Interview Date: Tuesday March 02, 2004
Interview Location: New York City, New York USA
Interviewer: Tom Umstead
Collection: Hauser Collection
UMSTEAD: I’m Tom Umstead for The Cable Center and we’re sitting here with Senior Executive Producer and Senior Vice-President, Showtime Sports and Event Programming, Jay Larkin. Mr. Larkin, when you were growing up as a kid in Long Island did you ever expect to become such a major player in the sports cable television arena?
LARKIN: No, no, not at all, Tom. In fact, it’s kind of a cruel twist of fate. It’s God’s little sense of humor. When I was growing up, my focus was on anything but sports. My focus was more on the arts than anything else, on theater, music, and there weren’t many sports I was interested in as a kid – one or two, maybe, and certainly not your average baseball, football, basketball fan. So it came as a bit of surprise to everybody. I’m sure wherever my father is right now, he’s laughing.
UMSTEAD: Was there anything in your educational background, educational experience that prepared you for this position?
LARKIN: Yeah, I suppose there was. The way I approach the programming and production of boxing in particular on this network is entertainment. I look at sports as entertainment. In fact, there is a very famous quote about boxing. It’s attributed to a theatrical producer in the turn of the century, 1900s, named David Belasco, and he called boxing show business with blood, and in a way that’s how we approach it here in that first and foremost it has to be entertainment for the audience. So my entire background is entertainment. My education was entertainment. My background is in theater and in television producing, and not necessarily in sports. So we approach every fight, every show, as if it is a theatrical presentation and that’s entirely my history.
UMSTEAD: When you came to Showtime, pay-per-view was just developing. Boxing was big, wrestling was big, and HBO was also there in the marketplace. What made you think and what made the folks at Showtime think that there was room for two distributors on the pay-per-view end in terms of boxing?
LARKIN: Well, from an identity perspective, it is true that when we got into the business of boxing in ’86 there really was one player and that was HBO. Our sales force, our marketing force in those days trying to shape a Showtime identity a little more were looking for ways to say that with Showtime you get all the things you get with HBO. You get big concerts, you get theatrical films, you get comedy specials. The one thing we never could say we had that our competitors did was boxing. And again, it’s a question of being in the right place at the right time. One of the major promoters in the industry, Bob Arum of Top Rank, was at odds with HBO, in particular over Marvin Hagler, Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Bob knew someone here at Showtime, he called up and he said, “How would you guys like to get into the boxing business?” That was the start of it. Our first fight was March 1986, Hagler vs. Mugabe, and I think in the years since then we’ve done a pretty good job of carving out a niche for ourselves.
UMSTEAD: Back then you mentioned there were also other events that Showtime was putting together, but unlike boxing and wrestling events such as concerts and comedy specials never performed well on pay-per-view. Why in your estimation hasn’t it performed well and can it develop in another environment such a VOD or SVOD environment?
LARKIN: Well, performing well is a target in the dark. How do you define performs well and not performs well?
UMSTEAD: Certainly did not generate the revenues that pay-per-view boxing and pay-per-view wrestling was developing and creating, so therefore operators looked at the pay-per-view boxing and wrestling category as the ones that were generating decent enough ratings and therefore put promotion behind it, whereas they did not necessarily do so for comedies and concerts and therefore didn’t perform as well.
LARKIN: That reminds me of a story. We were doing a concert awhile ago and I honestly forget who it was, but it was one of the big pop groups like Backstreet Boys or N’Sync or Spice Girls, and it did very well, performed very well for us, and one of the cable operators actually said, “Gee, had we known it was going to do that well we would have gotten behind it.” So that kind of puts the whole slant on it. Some of these concerts do very well. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t be doing it, others wouldn’t be doing them, but certainly when you hold it up to the giants of the industry like wrestling or boxing they don’t compare. In their own world they do well enough for us to do it. The reason that the industry doesn’t get behind it so much as they do with the bigger fights is the inherent problem with pay-per-view. On the operator level, on the system level, pay-per-view has always been looked at as ancillary revenue, free money. They’re going to get it whether they get behind it or whether they don’t get behind it. It is by no means the core business at any MSO and they don’t tend to spend a lot of energy or money behind it. Cable is the gate keeper to pay-per-view. Less so now because of the growth of the satellite business, the dish business, but cable still remains the bulk of it, and they don’t do it because they don’t have to do it. Consequently, pay-per-view events other than ring sports, other than boxing in particular, and wrestling, has never really grown to its full potential, nowhere near its full potential. When you start adding up what it costs to mount a successful pay-per-view show – the marketing money, the production money, the rights money, the licenses – in the end it becomes cost negative. It becomes more work than it’s worth. So when you’re sitting in a position at Showtime and you’re deciding, well, do we spend this money and put it on pay-per-view and try to recoup, maybe make a dollar or two, or do we put it on the network and get the network attribution for it and brand it with a network, lately the inclination is to put it on the network. Pay the license fee and just put it on air and claim it more so than we would if it was a pay-per-view show. So that’s one of the reasons it’s never caught on, because it was never given a chance to catch on.
