Biz keeps it in the family
A lot can happen in a generation. In Hollywood, surviving in the trenches long enough often means graduating from contemplating what one class of executives will do to chronicling the exploits of their kids.Granted, the movie business has long been steeped in such baton passes, with names like Goldwyn and Zanuck. Lately, though — and chalk this up either to happenstance or a mid-life crisis — there are personal “Where the hell did the time go?” reminders regarding this sobering reality everywhere I look. Everyone has an eye on Steve Burke, and what drab cable operator Comcast will do as the new proprietor of NBC Universal; 24 years ago — when I began covering the TV beat — the world similarly hung on moves by Thomas Murphy and Daniel Burke, Steve’s dad, after their staid broadcast operator, CapCities, assumed control of ABC. Yet that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Seeking a respite from NBC’s fortunes, I watched “Mad Love,” the CBS sitcom premiering later this month. But the show’s producers are brother-sister tandem Matt and Jamie Tarses, whose father, Jay, produced such memorable comedies as “The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd” and “Buffalo Bill,” along with the less-memorable “Public Morals,” which I reported on when the show sent CBS censors into a tizzy 15 years ago. After that I popped in a DVD of “Justified,” the wonderfully entertaining FX series from Sony Pictures Television. Except Sony’s development and production is overseen by an arthritis-inducing twofer: Zack Van Amburg, whose father Tom ran Los Angeles O&Os KABC-TV and KCBS-TV in the 1980s; and Jamie Erlicht, whose pop, Lew, served as ABC’s entertainment chief until shortly before I started obsessing over who occupied those corner offices. Perusing other showbiz news hasn’t offered much of a break either. There was manager-producer Gavin Polone leading Team Coco on behalf of client Conan O’Brien, just as his TV movie producer-executive mom, Judith, was known as a tough negotiator. And Charlie Sheen has kept “Two and a Half Men” in the headlines, no doubt creating tsuris for its producers, a roster that includes Eric Tannenbaum — whose father, Tom, ran Viacom Prods. in my beardless-boy days. And so it goes. Will J.J. Abrams reprise his role by directing the “Star Trek” sequel? I don’t know, but his success only reminds me how I started out writing about his dad, Gerry, when he oversaw Hearst Entertainment. Then there was that review of “The Mechanic,” a remake shepherded along by the sons of Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff, who produced the original nearly 40 years ago. (Had I actually reported on that, Variety would have been in violation of child labor laws.) I confess, encountering such legacies when in my 20s occasionally produced pangs of resentment. My parents didn’t own any newspapers, and no matter how much I begged and pleaded, Rupert Murdoch (who has a well-documented record of employing his kids) simply refused to adopt me. Over time, though, my outlook has evolved. Given the subjective nature of Hollywood, a familiarity with its inner, sometimes-arcane workings offers such heirs an edge, beyond the obvious foot-in-the-door connections. So there is value in the perspective of having grown up over the storefront — even if that storefront is behind a Beverly Hills gate — just as a lot of kids raised in the garment business wind up selling coats, or managing the family’s restaurant, or whatever. Sure, there are those who give nepotism a bad name. Aaron Spelling’s progeny Tori and Randy, whom he cast in his scripted shows before they went on to become reality-TV stars, probably set the lucky-sperm club back 20 years. And we’ve all met the type with an annoying sense of entitlement — kids who were born on third base and believed they had hit a triple. Other than the tinge of mortality such run-ins trigger, however, I’m done with any angst about watching the torch pass and the kids taking over, yielding a new edition of “Hollywood: The Next Generation.” Come to think of it, that strategy certainly worked for “Star Trek.” Want to comment or suggest a column topic? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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