So You Want to Be a Producer
Here's the first thing you need to know -- Hollywood can be cutthroat, but if show business is your calling and producing is what floats your boat, you need to catch the next Greyhound bus and get your butt out here.
While you're packing for the trip, here is my unsolicited two cents -- with one disclaimer -- I don't claim to be the greatest producer, and I know my opinions aren't always right. But since I'm about to launch my own talk show, I've been spending a lot of time studying one of the two best talk show hosts of all time -- Oprah Winfrey. (If you don't know the other one, do some research.)
Whether you're a fan or not, 'The Oprah Winfrey Show' is the single greatest daytime talk show ever produced. She dominated daytime television for decades and I truly believe that it comes down to two very important reasons: (A) Oprah is a phenomenal talent; and (B) she has stellar producers.
During the taping of the final season of her show, Oprah produced a series for the OWN Network that gave us a behind the scenes look of each show -- warts and all, and it was a master class on how to produce a show.
In episode one, we got a window into the guest they wanted to book (John Travolta), the big reveal they wanted to pull off (giving a trip to Australia to the entire audience), how they wanted to present it (with a jet pulling into the studio), and a secret mission to send a group of "ultimate fans" on a road trip, culminating with all of the arriving on stage at the precise time during the show.
It was -- to put it mildly -- a HUGE undertaking.
The producer in charge of the episode has all the qualities you could ask for in a producer, starting with confidence. Nobody is going to follow you if you don't know where you are heading.
The key to her confidence is that it comes from experience. She's not posing. She's been through the fire and pushes herself (and her team) to go just a touch further than they ever have before. To pull that off you have to put yourself on the line. All great producers must be willing to put their reputation -- and sometimes their career -- on the line for an idea they believe in.
It was the first episode of the season and Oprah didn't just want to make a splash, she wanted it to go off without a hitch. She was clearly nervous, but she let them run with it. And that's a great quality to have in a leader. You have to show your team that you believe in them, and I guarantee that most of the time they'll rise up and prove you right.
As the episode continues we get to see that the producer is good at delegating tasks without micromanaging. Just like Oprah, she showed her team that she believed in them. Nobody wants to be henpecked. Choose the best person to complete a job and leave them alone to do it.
The entire team works long hours, another quality expected of any legitimate producer. If there's work to be done, it has to get done. Yes, this means at the expense of other things, including at times, your family. It can be a very demanding job and if you come up for air even for a moment, there is another young producer waiting in the wings to take your job.
Late in the show, Oprah had a closed-door meeting with her team and asked, "Can you pull this off?" The producer's response? "You said you wanted big! Let's go for it and I'll take the fall if it fails."
That said two very important things to Oprah: (A) the producer believes the idea will work; and (B) if it doesn't work, the producer knows she's responsible, which means it's probably going to work! You really can't ask for more from a producer.
Don't get me wrong. Oprah would have been upset if the show bombed, but that's the risk you take when you try something new. You can't guarantee success, but a good producers will put herself in the best position for success.
The bottom line is that a lot of people call themselves producers, but most of them are pretenders. A truly talented producer will stay employed for a long time and make a nice living, because they're rare. So if you really want to be a producer, I wish you great adventures.
And as you might imagine, Oprah's show went off without a hitch.