WASHINGTON WATCH: What Does It Take To Green Light A Quality TV Series In Hollywood? (VIDEO)

Of all the people who have ideas for movies or television series there is a very small portion of them who are actually able to get it done.

What does it take to get the green light to produce quality television series and films in Hollywood? Roland Martin talks with some of the people who have been able to crack the code. Actor, comedian, director, writer, Robert Townsend; the producer behind “Think Like a Man,” Will Packer. Television writer and producer of the new TV One series “Belles,” Ed Weinberger and Devon Franklin, senior vice president for Sony Pictures and author of Produced by Faith.

MR. MARTIN:  Welcome back, folks.

Of all the people who have ideas for movies or television series – I’m sure you’ve got some friend that[’s] got their own idea – there is a very small portion of them who are actually able to get it done.

What does it take to get the green light to produce quality television series and films in Hollywood?  We have some of the folks who have been able to crack the code here with us today.  We have actor, comedian, director, writer, janitor – he does it all


MR. MARTIN:  — Robert Townsend.  Also, the producer behind “Think Like a Man,” and he is the HBCU marketing king, my Alpha brother Will Packer.  Also, the only white guy in the studio, television writer and producer of the new TV One series “Belles,” Ed Weinberger.

We always gotta go there, Ed, ’cause – you can smile Ed.  I mean, seriously.

MR. ED WEINBERGER:  No, I don’t smile.  I don’t smile.

MR. MARTIN:  Okay.  Ed, who’s also –

MR. WEINBERGER:  That’s my –

MR. MARTIN:  — going to be on the panel.

MR. WEINBERGER:  — that’s my trademark.

MR. MARTIN:  [Chuckles.]

MR. WEINBERGER:  I’m sorry.  [Chuckles.]


MR. MARTIN:  And Devon Franklin, senior vice president for Sony Pictures and author of Produced by Faith.

All right, folks, welcome to the show.

OFF CAMERA:  Thank you.

OFF CAMERA:  Thank you.


OFF CAMERA:  Thanks for having us.

MR. MARTIN:  All right.  First off, I’ve got to ask.  How many times do you get hit by people who go, “Hey!  Man, I got a killa idea!” for a movie or a show?

OFF CAMERA:  Every day.

MR. MARTIN:  Do the eyes in your head just roll back, and you’re like, “Oh, my God.  Do I really want to hear this?”

MR. WILL PACKER:  You know what?  All the time, I’m sure we all do.  I don’t roll the eyes, ’cause I’m so blessed to be in this position.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. PACKER:  I remember being that guy that was pushing and hustling and pitching my stuff.

It’s tough when, like – you know, I get hit up by the family.  Like, I’ll get hit up –

MR. MARTIN:  [Chuckles.]

MR. PACKER:  — ten times –


MR. PACKER:  — before I leave the house.

MR. MARTIN:  And you’re going, “Okay, seriously?  I just came here to eat”?

MR. PACKER:  Like, “Really, Auntie?  Like, seriously?”


MR. PACKER:  So, you know.  But I get it, because, you know, as you introduced us, there’re not a lot of folks that are making content that’s aimed at, or about, African-Americans.  So, there’s not a lot of us to go to.  So, yeah, we’re getting hit up a lot.

MR. WEINBERGER:  Everybody has a reality show.

MR. MARTIN:  Oh, my goodness!

MR. WEINBERGER:  And so you’re getting more and more pitches, but – so, you want to be kind, but at the same time, I always say, you know, the idea is really a good idea.  It’s who’s going to do it.  Who’s going to execute it?  And that becomes the key, because the idea is usually not the key to selling a show – at least in my mind.  The key is how well you can execute that idea.

MR. MARTIN:  Now, to your point about who’s going to do it, a lot of people really don’t understand – I mean you did “The Cosby Show.”  And a lot of folks forget other networks passed on “The Cosby Show” before NBC said yes.

MR. WEINBERGER:  I’m not familiar with — [chuckles].  When I –

MR. MARTIN:  [Chuckles.]

MR. WEINBERGER:  — it was an NB- —

MR. MARTIN:  I mean Bill Co- —


MR. MARTIN:  — Bill Cosby’s talked about it.  He said that, again, the idea went to other networks, and they said, “M-m-m-m, we don’t know,” and then NBC said yes.  And so the point there is that you may have a great idea, that somebody might not get it, but another place may say, “We actually like it.”

MR. WEINBERGER:  That’s an example of how hard it is, because you have one of the funniest men who ever lived, and he can’t get – [chuckles] – on a network.  You’ve got problems – not with him, but with the networks.  And I think –

MR. PACKER:  You know – and also to your point, Roland, almost every show or movie that’s out there has been passed on, has been told no.  So, that’s something that, people who are trying to create content, trying to get in the industry, take that to heart.  I mean people are going to say no

OFF CAMERA:  Um-hum.