UMSTEAD: Now boxing, obviously, caught on, and in the early ’90s to mid ’90s the heavyweights were king in terms of pay-per-view, but in the mid ’90s you actually hitched your wagon onto literally a lightweight in Julio Cesar Chavez and my question to you is why at that time did you feel that the lighter weight classes and the fighters within the lighter weight classes could perform well on pay-per-view?
LARKIN: Necessity is the mother of invention. The heavyweight division, if you recall the mid ’80s, there was a heavyweight tournament and that heavyweight tournament was populated by retreads and not very exciting or very talented or very charismatic heavyweights. The heavyweight tournament, which was being done at HBO with Don King, was floundering. It was hemorrhaging money. They had fighters like Tony Tubbs and Tony Tucker and Bonecrusher Smith and Trevor Burback, and nobody really cared until out of the blue the heavens opened up and a kid from Brooklyn by way of upstate New York appeared on the scene and started knocking everybody out. Suddenly the heavyweight division came alive around Mike Tyson. He rescued, single handedly rescued the heavyweight unification series, became the youngest heavyweight champion in history, and galvanized the heavyweight division in the sport. It’s no secret that Mike has had serious, serious events in his life. We got into business with Mike and Don King in 1990, did two fights with him: Razor Ruddick I and Razor Ruddick II. Shortly thereafter, Mike got in trouble with the law and went on an extended vacation courtesy of the state of Indiana. When Mike went away, our now new and thriving pay-per-view business was stalled. There were really no alternatives to jumpstart it. Along comes Julio Cesar Chavez, who was also signed to Don King at the time. We had a couple of people here at Showtime in those days, Scott Kurnit and Susan Couch, who at that moment were visionary and recognized the growth of the Latino market and the vast resources that that represented, the vast opportunity that represented. So by tapping into that and tapping into Julio Chavez, who was one of the all time greats at that weight, was the thin edge of the wedge, which we are now here in 2004 seeing the result of recognizing the importance of the Latino fan and the Latino buyer to pay-per-view. Julio pulled that train for awhile, a long while. Mike got out of prison and picked up where he left off and to this day is probably the most compelling force in the history of pay-per-view.
UMSTEAD: It’s funny you mentioned that. We talked about Mike Tyson – he arguably is the pay-per-view king in terms of revenue generating as well as popularity, but also there’s a dark side as you mentioned before. Looking back to the years with Tyson, was the gain worth the pain for Showtime?
LARKIN: Dark side?! That’s an understatement. An abyss is probably more like it. Was the pain worth the gain? Yeah, the pain was worth the gain. The most exciting place to be during the storm is in the middle of the storm and I wouldn’t have traded it, and wouldn’t trade it, for the world. It was a very, very exciting time to be here, to be in the center of all the activity. Now, it was strenuous, it was stressful. Our day or our week or our month would often be determined by what we read in the newspapers that morning. Phone calls from all over the world. Rumors, stories, reports… what’s he up to now, what’s he done now, what’s going on now, where’s he going to go, where’s he going to be, who’s he going to fight, is he going to fight? It was a never ending adrenaline rush in those days and it took us to places where none of us imagined we would ever be. Tyson’s story goes from the streets of Brooklyn to the halls of Congress, to the halls of Parliament in Britain. His case has been talked about at the highest levels of government, at the highest levels of media. It was exciting to be a part of that, and on a personal level, a very visible part of that. The day that Mike got out of jail, out of Indiana, we were there. I visited him in jail, and we were there to greet him when he came home for the first time and drive through the gates and see the satellite uplinks and the photographers and the TV crews and to be a part of that madness. It was very, very, very exciting, but man was it hard!
