grabbed Hollywood’s attention. So did the fact he was able to pump out 130 episodes of the half-hour skein that airs five days a week. Jurors have included Tommy Chong, Vern Troyer, Phyllis Diller, Debbie Reynolds, Arianna Huffington, Ed Begley Jr. and Bruce Vilanch.

But Dymon is quick to remind anyone he meets that he’s an “underdog.” He’s genuinely humble about what he’s been able to accomplish, but tends to hammer that home to the point where his determination to succeed overshadows everything else.

There were bumps along the way. Dymon filed a lawsuit last year against Warner Bros., alleging the studio stole his idea for a courtshow featuring an all-celeb jury. Dymon stopped WB from releasing their show.

Dymon now has his sights set on shopping “Jury Duty” overseas.

He inked a deal with distribber Cinamour Entertainment (“Cheaters,” “U.S. Bounty Hunters”) to shop the format in foreign territories. Deals have already been made in Australia, Canada and Germany.

And Dymon is now eager to get his 11 other pilots on the air.

Earlier this year, he formed Radar Distribution, run by Marty Sokoler and Marc Grayson, to handle sales of the shows for the fall and develop new properties.

The types of shows Dymon has chosen to make and pitch as programming blocks are mostly reality-based half-hour courtshows, variety laffers and chatfests, hosted by B- and C-listers familiar to the daytime crowd — Paula Poundstone, Catherine Oxenberg and her daughter India, motivational speaker Johnny Wimbrey, detective and author Bo Dietl, celebrity fitness guru Stacy Kaiser and comedian Godfrey.

Most are based on his own ideas.

“If I create my own stuff, I’m the only one I can disappoint,” Dymon says. “If I can’t sit through it, I don’t want to make it.”

The new crop of shows might actually help Dymon at a time when broadcasters are looking for non-scripted programming during the writers strike.

“If they like it, I’ll give them more of it,” he says of interested buyers.

But Dymon is eyeing the bigscreen, as well.

Next year, he plans to start developing several film projects he’ll finance and produce.

Dymon says that won’t happen, however, until he starts selling more shows and setting up their formats overseas.

“From now until NATPE, I’m focused on TV,” he says. “I’m not a guy who created a court show and that’s it. I don’t want to be pigeonholed. I’m not afraid to take chances. Worst-case scenario is that it doesn’t work. My pride is all I got.”

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