Jon Feltheimer doesn’t want a new “Mad Men.”
“If you came to us and said that you have a new show that’s another ‘Mad Men,’ we’d probably not be interested,” Lionsgate’s co-chairman and CEO said in a recent interview. “Great television is about being the next ‘Mad Men’ without being anything like ‘Mad Men.’ ”
Feltheimer is set be honored Oct. 5 as Mipcom 2010 Personality of the Year and will deliver a keynote address as part of the confab’s Media Mastermind series of presentations. Mipcom is saluting Feltheimer’s 25-year career at independent studios Lionsgate, New World and Sony; previous winners include Ted Turner, Sumner Redstone, Leslie Moonves, Richard Parsons, Tom Freston, Peter Chernin, Gustavo Cisneros, Gerhard Zeiler and Canal Plus founder Andre Rousselet.
Lionsgate, perhaps best known on the feature side for Tyler Perry comedies, “Precious” and the “Saw” franchise, has quietly grown in TV production over the past decade. On Aug. 29, “Mad Men,” “Weeds” and “Nurse Jackie” combined to win seven Emmys.
“When we look at the industry, it’s a great time for television because you’re seeing great shows on cable and the (broadcast) networks,” Feltheimer notes. “The marketplace is clamoring for great television.”
During his decade-long tenure at Lionsgate with vice chairman Michael Burns, the company has branched into TV syndication via Debmar-Mercury, half-ownership of the TV Guide Network and co-ownership with Paramount and MGM of the Epix pay cable channel. New Lionsgate shows in the past year include “Blue Mountain State” (Spike) and “Running Wilde” (Fox).
It’s been the TV business that’s fueled most of the growth in Lionsgate’s annual revenues, now topping $1.8 billion — the highest revenue-per-employee figure in show business.
“Being different is what makes our business great with shows that broke the mold like ‘ER,’ ‘Mad About You’ and ‘The Nanny,” he said. “That’s why ‘Weeds’ and “Nurse Jackie’ are working so well for us.”
Feltheimer already had a solid track record before he and Burns joined Lionsgate in 2000. While at Sony, Feltheimer was involved with “Mad About You,” “The Nanny,” “Dawson’s Creek,” “Party of Five” and “The King of Queens.”
“The keys in television have always been finding material that works and taking away as much risk as possible,” he notes, while giving credit to TV production president Kevin Beggs.
“We have a very aggressive filter in Kevin,” he added. “He has a great understanding of the audience that you’re going after on each show and whether the return on investment is sufficient.”
“Running Wilde,” for example, has the potential for significant ancillary sales on DVD plus tax credits from being shot in Pennsylvania and New Mexico.
Feltheimer, in particular, has been under attack this year by Carl Icahn, who’s waged a prolonged hostile takeover of the minimajor. He credits Burns for dealing with that evolving drama, in which Lionsgate has insisted that Icahn’s allegations of excessive spending don’t hold water.
“We believe in what we’re doing,” Feltheimer notes. “We’re staying with our routine at the core and doing pretty well. I think we can continue the same kind of growth effectively, given that our overhead is not that significant.”