UMSTEAD: In contrast you have Evander Holyfield who fought Tyson and ended up generating one of the top two fights of all time on pay-per-view. You had a close relationship with Mr. Holyfield. What was it about Holyfield that you liked, and is he considered one of the greats of heavyweight history?
LARKIN: The last first: yes, he is certainly considered one of the greats of heavyweight history. He is the little fighter who could. He is the guy who defied the odds and at a time when this network was still struggling for identity, Evander became part of that identity. He was the little guy who could. He was the underdog who refused to be beaten; if you knocked him down he got back up and knocked you down twice as hard. From ’86 to the early ’90s, ’91, ’92, Evander was very much a part of the DNA of this company. I met Evander in ’87. We had just done a multiple fight deal with Main Events of New Jersey, the boxing promoters. They had the ’86 Olympic team, and that team included Mildred Taylor, Purnell Whitaker, Evander Holyfield – it was an extraordinary collection of fighters. They were fighting here on Showtime and when we made the deal originally, it was for Mildred Taylor and Purnell Whitaker and Evander was an afterthought. Evander, who lost the gold medal in the Olympics under controversy was a bronze medalist – the other teammates were gold medalists – and nobody really knew what to do with him. He was moving up from light heavy to cruiser, which is kind of that no man’s land, and I remember the negotiation with the late Dan Duva. I said, “Throw in Evander Holyfield,” and he said, “Why do you want Evander Holyfield?” And I said, “Because he’s going to be heavyweight champion of the world.” He said, “Okay, if you think so, you’ve got Evander Holyfield.” And that’s how it started. I met Evander in ’87 in the gym at Caesar’s Palace. It was his first fight for us. He was fighting Ricky Parky to unify the cruiser weight division, and I was up in the gym at Caesar’s Palace working out myself – in those days I worked out, now forget about it, there’s no reason to do it – and I was working out on a heavy bag, a punching bag, and in the corner there’s a guy sitting there, he’s got his boom box and his headset on and he’s looking up at me and he’s smiling – no, no, he’s not smiling, he’s laughing – he’s laughing at me working out on this heavy bag. So I looked over at him and I said, “What are you laughing at?” Burst out laughing. Now, Evander in those days was very serious. He kept a straight face, very intimidating. He broke out laughing and he got up and he said, “Let me show you how to do it.” And it’s been love ever since then. Evander’s very much a part of not only the Showtime family, but he’s a very close part of my personal family. Sure enough, Evander, through a series of twists and turns beginning in Tokyo with Tyson vs. Douglas – Douglas beat Tyson, of course, in one of the upsets of the decade – and immediately went in and fought Evander. Evander knocked him cold and became the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world and a prophecy was fulfilled.
UMSTEAD: Of all the events that you’ve produced, attended, and/or watched, is there one that stands out in your mind?
UMSTEAD: Woodstock? Really?
