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Posts Tagged ‘Matt Blank’

Joe Kernen, Andrew Ross Sorkin and the Skinny on Jessica Simpson’s New Role at Weight Watchers

LunchAtMichaelsNeither rain nor snow (not yet anyway) or a meltdown on Metro North’s Connecticut line (don’t ask!) can keep us from our appointed rounds on Wednesdays at Michael’s. Who else would tell you which talking heads (Star Jones, Joe Kernen, Andrew Ross Sorkin) were holding court in the dining room while pointing out the random sighting of a former beauty queen and even some titled ladies and lords? (Read on and you’ll find out.) We, not of the town car set, braved a very crowded train from Westchester (Note to fellow passengers: garlic on your breakfast isn’t a good thing!) to bring you all the earth-shattering goings on at 55th and Fifth today so you can eat at your desk while searching for Internet spoilers on Sunday’s series finale of Breaking Bad.

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Andy Amill and Diane Clehane

I was joined today by my intrepid Greenwich neighbor Andy Amill, VP of Media Sales at Weight Watchers. I’ve been a lifetime member of Weight Watchers since my days heading up Danskin’s PR department (just try having to wear spandex to work) and wanted to get the skinny on all the incredible innovations the company has implemented over the past year. Have you seen Jennifer Hudson lately? Exactly. Andy tells me that Jennifer has been “an inspiration” to Weight Watcher members. The dynamic multi-media campaign featuring the brand ambassador which launched in 2010 has helped attract plenty of new members. I am also fascinated by the technology behind the company’s barcode scanner app, which members can download to their smart phones. It lets the user zap the UPC of thousands of products in the supermarket and instantaneously get the Weight Watchers PointsPlus value. What will they think of next?

When I mentioned that the Weight Watchers center where I attend meetings had undergone a pretty dramatic makeover a few months back, Andy explained that many stores have been redesigned in the past few years with a contemporary look and feel. “They’re all uniform so members can find a center anywhere and they all look the same,” he tells me. “It really helps them stay connected.” Read more

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Deborah Norville, Miss USA and the Man Behind Those Spitzer Ads

1003_mockup.gifAlthough the ghastly heat of last week that made Manhattan feel more like Calcutta is finally just a memory, it was hard to tear ourselves away from the wall-to-wall coverage on ‘Baby Cambridge’ (who finally has a name — Welcome George Alexander Louis!) to come to lunch at Michael’s today. But once we made our way to 55th and Fifth, it was back to business as usual. The Wednesday lunch crowd has been firing on all cylinders all summer long, and today was no exception.

Aside from the usual suspects (Matt Blank, David Zinczenko) there was, of course, plenty of good people watching to keep us occupied, including the random celebrity sighting  (a very tall Miss USA) and an A-list couple who practically glowed with happiness (Deborah Norville and Karl Wellner). Perhaps that’s because their impeccably well-mannered teenage son, Kyle Wellner, who was dining with them, rose and extended his hand with a “nice to meet you” every time a well-wisher came by. Impressive.

I was joined today by Lisa Linden, longtime public relations adviser to Eliot Spitzer, and Jimmy Siegel of Siegel Strategies. Jimmy is the creative force behind Spitzer’s campaign ads that begun popping up last week online and are now airing on cable and broadcast television in New York City. Jimmy spoke with me exclusively to give me the story behind the new campaign ads that have generated plenty of commentary by politicos everywhere. The self-described “political junkie” first met Spitzer, then running for governor, at a fundraising dinner in late 2005. “I wanted to get into politics, and I was a long time admirer of Eliot when he was the state’s attorney general. I thought he did an amazing job,” Jimmy told me. “At the end of the night, I hung around and, fortified by my third glass of Cabernet, I approached him and said, ‘I want to help get you elected.’” Spitzer gave him then-deputy campaign manager’s Miriam Hess‘ card (who, incidentally, now works with Jimmy) and the rest, as they say, is history.

