I still remember about 12 years ago, sitting with my television agent Greg Lipstone at a sandwich shop in Los Angeles. Greg was one of the heads of television for the mega-entertainment agency William Morris. We had a few meetings scheduled with television show runners to talk about a drama series I had thought up, but there was a 90-minute gap between those meetings. We finished our sandwiches in about 15 minutes, then Greg looked at me and said, “You know, I’ve always thought you would be great as a talk show host. Warner Brothers is right across the street. We’ve got some time to kill. Let’s walk over and see if anyone will take a meeting.”
I was fresh off what had felt like a big disappointment to me. Expert Witness, a television pilot I had sold to CBS and executive produced (with Matthew Modine in the leading role), hadn’t been ordered as a series by the network (even though they spent $5 million on the pilot). I wasn’t up for pie-in-the-sky ideas. “Greg,” I said. “I want to stick with projects that might actually get produced. No one walks in and gets a talk show. No one gets a talk show, period, pretty much. It’s one in a million.”
“Yeah,” he said. “That’s true.” He finished his bag of chips, while we talked about my kids and his kids. Then he looked up at me, again, and said, “We might as well just go over there, right? We have too much time to just sit here.”
I decided to humor him. I mean, I figured the whole thing might make for a few laughs on the way back down to the Warner Brothers lobby, after a very quick don’t-call-us-we’ll-call-you discussion, with an executive assistant, upstairs.
Greg and I took the elevator up to the Telepictures offices (the television syndication arm of Warner Brothers). He walked up to the receptionist in the lobby. “I wondered if Lisa Hackner might be around,” he said. I didn’t know it, but Lisa Hackner had worked with Tyra Banks and other talk show hosts.
“What can I tell her this is about?” the receptionist asked.
“Please tell her Greg Lipstone is here, and I just want five minutes to introduce her to a psychiatrist who I think would be great on television,” Greg said.
The assistant picked up the phone and delivered the message. I was ready for a semi-polite dismissal. Instead, she looked at us and said, “Lisa’s eating lunch, but if that doesn’t bother you, she said I could show you to her office.”
Well, that hadn’t gone at all the way I’d thought it would.
Two hours later, after telling Lisa what I loved about working with patients and why I thought moments of searing insight could be achieved, even on a talk show, she asked me if I could stay an extra two days in Los Angeles, if she could pretty much promise me a contract for a talk show by the end of the two days.
I decided to humor her, just like I had Greg. “Sure,” I said. “I’ll stay. But if you talk about contracts with, say, 20 percent the people who come by for lunch, when only 1 in 1,000 really happen, then I could go home before the weekend, which would be okay, too.”
“I don’t talk about contracts after one meeting, basically, ever,” she said.
Two days later, much to my surprise, I signed a contract for the pilot of The Dr. Keith Ablow Show, which was taped at Rockefeller Center and ran for a full year—180 episodes, as I recall—in over 90 percent of the nation.
Lesson learned: Do not assume that lightning cannot strike. Do not be afraid to ask for exactly what you want, as a creator. In artistic endeavors, take every shot you get.
What would you love to do? Who are the gatekeepers and stakeholders you need to reach to make it happen? Don’t assume you can’t connect with them or that your ideas won’t move them. And if you want to team up with someone to make that happen, I’m right here. Just let me know. Because I’m convinced now that the universe brings people together, often at just the right times, for just the right reasons.
Keith Ablow, MD
Founder, Keith Ablow Creative, Inc.