MR. PACKER:  I mean, like, the first kind of big movie that I had was “Stomp the Yard.”  Everybody said no.

OFF CAMERA:  Right.  Right.

MR. PACKER:  Everybody passed on “Stomp the Yard” –

MR. MARTIN:  It was black people –

MR. PACKER:  — and –

MR. MARTIN:  — steppin’ at a college?

MR. PACKER:  — steppin’ at a college?

MR. MARTIN:  “Naw, we ain’t doin’ that movie!”

MR. PACKER:  With more black people at that college?  “What is this?”

And we went back – we finally got that made at Sony.  We went back twice there after everybody told us no and then got it done.  So, that story about “The Cosby Show” – and I know we all have stories of projects that you really have to just will them.  You’re going to get told no.

MR. WEINBERGER:  I had a show – a script.  I did a spec script.  I turned it in, and my agent rejected it – not –

MR. MARTIN:  [Laughs.]

MR. WEINBERGER:  — and my agent –

MR. MARTIN:  Still your agent?

MR. WEINBERGER:  — wait.  My agent – no.  No, he isn’t.


MR. WEINBERGER:  My agent rejected it, and he said, “But it only has four people.  It has only four people in the show.”

And I said, “Well, so did ‘The Honeymooners.  So did Lucy and De- – the ‘Lucy’ show.  So did ‘Seinfeld.’  They all had four people.  What are you talking about, ‘It only has four people’?”

So, nobody really knows anything, and the whole key to this is you’ve got to keep at it.

MR. MARTIN:  Devon, is your fear [that] a project comes in front of you, and you go, “I’ll go ahead and pass,” and, man, it hits later like craps, and you’re going, “Whoo, man!  What was I thinkin’?”

MR. DEVON FRANKLIN:  No.  You know what?  A lot of times – I mean at least in the studio world – you don’t get punished or penalized for the movies you don’t make, and you have to pick the movie that works for what you want, what you can market, and what your studio needs.  So, I don’t really trip off of that.  I look at it [as] does it speak to me as an idea [that] I think will connect to an audience, and do I know how to do it.  There’re a lot of commercial ideas that may come, but it’s just not something that I know how to do, so I’ll pass it off to another executive, or say –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. FRANKLIN:  — “Hey, that’s just not for us,” because it doesn’t fit with our mandate.

So, I don’t worry about that.  I really look at does it work for us.  Is this what we need?  And if it is, go ahead and do it.

MR. MARTIN:  Robert, for you, you’ve made it clear that you’re not going to be just locked into just the big screen.  I mean you’ve looked at television, digital stuff.  Your deal is it’s about the content, the idea and getting it out to the masses.

MR. ROBERT TOWNSEND:  You know, here’s the thing.  Content will always be king.  You know, when we have all these new devices and everything, it’s about the original idea.  So, the thing to me –

MR. MARTIN:  Here we go.  Here we go.

MR. TOWNSEND:  — yeah.


MR. TOWNSEND:  But it’s like what do you want to see on your iPad?  What do you want to see on your iPhone?  So, for me – I’ve been in this game a long time.  I still love it, and we still need great content.  So, I think there will always be a slot available somewhere

MR. MARTIN:  Yeah.

MR. TOWNSEND:  — for that idea, if that idea is genuinely well-written, well-produced, because it’s like what Ed was saying.  “Who’s going to do it?”  And, for me, as creator, I love creating; and so I know there’s always going to be a slot for something that I’m doing.

MR. MARTIN:  What about also understanding that you can make the product, but it’s also how do you get it out to folks there in the wider public?  I mean, Will, a lot of folks were stunned with “Think Like a Man.”  What they didn’t understand was you laid the groundwork before the movie came out to get the audience hyped, expecting it – because traditional Hollywood sat there and said, “That’s really not going to work.”

MR. PACKER:  Yeah.  I mean, you know, for me, it’s a two-part attack to marketing.  You[’ve] got the aerial game and the ground game.  The studios know how to do the aerial game.  That’s, like, the big radio, outdoor, television commercials.

MR. MARTIN:  He’s been talking to the Obama campaign.  That’s who he’s been talking to.


MR. MARTIN:  Go ahead.

MR. PACKER:  It works.  I don’t care what it is.  If you’re talking about, you know, a political campaign, or you’re talking about selling content.  If you can go out and touch people and make people feel like, “This is something authentic and organic, and I want to care about it, and I want to get invested in it” – and that’s what – you know, I[’ve] got to give credit to my cast, led by Kevin Hart, who’s just a social media king –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. PACKER:  — and the whole, entire cast working with me.  And I said, “You know what?  The studio’s going to do what they’re going to do.  We’re going to go out.  We’re going to hustle and push this film as if we have no marketing coming from the studio.  We’re going to make people sick and tired of hearing about this on” – Twitter, on Facebook and Instagram and whatever methods that we could find.  But at the end of the day, that worked, and so we had a strong ground game –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. PACKER:  — with that film.