Diane Clehane and Jimmy Siegel

Jimmy spent over 20 years at BBDO, rising from junior copywriter to vice chairman where he was responsible for some of the most memorable ads ever for Visa, Pepsi and Charles Schwab, and had just formed his own company when he met Spitzer. The campaigns he later created for Spitzer’s gubernatorial run were characterized by The New York Times as “emotionally stirring” and “fresh and effective” by The New York Daily News. This time around, while the objective — getting Spitzer elected — may be the same, the game and the stakes have changed considerably. Read more

Dishing With Countess LuAnn de Lesseps; Willie Geist and Lawrence O’Donnell Hold Court

lunch logoThe oppressive heat couldn’t keep the faithful away  from Michael’s today. I haven’t seen the place this crowded in ages as most tables were set for four (or more). In fact, the place was so jam packed that TV Guide magazine acting CEO and Wednesday regular Jack Kliger was seated in the Garden Room. Unlike a few people I could mention, Jack is far too cool to care  about something as petty as seating arrangements. Just like the rest of the crowd — not.

Carole Radziwill, one of the more recent additions to the cast of  The Real Housewives of New York City was first to arrive in the dining room today. The alarmingly thin socialite was sporting a curious furry accessory that was neither pet nor purse, sky-high platforms and a sweet flowered dress. Carole passed the time waiting for the rest of her party to arrive by taking pictures of the life-size sculptures of sheep that stand in the restaurant’s lounge. Alrighty then.

Speaking of Housewives, I was joined today by one of my favorite members of the franchise, LuAnn de Lesseps, who drove in from the Hamptons for our tete a tete. The statuesque former model (she’s 5’10″!) has always seemed like one of the more down to earth — and dare we say normal — Bravolebrities. She was all that and more. PR princess extraordinaire Catherine Saxton, who knows everyone who is anyone and is off to the south of France in a few days for the first of the big St. Tropez parties aboard Denise Rich‘s yacht, then go off to join Ivana Trump for her party in St. Tropez  before finally landing in Monte Carlo for a whirlwind of swanky dinners (Can we carry your luggage?), arranged for today’s ladies’ lunch. Between bites of crab cakes and salmon tartare, we chatted about LuAnn’s sixth season on RHNYC, her various projects and, of course, her love life. It’s no secret that LuAnn was one of the last ladies to sign on to the new season of the show. “I waited until I was happy with their offer,” she told me, dismissing rumors that the cast was banding together for salary increases. “Things were handled individually.” While she’s too polite to talk about such gauche topics as money — she did write the manners manual Class with the Countess: How to Live With Elegance and Flair, after all!  But she is upfront about her reasons for sticking with the show. “It’s a great platform.” All the better to ride the wave as long as you can, no? Mais oui! ”We didn’t expect it to last this long,” said LuAnn.

Catherine Saxton, Diane Clehane and LuAnn de Lesseps

Like most of the industrious Housewives set, LuAnn has managed to turn in her 15 minutes into a fledgling empire that includes her book, the record “Money Can’t Buy You Class” and several product lines like tabletop that includes melamine dinnerware and elegant bone china which is currently being sold on QVC and Amazon.com (“Inspired by my love of entertaining and my travels”). Next up is a collection of turquoise jewelry with Gem Stone King. “I love costume jewelry!” she said as she flashed a Wilma Flinstone-inspired pearl bracelet by Twisted. Clearly, the serious bling encased in gold on her finger today was the real thing. “Yes, it’s a star sapphire. This ring was designed by the same man who has done jewelry for Queen Elizabeth.” And not, I’m guessing, available on QVC.

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Dishing With Scandal‘s Tony Goldwyn; Catching Up With Michael Strahan

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It was a regular boys club at Michael’s today with not one, but two football legends (Michael Strahan, Frank Gifford), several captains of industry (William Lauder, Jonathan Tisch), publishing hot shots (Jack Kliger, Jared Kushner) and the hottest actor on broadcast television, Tony Goldwyn, who plays the adulterous, murderous President Fitzgerald Grant III on everyone’s guilty pleasure, Scandal. For the record, the power gal contingent was nicely represented by Norah O’Donnell and media mavens Katherine Oliver and Cindy Lewis.

