Apr. 28, 2009
DeKoven talks about Hollywood power plays
By Brian Lowry
AS NBC’S MOVIE and miniseries chief, Lindy DeKoven was instrumental in dictating who thrived and didn’t in the TV-movie business during the 1990s. Yet when she took that position, friends sought to provide perspective by presenting her with a little chair that she kept on her desk, bearing a plaque that read, “The power’s in the chair.”
“The sooner you understand that, the better off you’ll be,” DeKoven said over lunch recently.
DeKoven no longer occupies the prime power seat she once did as a program buyer. Yet after post-network stints producing and dabbling in politics by chairing the California Commission on the Status of Women, she’s embarking upon a new endeavor, albeit more from the sidelines. In the venture, Lindy DeKoven Coaching, she’ll offer career counseling and networking opportunities to facilitate advancement in entertainment, sports and politics — “those glamorous areas,” DeKoven said, “that people dream about being in.”
Given the hunger that exists to break into those realms, DeKoven acknowledges that not every dream is informed by reality. In the early stages, she’s already found she winds up telling people not to waste their time more often than not, with plenty of inquiries coming from those with little chance of achieving sudden midlife breakthroughs in Hollywood.
AS FOR THE FEW she can help, DeKoven described her mandate as teaching them how to sell themselves, to “understand the business of the business … and connect them to pros that know that field.” For assistants who eventually covet sitting at their boss’s desk, she added, the key is asking, “What is the job in between where you are and he or she is?”
DeKoven maintains her own experience is enlightening in this regard, having started as a secretary and subsequently working for such high-powered execs as Jeffrey Katzenberg (at Disney), Leslie Moonves (at what was then Lorimar) and Don Ohlmeyer (NBC).
“Along the way, you become who you work for,” she said. “Those attributes stick with you.” In DeKoven’s case, that persona was reflected in a reputation for toughness that seldom endeared her to movie suppliers or talent reps, especially since Ohlmeyer (who amassed what even he jokingly called “screw everyone” money before joining the network) adopted a particularly hard stance against agency packaging fees.
DeKoven concedes to missing aspects of her NBC days — which feels like a different era, even though she left only nine years ago — but insists it has nothing to do with power or influence. It’s more about the competition. Thanks to the network’s boisterous array of personalities in those days, she said, the jousting and jockeying was often as vigorous internally as anything directed at rivals, suppliers or the press.
During those years, DeKoven put on her share of blockbuster miniseries — such as “Gulliver’s Travels” and “The Odyssey” — along with prestige movies and more risibly salacious ones. The pinnacle in that latter category might have been “Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?,” a Tori Spelling gem whose title generated years worth of well-deserved mockery.
SO WITH THE BENEFIT of hindsight, why did the TV movie largely disappear from the broadcast lineups, leaving behind the occasional high-brow HBO project and a lot of three-hankie melodramas on Lifetime and the Hallmark Channel? DeKoven cites multiple culprits.
“There was a lot of sameness,” she conceded. “An event wasn’t an event anymore. That started to dilute it.” She also lays part of the blame on an 18-comedy lineup mandated by NBC brass in New York in the mid-’90s because they were cheaper to produce and attractive to advertisers — a decision that simultaneously over-extended and over-exposed sitcoms while reducing shelf space for movies.
DeKoven’s more activities in the public sector include serving on California’s State Parks & Recreation Commission as well as the Commission on the Status of Women, both appointments by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The latter body holds biennial public hearings to solicit legislative input from women, who share their personal stories on issues such as healthcare and domestic violence.
“It was unbelievably moving,” DeKoven said of those forums, adding with a laugh that suggests some old habits die hard, “I wish I’d known about it when I was doing TV movies.”