And, yeah, it surprised Hollywood.  They didn’t think it was going to do what it did.

MR. MARTIN:  And, of course, every studio head blew your phone up [and] said, “I need to meet this guy Will Packer.”

MR. PACKER:  [Chuckles.]

MR. MARTIN:  “What the heck was he doing?”

Okay.  Real quick, Robert, what you got comin’ up?

MR. TOWNSEND:  My new film is called “Playing for Love.”  I just finished shooting in Miami, and I’m really excited.  I’m in the editing room now.  And “In the Hive” just is released in Chicago, and is coming out on BET, as a matter of fact, this week.

MR. MARTIN:  Will?

MR. PACKER:  Shout-out to Robert for paving the way for people like me, first of all.

I got three movies, Roland!  I got a movie called “No” –

MR. MARTIN:  I ain’t in nary a one of ’em!

MR. PACKER:  — we workin’ on it!

MR. MARTIN:  I don’t know why

MR. PACKER:  We’re workin’

MR. MARTIN:  — a brutha cain’t get a call!

MR. PACKER: — on it!  Well, I told you.  If you send me a custom ascot like I been askin’

MR. MARTIN:  I’ll take care of that!

MR. PACKER:  — [crosstalk] –

MR. MARTIN:  Okay.

MR. PACKER:   — can see, my neck is a little dry –

MR. MARTIN:  Y’all all heard it!

MR. PACKER:  — right now.

MR. MARTIN:  I’mma send Will a[n] ascot.

MR. PACKER:  You send me the ascot.

MR. MARTIN:  I’mma be in one of his movies.

MR. PACKER:  We’re gon’ put ’im in the movie.

MR. MARTIN:  Okay.

MR. PACKER:  There it is.  He may not be in focus, but he gon’ be in the movie.

MR. MARTIN:  Oh!  Okay.

MR. PACKER:  Here’s the thing.  So, I got –

MR. MARTIN:  I’mma choke ’im –

MR. PACKER:  — “Thriller” –

MR. MARTIN:  — with the ascot!

MR. PACKER:  — “No Good Deed” with Taraji Henson –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. PACKER:  — and Idris Elba; “About Last Night,” which is a remake of an ’80s classic, Kevin Hart –

MR. MARTIN:  Great movie.

MR. PACKER:  — Michael Ealy, Joy Bryant, Regina Hall; and an action comedy with Kevin Hart and Ice Cube, called “Ride Along” – all dropping next year.

MR. MARTIN:  Okay.  He’s busy.




MR. WEINBERGER:  Boy.  [Chuckles.]  I just have a show coming on.

MR. MARTIN:  [Laughs.]


MR. WEINBERGER:  One – one show – [chuckles] – one TV show –

OFF CAMERA:  That’s all you need.

MR. WEINBERGER:  — coming on TV One at 10 p.m. on Friday, East Coast –

MR. MARTIN:  It’s “Belles.”

MR. WEINBERGER:  — called “Belles.”

MR. MARTIN:  That’s right.

MR. WEINBERGER:  And I hope everybody will get a chance to give it a chance.

MR. MARTIN:  And I know I can at least get on that show.  It’s on the same network I’m on!

All right, Devon.


MR. MARTIN:  You[’ve] got a book.

MR. FRANKLIN:  I[’ve] got a book – my book, Produced by Faith, which is in stores now.  You can download it on your Kindle, your iPad – anywhere.  It’s everywhere.

And also, Will’s next movie, called “After Earth,” which will be out June 7th.

MR. MARTIN:  Okay.  Who’s “Will”?

MR. FRANKLIN:  Will Smith and Jadie Smith.

OFF CAMERA:  A-a-ah!  You don’t say the last name, man.

MR. MARTIN:  Come on, now!  I’m just messin’ witcha.

MR. FRANKLIN:  You know.  It’s like that!  [Laughs.]

MR. MARTIN:  I’m just messin’ witcha.  ’Cause you were on the show a couple of years ago with – when was it?  He said, “Hey, man.”  He said, “Look, if you’re Will or Denz, everybody knew exactly who you were talkin’ about.”

MR. FRANKLIN:  That’s right.  That’s right.

OFF CAMERA:  There ya go.

MR. FRANKLIN:  That’s right.

MR. MARTIN:  All right.  Again, the movie is?

MR. FRANKLIN:  It’s called “After Earth.”  It comes out –

MR. MARTIN:  Cool.

MR. FRANKLIN:  — June 7th in theaters everywhere.

MR. MARTIN:  All right, gents.  I appreciate it.  Robert, Will, Ed, Devon, thanks a bunch.  I look forward to having you back on the show.

MR. PACKER:  Thanks for having me, bro.

MR. TOWNSEND:  Thank you.

MR. FRANKLIN:  Thank you.

MR. WEINBERGER:  Thank you.