Everyone (and I do mean everyone) was abuzz with Tony’s arrival in the dining room so, of course, I just had to say hello. He couldn’t have been more pleasant about doing an impromptu interview about the runaway success of Scandal and offered his take on being a red hot leading man at 53. It was a bit trippy, really, comparing the relaxed, friendly actor who was casually clad in a plaid shirt and jeans (he’s from Los Angeles, after all) with the uptight, angst-ridden politico he plays on the small screen. Grandson of legendary studio head Samuel Goldwyn, Tony’s has had a journeyman’s career with stints on film (most memorably as villain Carl Bruner in Ghost), television (recurring roles on Dexter and Law & Order: Criminal Intent) and several roles on Broadway, including the musical Promises, Promises. Surprisingly, Goldwyn has never been a staple in the likes of People and the other glossies. When I asked him what it meant to have true stardom come along relatively late in his career he told me, “It’s definitely different than if it had happened earlier; I’m very grateful.”

Tony Goldwyn and Diane Clehane

Speaking of grateful, more than a few of my friends look forward to Tony’s steamy scenes with his co-star Kerry Washington. (His wife, Jane Musky, doesn’t watch those encounters.) “We definitely push the boundaries,” he said. I told him it’s often hard to remember that Scandal is on network television rather than cable. “In a way, it’s because of cable that [series creator Shonda Rhimes] has been able to up the level of things and be more bold.” Read more

Bravo ‘Newlyweds’ Alaska and Kim Dish on Reality TV Instafame

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While it was a bit more subdued than usual at Michael’s today with some of the glitterati off to Cannes and a few others up in Greenwich watching Prince Harry play polo (our invite must have gotten lost in the mail),  the usual mix of editors (Anne Fulenwider, Lucy Danziger) and media moguls (David Zinczenko) were in full power lunch mode celebrating each other’s successes and hatching their next big deals.

I was joined today by Kimberly Cherebin and Alaska Gedeon, stars of the new docu-series Newlyweds: The First Year, which premiered May 6 on Bravo. Also in attendance were the network’s PR marvels, Jennifer Geisser and Julia Nietsch, as well as the happy couple’s manager, Camille White Stern. The show is a hit, having snagged over 1 million viewers for the first episode. With Kimberly stuck in traffic en route from the studio where she was styling Justine Skye‘s new video, I got a chance to chat with Alaska first. I asked him what in the world would possess anyone to allow cameras to follow them during their entire first year of marriage. He told me he’d been absolutely opposed to doing the show at first, and Kimberly asked him “about six or seven times” before he finally agreed. Looking back on the experience (shooting wrapped earlier this year), Alaska said having the details of your daily life play out for all the world to see “forces you to raise the standard of who you are: how you treat others and especially how you treat your wife.” He then added brightly, “It’s like a mirror and like therapy.” So did he like everything he saw reflected back at him? “I just don’t think I’m that big of a jerk,” he said with a laugh. (After meeting him, I’m inclined to agree). “My sarcasm doesn’t always read well on camera.” He also told me that it wasn’t until after he viewed the scene where he and Kimberly discussed their bi-coastal marriage that he realized just how “heartbroken” Kimberly was at the prospect of their separation.

Alaska Gedeon, Kimberly Cherebin and Diane Clehane

When Kimberly arrived, I asked her why she was so enthusiastic about  doing the show, and she admitted that she didn’t exactly know what she was getting into. “At first, I thought it was one of those David Tutera>-type ‘planning your wedding’ shows, and I thought that would be fun, but it was nothing like that,” she explained. Once she did understand that she and Alaska would be agreeing to 10-hour shooting days over the course of year and be required to use their ‘Couples’ Cam’ on each other to capture intimate moments (not that kind, silly), she remained undaunted. “It seems like when you see marriages on TV you either see these fairy tales or something pretty terrible. We have really ‘extreme’ careers, and this was a chance to show how you balance it all.” 