LARKIN: 1969. I was there. Now, there were, I don’t know, 100,000 people there? Now, today, in 2004, 5 or 6 million claim to have been there. I was there. I was there in 1969, August, I had hair down to here. I had hair! And it was probably the single most remarkable event I have ever been at. Now, short of Woodstock? In this life that I do now there have been some standout events, some remarkable events. I’d say one of the standout boxing events I was ever at was Hagler vs. Leonard in ’87, I believe. It was a remarkable night of theater. The air was crisp and electric blue and the excitement in that arena, that outdoor tennis court arena in Las Vegas was like nothing I’d ever seen before. I was fairly new to the game at that point so I was pretty much awestruck by the magnitude of the event, but I’ve had my share of events that I’ve produced and worked on which have been standouts. Certainly Holyfield vs. Tyson 1 was incredible and to sit in the truck, in the control truck, and produce a television show with tears streaming down my face was a very cathartic event. It was an amazing event. I remember coming out of the truck and walking through the press tent and chaos is reigning. We were getting death threats for putting Evander in with Mike Tyson. How dare we put that nice Holyfield man, that nice young man, Evan Holyfield in there with that monster? Letters and phone calls! So when Evander knocked out Mike it was unbelievable; it was chaotic. I walked into the press tent and some reporter grabbed me – I don’t remember who it was – and said, “Here, do this interview.” I’m on the phone with a radio station here in New York and I’m doing this post-fight for the radio station as Evander walks in the room. “Come here!” and I grabbed him and said, “Get on the phone!” So it was Tony Page’s radio show on the FAN – WFAN – and Evander gave Tony Page the first exclusive one-on-one after having knocked out Mike Tyson. Holyfield vs. Tyson 2, I think, was personally my proudest moment as a producer of television at this network because on that night, which of course is the famous ‘bite fight’, our team – the producers, the directors, the associate directors, the publicists – every single element down to the stage managers, the runners, the cameramen, at that moment when Mike bit Evander’s ears it stopped being an entertainment show and it became a news show. That group pulled together like a battle weary unit. They just knew exactly what to do and everybody went the distance and turned that show into a remarkable bit of television. To this day it pains me that that show was not recognized for how good it was, how good the coverage was. We got an Emmy out of it , Jim Gray got an Emmy out of it, for his interviews – a deserved Emmy – for interviewing Mike and Evander and Don King and Mike’s team, but I do believe that was our finest hour as a production unit. We had to make some tough decisions in the truck – where to go, what to follow. I made the decision at that moment to open the signal, to send out the feed to the news crew because it was news and our management, my senior management here, Matt Blank, supported it entirely. It was the right call to do. Our line producer that evening and to this day was David Dinkins, Jr., the son of the former mayor of New York. The thing about producing boxing or any live television is very much like being an airline pilot. The way they describe being a pilot is 99% of the time you’re bored and 1% of the time it is sheer terror. When you’re in that 1% of the time when it’s sheer terror, you want David Dinkins, Jr. producing that show and David pulled it together and we had a remarkable night of television. So, that stands out in my mind as a very memorable event and a moment of great personal pride of our team. Finally when it comes to boxing moments, there is the dark side. Boxing is a very brutal business and it’s a business that I find myself in by God’s sense of humor and the twists and turns of fate. I used to be a ballet critic at one point in my life, so you can’t get too more diametrically opposed, and there are moments when I’ve asked myself why am I doing this? One of those moments took place in London when a fighter named Gerald McClellan fought a fighter named Nigel Benn. Gerald was considered to be the next great force in boxing. He was a middleweight, moved up to 168 pounds, super middle, he was on a collision course to fight Roy Jones at 168 pounds. The one thing he had to get out of the way before fighting Jones was he had to come to England and fight Nigel Benn, “The Dark Destroyer”, for Benn’s WBO 168 pound title. The fight took place in a converted banana warehouse in the East End of London. The touts, the geniuses, all picked Gerald, who to that moment had the fastest knockout in history in championship fights. He was knocking guys out within seconds of the opening bell. He was a monster; he was a blind pit bull in a meat locker, which is a poor choice of analogy and I’ll tell you why in a minute. He went in as the clear favorite. The crowd was rabid. The fight started off with Gerald knocking Nigel Benn out of the ring. It got violent from that point on. It was the most astounding display of courage, of heart, of determination from both fighters that I have ever seen in almost 20 years of boxing. Nigel was a brawler, he was an ex-paratrooper, and ex-British Army paratrooper, and a vicious street fighter. This fight was horrific. As the fight came and went, ebb and flow, the crowd was screaming. The nature of their violence was revolting and terrifying. Our announcers could not hear each other because of the roar in this cavernous hall. At about the eight or