“Genius” premiered on Nat Geo Tuesday night, and for EUE/Sokolow Entertainment, one of the production companies behind the 10-part anthology series on Albert Einstein, it marks the culmination of a dream that has been in the works for years.
“As early as 10 years ago, my brother Chris and I had been working on an Einstein feature project, but we couldn’t find the right IP,” company creative director Jeff Cooney told Variety. “Then Walter Isaacson’s book [‘Einstein: His Life and Universe’] changed everything. So a good friend of ours who worked at OddLot Entertainment called and said Gigi [Pritzker] was really interested and would we want to partner on a feature. So, really a fine script came of it but a lot of directors found the story a bit daunting, like ‘I can’t tell this story in two and a half hours.'”
Thus, the Cooneys and their friend Sam Sokolow (pictured above), the president of EUE/Sokolow, worked with OddLot to turn the project into a TV series. “In two and a half hours, there’s certain parts of Einstein’s life you have to focus on, like the story of the atom bomb,” Sokolow said. “That pulls focus to the later years…but with television, when you have a 10-hour format, you can delve deeply into the personal dramas and relationships, like his first wife. You can then really tell the story of his sweeping life set against two world wars, the rise of Nazism, and J. Edgar Hoover’s Red scare.”
The project marked EUE/Sokolow’s biggest success since opening their doors in 2010, something Cooney attributed to a mix of good luck and good work. “Finding that pathway and re-imagining it, we never thought there would be a brand like ‘Genius.’ That was one of the great treasures that came out of this…But good luck is the residue of hard work as the saying goes and we had our nose to the grindstone for years. It’s so exciting to have this kind of payoff.”
But the work is not done with “Genius,” even though it has already been renewed for a second season. The company is currently pitching the project “Co-Op”, a television show created by and starring Zachary Levi, as well as an untitled digital series produced with Jaleel White and Pitbull’s Honey, I’m Home Inc. Sokolow says that the company is meant to operate outside the traditional television studio system and focus instead on the artists.
“I think a big difference that EUE/Sokolow brings is that we’re a true independent operating at the high-end of the television industry, an industry that has predominantly been closed to independent money and independent companies,” he said. “We envisioned having a company that can create premium shows and really support the artists’ vision and then set them up on the open market.”
And Sokolow knows a thing about being an independent. After directing commercials for a New York ad agency, he helped raise almost $100,000 to fund the independent feature “The Definite Maybe.” The film shot in New York and featured actors such as Al Franken, Bob Balaban, and Roy Scheider.
“We felt that my being a New Yorker, shooting in New York, and having a terrific cast of New York talent, we were going to get an invitation to the Tribeca Film Festival,” he said. “And we didn’t get into the festival with that movie…20 years later to the month of making ‘The Definite Maybe,’ we had a big red carpet premiere for ‘Genius’ down at the Tribeca Film Festival. All it took was coming out to LA and working for 15, 16 years. But those dreams do come true and they come true by waking up everyday and doing good, high-quality work.”