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Isabella Rossellini’s Animal Instincts

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There are lunches at Michael’s and then there are lunches at Michael’s. Today I joined Isabella Rossellini at Table One and had a fascinating conversation with her about aging, celebrity, fashion and gay geese. Stay with me … these seemingly disparate topics are all connected.  Ostensibly there to talk about Mammas, her new series for Sundance Channel which looks at the ways different creatures use their maternal instincts in nature, Isabella did get around to the topic eventually. Yet, there was no feeling of the usual PR spin to the lunch which was attended by a handful of journalists who sat enthralled by her stories of her days as an actress and model and her charming tales of growing up in Rome as the daughter of iconic actress Ingrid Bergman and director Roberto Rossellini.

“The image I have of myself doesn’t correspond to the image people have of me,” she said. “I live on Long Island and I don’t go to fancy parties and premieres. I don’t like that aspect of celebrity. I never said, ‘When I grow up I want to be a celebrity.’” She didn’t have to.  Between her famous parents, ex-husbands (Martin Scorsese and model Jon Wiedemann), her celebrated career as a model and 14-year run as the face of Lancome before the brand dismissed her in 1996 for being ‘too old,’ and her unforgettable turn as tortured nightclub singer Dorothy Vallens in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, she secured a permanent spot in our collective consciousness without employing any of the usual contrivances associated with modern celebrity.

Isabella Rossellini and Diane Clehane

When she showed up to join the small group of journos gathered to meet her (I was lucky enough to score the best seat in the house right next to the guest of honor!) the conversation first turned to fashion as Frazier Moore asked her who designed her understated ensemble of a wool tweed cocoon coat,  navy mandarin collared silk jacket, foulard blouse and simple slacks. She gamely removed her coat to reveal the impeccably tailored pieces designed for her by Christina Bomba in Italy. “It’s less expensive than Donna Karan or Dolce & Gabbana, and I like that I can pick the fabric and have it made just for me,” she said. Isabella told us she can’t relate to the fashion-celebrity complex which has turned the red carpet into big business. “When Mama got dressed for the Oscars, she wasn’t solicited by designers. She didn’t have a committee of business people telling her what to wear. She was loyal to one or two Italian designers, and, when they could no longer make dresses for her, the costume designers from her films created something unique.”

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Matt Blank, Dennis Basso and the Story Behind Meghan McCain’s Latest TV Project

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Last week,  it was all about authors and agents, and today it was television titans’ turn in the rotating cast of characters that is Wednesdays at Michael’s. Tonight when Liz Smith hosts her annual kick-off for her Literacy Partners’ initiative, the joint will be jumping with social types like Diane von Furstenberg (who, we hear, recently broke her shoulder skiing and is, no doubt, sporting a fashionable sling) and her Vespa loving hubby Barry Diller, Cynthia McFadden, Cornelia Guest, Calvin TrillinNan Talese and Gay Talese. We won’t be there to trade air kisses with the glitterati, because we’ll be chatting up our favorite Bravolebrities at their upfront party across town (Giggy, that means you!).

Today I was joined by Evan Shapiro, president of pivot (yes, with a lower case ‘p’) the new cable network targeting the all-important millennial audience  launched by Participant Media, the production company responsible for an impressive slate of projects, including An Inconvenient Truth, The Help and Steven Spielberg‘s Lincoln. Participant chairman and founder Jeff Skoll and CEO Jim Berk tapped Evan to spearhead the company’s expansion into television in May of last year. Prior to that, he had served as president of IFC and Sundance Channel where we was responsible for award-winning program, like the buzzed about Portlandia.

I could barely keep up with Evan, whose passion for his latest gig was evident from the moment he sat down. The incredibly youthful 45-year-old father of two teenage girls told me running pivot is his “dream job,” because he’s doing more than creating what he considers groundbreaking television. “Ten years ago I would have said my dream job would have been at NBC or CBS.  Today, it’s this job because we’re doing something that’s going to have an impact on the world.” Evan dismisses the notion of millennials as spoiled and entitled and instead compares them to ‘the greatest generation’ saying, “Like ‘the greatest generation,’ they have been handed a series of events not of their own making, and, post 9/11 and the Great Recession, they have a real sense of their place in the world and want to make a difference.”