ninth round, inexplicable to us, Gerald McClellan took a knee, went down on one knee, went back to his corner shaking his head, blinking furiously for several rounds. He came out again for the next round and quit, and quit is a sensitive word. Stopped fighting, could not fight anymore. Our announcer in those days was the very famous Ferdie Pacheco, the fight doctor. Ferdie said, “Something’s wrong. He just quit. That’s not like Gerald McClellan,” and I’m paraphrasing, “He just quit. There’s got to be something more, a cracked orbital bone or something.” Well, it turned out that Gerald was seriously injured – dramatically, catastrophically injured. We spent most of that night in a hospital in London while Gerald was being operated on. To this day Gerald is blind, confined to a wheelchair. Nigel fought a few more times after that, retired from boxing, he is a DJ now in the U.K., found religion. I ran into him a little while ago and he couldn’t have been sweeter. That’s the tragic side and waiting in this hospital while they operated on Gerald who I liked a lot – Gerald and I shared a birthday, so we would often find ourselves out of town and birthday cakes coming in for the two of us. Gerald was a tough guy and not the friendliest guy in the world, but I liked him a lot. The other little bit of sadness that came out of that event – certainly by comparison it pales – was how misinterpreted Ferdie Pacheco’s comments were, and Ferdie was ripped here in the States for saying Gerald had quit when Gerald was so catastrophically injured. Ferdie didn’t say that. Ferdie said, in the heat of the moment, tripping over the words it appeared that Gerald quit but Ferdie went on to say he didn’t quit, there’s no quit in Gerald McClellan, there must be something more. Now, none of us at ringside were armed with MRIs or CAT Scans or X-ray machines and none of us had the advantage to say he had a cerebral hemorrhage, but Ferdie, with his medical training, realized there was something far more wrong than a fighter just taking a knee and it’s really unfair how he was misinterpreted to this day. So that event, for all the drama and the excitement that it had, is on my list of standout events.
UMSTEAD: I’m sure another event on your list, may not be as memorable or maybe memorable for different reasons, was the Lewis-Tyson fight in which HBO and Showtime developed an unprecedented marketing partnership. How difficult were those negotiations, and also would you conceivably do that again with HBO going forward?
LARKIN: When Mike Tyson was signed to this network exclusively there were opportunities for that fight to have taken place much earlier than it did. In those days Mike was the champion, Lennox Lewis was the mandatory challenger. Lennox was not allowed, was prohibited by HBO from fighting Mike Tyson on this network. That’s their prerogative, they invested a lot of money into Lennox, but their position was even as challenger Lennox was signed to HBO so the fight would only happen on HBO’s terms. We said, “A) Mike is Mike Tyson. He is the draw; he is the magnet. B) He is signed to this network the way Lennox is signed to your network, and C) he is the champion, so therefore if the fight happens it will happen on our network.” We reached an impasse. Years go by and I’m cutting out a lot of the incidents that happened in between and the twists and the turns and the accusations and the positions and the posturing on both sides, and now it’s reversed. Now Mike is the challenger and Lennox is the champion and HBO took the position, well, Lennox is the champion so Mike has to come to us. No, no, this isn’t going to work. So our position was, and I was very vocal on our position, we will work with HBO as partners. We will create an equal position acknowledging both sides of the argument and co-produce this event. However, we will not stand on the sidelines and let it take place without us. I believe at that point our colleagues at HBO acknowledged that we were serious in our position. We had the legal position to back it up as well. So there wasn’t going to be a Lewis-Tyson, Tyson-Lewis unless both sides agreed to sit down and cooperate. That is the briefest history of the genesis of what was an ugly shouting match that went on for several years. Now, it’s important to note that even though we are competitors and sometimes we are angry competitors and accusing competitors, on a personal level many of us are very friendly. On a personal level, many of us are social friends who respect each other and respect what we’ve done as individuals in the cable television business, the premium television business, and the boxing and sports world. We are the best at what we do on both sides of the fence. The group at HBO, the group at Showtime, collectively we are the best in the world at doing what we do, at producing boxing for television and marketing it and distributing it for pay-per-view. So when the best in the world agree to work with each other, you’re going to have a pretty remarkable product. In the end, that’s what we got – a very remarkable product. The getting there was very difficult and half the fun. The meetings were heated, the various agenda of the room was rarely the same agenda. I guess at the end of the day the only mutual agenda we had was get this show on, make it look as good as it possibly can and generate the most pay-per-view revenue in history. We did those things. The getting there took a lot of cool nerves, a lot of separating ego from the mission, and we did it, but I can tell you there were many, many, many long nights in conference rooms with cold pizza and angry debate, heated debate, to get us to that point.
