Where else could you possibly find friends of reality stars (Come on, you can’t expect an A-lister sighting every week) and the last vestiges of Cafe Society all in one room? If it’s Wednesday, at Michael’s, of course. I couldn’t even begin to do justice to the head-spinning scene there today, so I’ll just let the roster of what passes for celebrity sightings these days speak for itself.
I was so excited about today’s lunch, because I was meeting the woman responsible for greenlighting one of my favorite shows, Mad Men. Christina Wayne has had an amazing career – she also is responsible for getting Breaking Bad on air — and I found her story fascinating. Had it not been for Christina’s spot-on instincts, Matt Weiner‘s script, which had been floating around for eights years at that point, might not ever have seen the light of day. The former AMC senior vice-president of scripted series and mini-series is now president of Cineflix Studios and executive producer of the new BBC America series, Copper — but I’m getting ahead of myself.
A born and bred New Yorker who grew up on the Upper East Side, Christina decided to move back after 12 years in Los Angeles for personal reasons in 2005 (“There was no one left to date!”) and after receiving a call from a friend asking if she’d be interested in working with AMC. Up until that point, the network was pretty much airing nothing but old movies. “I had no idea what AMC was. I thought he was talking about the movie theater chain,” said Christina. Back then, the basic cabler was looking to develop scripted content; Christina signed on as a consultant as the net’s “creative voice,” but didn’t want to tell her screenwriter friends since, at the time, working in television seemed like a step down and “an embarrassment.”
She started by calling everyone she knew in L.A. and wound up with the script for Broken Trail, a huge hit starring Robert Duvall that got the greenlight in eight days. When she read the script for Mad Men on a flight back from Los Angeles, she knew she had something special. AMC wasn’t able to get a studio to pick it up, so the pilot was self-financed for $3.3 million and the rest, as they say, is television history. Without a huge marketing budget, Christina attributes a lot of Mad Men‘s buzz to the nonstop coverage it received in The New York Times who covered the show from every angle possible. “The show was their lovechild,” she said. And still is, I’d say.
After four years of generating commercial and critical successes for what turned into one of the hottest network’s on television, Christina says, “I was seeing a lot of people getting very wealthy, and I took stock and decided I wanted to have more ownership in the shows I worked on.” She found that opportunity at Cineflix Studios where as president, she is responsible for the company’s scripted programming worldwide. Working from the Canadian-based company’s Manhattan offices in Soho, Christina finds herself dealing with talent and executives from all over the world on any given day and loves the creative energy and freedom that allows her to produce groundbreaking television. “I want to work with people with a passion for the business,” she told me. Nice work if you can get it.
Christina tells me she couldn’t be happier about coming back to Manhattan where she and husband her raising their two and a half year old daughter Auden (named for the poet). I’m always curious about how these high powered Gotham goddess do it all balancing careers with the increasing demands of motherhood so I had to ask Christina how she does it. “I’ve got a great nanny,” Christina told me. “She’s the same woman who has been with my daughter since she was born.” Proving my theory that behind every really busy woman is another woman picking up the slack.
And Christina is definitely very busy these days. Her latest show, Copper, a one-hour period crime drama for BBC America debuts next month. It’s the channel’s first original drama and it takes place in New York in 1864 and chronicles the life of an intense Irish-American cop (Is there any other kind?) who is a quest to learn the truth about his wife’s disappearance and the death of his young daughter. She began developing the show while at AMC. I’ve seen the trailerand it’s clear that Christina, who is one of the show’s executive producers, has another hit on her hands. Written by Will Rokos (Monster’s Ball) with Tom Fontana (Homicide) as show runner, the production has a gripping cinematic quality (think Gangs of New York) that captures this fascinating historic period in New York City through the eyes of a Lower East Side detective who has an arresting set of acquaintances who lives are joined by their shattering experiences on the battlefields of the Civil War. Nineteeth century New York plays a huge role in the show. “Having grown up here, I’m fascinated by things set in historical New York. I look at buildings that have been around since that time and think about the lives of the people who lived there all those years ago,” says Christina. The show premieres on BBC America on August 19 at 10 pm. We’ll be watching. You’d be ‘mad’ not to.
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
1 & 2. Hollywoodlife.com’s editor Bonnie Fuller, publisher Carlos Lamadrid and Penske Media’s Vice Chairman Gerry Byrne, presiding over a cast of thousands including Nyle Washington and Keisha Williams from VH1; David Rose, founder of NY Angels; Jane Friedman; Dick Wilde, director, ABC News developments and partnerships; reporter Richard Behar, Thrillist Media Group’s Philippe Guelton, Movieline’s new editor Frank DiGiacomo, Bravo’s SVP, Jennifer Geisser, and communications manager, Ryan McCormick. Upping the head-turning factor: Kim Kardashian BFF and reality show supporting player Jonathan Cheban. We heard Mob Wives Jennifer Graziano, Renee Graziano and Ramona Rizzo were expected but couldn’t make it. They must have gotten tied up. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.
5. Stan Shuman
6. The lovely Joan Jakobson and pals
7. Christina Wayne and yours truly
11. Marc Graboff, formerly of NBC
12. Town & Country’s SVP and chief revenue office (What a title!) Valerie Salembier and a handsome gent dressed in his summer finery
14. ‘Mayor’ Joe Armstrong and HarperCollins’ Jonathan Burnham. We were surprised to see that the Mayor relinquished his usual perch at Table Three, but a little birdie told me the guys wanted to put a little distance between themselves and all the excitement in the window. Maybe that’s because these old pals had much to talk about. Joe, who is off to The Hole in The Wall Gang Camp next week for his yearly stint as counselor working with seriously ill kids, came waving the flag he’d gotten at the Queen’s Jubilee for Jon, while Jon bestowed a first edition (1939!) of Our Princesses and Their Dogs, a charming book of childhood photos of Queen Elizabeth, her sister Princess Margaret and the first in a long line of Corgis. Hail Britannia!
15. Lally Weymouth
17. Judy Price
18. Quest’s Chris Meigher
20. Boaty Boatwright
23. Peter Price
24. Scalamandre’s president Steven Stolman with Rich Wilkie (enjoying his first lunch at Michael’s — welcome to the club!) and Washington power couple Mark Lowham and Joe Ruzzo. We hear Mark recently acquired a majority stake in TTR Sotheby’s, the swanky realtor who sells those tony Georgetown town houses to D.C.’s A-list.
25. RLM Finsbury’s Ed Adler
27. Journo-turned-playwright Jill Brooke, whose new play about food allergies entitled “What’s Eating You?” is, we’re hear, going gangbusters. Congrats!
28. Shari Rollins
29. Nancy Hodin
Faces in the crowd: Lewis Stein and The Wall Street Journal‘s David Sanford in the Garden Room. David was sporting some great-looking red specs which I loved. He told me he was inspired by a piece he edited about some NBA players who have adopted the affectation of wearing glasses (some without lenses) to appear sharper and, ahem, smarter. Suffice to say, David’s new frames (prescription lenses) need only help his vision but do enhance all his great qualities… At the bar: my good pal, designer David Biscaye, who was in and out before I had the chance to go over and say hello. See you next week!
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