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Joe Kernen Settles a Bet, Plus the Return of Michael Wolff

1003_mockup.gifThreats of yet another winter storm (We’re begging for mercy!) didn’t keep the faithful from Michael’s today. In fact, the dining room was even more crowded than usual as some of the city’s biggest hot shots cooled their heels at the bar and in the lounge as they waited to be seated among the power brokers and media mavens. There was plenty of air kisses and glad handing among the talking heads (Joe Kernen, Rosanna Scotto), television titans (Matt Blank, Henry Schleiff) and fashionable folk (Julie Macklowe). After all, what’s the point of having a power lunch in this town if the right people aren’t there to see it — or write about it? Happy to oblige.

PR maven extraordinaire Catherine Saxton, who has represented some of Manhattan’s most well known swells (and how do you think they got that way?) invited me to join an eclectic and energetic group for lunch today. I was seated between Khashy Eyn and Daniel Hedaya of Platinum Properties and nearly got whiplash as I listened to these real estate wunderkinds regale me with tales of their incredible success since launching their firm in 2005. (Khashy, the firm’s CEO and co-founder, is 31 and Daniel, the president, is all of 26.)  Khashy, who has been in real estate since he was a teenager, came to the United States from Iran when his family fled during the revolution. Daniel, who grew up in Great Neck, dropped out of culinary school before landing a job at a boutique brokerage firm.  Khashy and his sister, co-founder and COO Dezireh Eyn (“The brains of the operation,” says Khashy), launched the company and later tapped Daniel to join them.

(Left to Right) Daniel Hedaya, Diane Clehane, Khashy Eyn, Christian Giovanni Curato, Catherine Saxton and Vicki Downey

Daniel, who will appear in episode seven of  the new season of HG-TV’s Selling New York, told me high rollers and regular folk get the same stellar treatment from the firm.  ”Whether our company is working with a client looking for a $2,500 rental or someone selling a $50 million property, we provide the same level of service. It is very important to us that everyone of our clients receive the same high level of concierge service from us. Manhattan real estate is unlike other markets in the country where the agents handle so many parts of a transaction. Here, we sell or rent the property, negotiate the deal and turn it over to an attorney. But many of our clients want us to handle everything and we do.”

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Tory Burch’s Ex Dines With Ron Perelman; Kelly Bensimon Goes Back to School

1003_mockup.gifAs much as we’d like to, we can’t deliver dish from Oscar winners (Shirley MacLaine) and supermodels (Naomi Campbell, Coco Rocha and Karolina Kurkova) every week. After a head-spinning cycle of chats with A-listers, the celebrity quotient at Michael’s was of the low-wattage variety today with reality television refugee Kelly Killoren Bensimon and comedian Robert Wuhl representing the famous (infamous?) contingent. We suspect after the Academy Awards and most schools’ winter breaks are over next week, things will be back to the usual Fellini-esque circus at 55th and Fifth.

I was joined today by SELF vice president and publisher Laura McEwen and the magazine’s director of public relations, Lauren Theodore. It was a fortuitously timed lunch (isn’t it always?), because the newly reinvigorated title is on a roll. Even before our lunch, the colorful cover of the March issue featuring starlet of the moment Julianne Hough caught my eye. It turns out, the issue debuted a new, more “extroverted” all-black logo which seems to capture the forward motion of the Conde Nast title perfectly. Since its launch in 1979, the magazine has been the bible for young fitness-focused women. Now, says Laura, the title has stepped up its mission and embraced a more encompassing philosophy of “Body/Looks/Life.”  ”They are all inseparable today,” explains Laura. “When it first launched, SELF started a movement but now it’s a way of life that has gone mainstream.”

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Showtime CEO Talks to Bloomberg Television About the Huge Impact of Homeland

It was four, five years ago that Showtime CEO Matt Blank saw the writing on the wall. In a fascinating interview with Bloomberg TV’s Deirdre Bolton, he notes that the prices for movie broadcast rights from certain Hollywood studios were becoming prohibitive at the time and led him, to the outcry of naysayers, to redirect that money into the development of original programming.

 

Today, Showtime is sitting pretty with the most decorated and buzzed about drama on TV, Homeland. It’s the show that, as Blank puts it, “people stop me on the street and want to talk about.”

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