UMSTEAD: Could this happen again down the line?
LARKIN: Certainly from our perspective it could. I don’t know how our friends across the street feel about it, but from our perspective it certainly could happen again, and it should happen again because the Tyson-Lewis experience created a landmark event in many, many ways. There’s no reason not to create another landmark event other than ego or pride of ownership. Now I can’t speak for anyone else, I can speak for Showtime – Showtime is a business, it runs as a business and it’s run as a business that’s intended to make money, to make profit, to make an impact on our subscribers and the entertainment industry. Our own personal egos, our own personal desires for self-importance and aggrandizement is secondary, is tertiary. We are here to make money. If we don’t make money we have not done our jobs, and if making money means partnering up with a competitor or someone we may have had differences with in the past and that partnership is done under very, very, very strict guidelines having to do with legal issues and anti-trust issues then we’ll do that because our responsibility is to the bottom line.
UMSTEAD: You’ve been in the business for twenty years and you’ve seen a lot of developments in terms of technology on the sports production side. Where do you see the industry going for the future? Is it a positive future in terms of what we’ll be seeing on the television set for sports television?
LARKIN: The innovations in television have traditionally come from the sports world – from the ’40s to the present. If it was new in television it was devised somewhere to cover some sport and the original coverage of sports was really boxing, baseball and thoroughbred horse racing. The coverage of football, basketball came later on. Some of the techniques that are now commonplace in television coverage were developed and created for sports and the battlefield, funnily enough. Those are the two sources for innovation throughout history, and right now you will see the most technologically advanced productions on television are in sports. The Super Bowl, the World Series, virtual reality techniques, digital techniques, HD techniques have all been developed and are growing in sports. ABC was a pioneer, Fox was a pioneer in sports technology. Right now all of the Showtime shows, now in 2004, all of the Showtime boxing matches that originate domestically in the United States are going out in high def in the 16 X 9 format. We’re going out certainly in stereo sound, but lately more and more increasingly in Dolby 5.1 Surround. Our graphics are state of the art graphics. Our editing facilities are state of the art editing facilities, and we find ourselves pushing ourselves to the max to create new innovative technologies to cover sports.
UMSTEAD: Let’s go back to your early days at Showtime. Who were some of your mentors coming in?
LARKIN: I came here in ’84, 20 years ago. I’m that great walking advertisement – I got my job through the New York Times. I did! I got my job through the New York Times. I answered an ad. I was a starving actor pounding the pavement in New York going from job to job. I’d been working at the Playboy Club. I was the director of entertainment at the New York Playboy Club and I was looking for the next thing to do, going from show to show to show, and I saw an ad in the Times that said they were looking for a junior publicist who could write and knew the theater. I could write; I was writing criticism. To stay alive I was writing ballet criticism for a magazine to pay the rent in those days, and I certainly knew the theater, so against all odds I was hired. I applied and I was hired. I was hired by a wonderful woman named Ellen Cooper, who in those days was one of the frontrunners of the early cable days, to work for her here writing press releases. Showtime in those days had a really great series, a theatrical series, call Broadway and Showtime, and we would tape Broadway shows – great stuff, incredible stuff! So they needed somebody to work on that. That’s what I started out doing. I did that for about a year or two writing press releases and being a publicist and learning the cable business at a time when the cable business was still a very young business. At a time when we still did things like counting homes passed and we used terms like SMATV and TVRO, and we would be here at 2:00, 3:00 in the morning hand stapling and collating press releases and videotapes into envelopes and the next morning delivering them to the reporters. It was guerilla television. It was summer stock and it was a lot of fun. Everybody was young, the industry was aligning and realigning everyday. There were thousands of affiliates instead of four or five or six that we know today. It was a very, very exciting time to be part of that business and I worked for Ellen and another fellow named Stu Ginsberg, who you know well from the old days, and we did things like get cable to be part of the Television Critics’ Association meeting for the first time and that was a major stepping stone. There was the first cable TV Guide cover and there were all those amazing firsts, and the ACE awards, which are long evaporated. It was really an exciting time to be part of it. I worked in the PR department for a very short time. What they had discovered is a lot of the people they needed to know, programming needed to know, I grew up with, I worked with, I starved with as actors, and that my background had far exceeded that of a publicist, which was really a detour, and I was brought into the programming department by Allen Sabinson and Fred Schneider. In those early days, our head of programming was Peter Churning who went on to have a fairly respectable career.
UMSTEAD: Just a little bit.
LARKIN: Peter had Allen and Fred working directly for him and when Peter moved on Allen and Fred combined brought me into the programming department where I remained for a good time and in ’86 created Showtime Championship Boxing. In those days, I went on to run not only the boxing program but the international co-production division of Showtime, the entertainment side of our programming as it related to specials, comedy or music and the occasional film, the occasional documentary, the occasional series, but for the most part my background at Showtime has been in the events, the big concerts, the big comedy specials, the live television, and it’s thrilling because as I said earlier, my background was theater, my background was Broadway and live television is the closest thing to that. It’s exciting. When you’re sitting in the truck and you’re counting down on the satellite and you know that millions of people are going to see you now and if you screw up they’re going to see you screw up, too. Personally I find that much more energizing, much more fulfilling, much more of a rocket ride than the film process, which to me is so technical and so long and so plodding, with my short attention span I kind of lose it. So I’ve been phenomenally lucky. I’ve managed to tailor the opportunity to my skills and the opportunities have presented themselves to fit my skills. So I’m a very blessed guy. I’ve had 20 remarkable years at Showtime and there’s no place I’d rather be.
UMSTEAD: Were there any producers back then that you looked up to and were mentors to you?
LARKIN: Of television?
UMSTEAD: Yeah, there always were. There were always the greats. Certainly on the sports side Roone Arledge was a visionary and how he treated sports at ABC, again as entertainment and as a very important jewel in the crown of the overall programming mix. On the theatrical side there were many, many producers. When I was growing up, my two heroes – creative heroes – were David Merrick and Harold Prince because they were larger than life and they were the grand old scale of Broadway producer. Certainly there have been people who have been very important in the concert business, the big television show business, like the Ken Erlichs of the world who could do the Grammys, who could do these great big award shows, these great big concerts, and I learned from a lot of those guys. Right now our team here is so geared up. We went through a period here at Showtime where we got out of this business and were very heavily into the original movie business and now we’re back. We’re back with a changed of direction at the top management levels. This is only March and we’ve already shot two comedy specials with a third in the books and a fourth ready to go. We’re about to go down to Miami to shoot one of the certainly biggest pop icons of this generation, Britney Spears. I’m executive producer of that show, and as we’re doing these shows our resources have to grow to match them. Again, it’s that battlefield mentality. Our networks operations center was conceived as a video jukebox. It was conceived as a place to playback tapes of movies, mostly. It was not conceived as a place to do live television and everything that entails with the inserts and the high definition and the stereo sound and the many different transmission paths. Now our NOC, our Network Operations Center, is ramping up to handle the Britney Spears show and it has ramped up because of boxing. Again, it goes back to sports being the driving force in technology on television. Prior to boxing our operations center couldn’t have handled a live television show. So the people around us now are becoming the best in their field. We are part of a very enormous corporation called Viacom and within Viacom we have resources like CBS and MTV and Paramount Pictures. It’s the best of the best. We have the ability to cherry pick the talent we need to bring us the expertise that we need. So we’re at a very exciting time here at Showtime again. We’re reinventing ourselves. The concert business, like the boxing business, is very immediate, it’s very electric, it’s very exciting to be part of. I’m producing all these shows for the network. I’m the in-house executive producer of the network and in this new time of corporate synergies, of looking for opportunity where there was none before, finding ancillary revenue sources, there’s a lot of creativity going on here again. It’s very energizing.
UMSTEAD: Where do you see yourself in five years? Do you still see yourself here at Showtime or other ventures?
LARKIN: I have no idea where this road is going to take me, Tom. There are things I would like to do at this network. There are ventures I would like to get us to go down and hopefully with this new and very aggressive and very creative management team that we have they’ll be open to some of those ideas. I really do believe as our corporate chairman, Mr. Redstone, has often said that content is king. I really do believe that you need content, you need software and a company the size of ours should be tapping into all of our vast sources of content. The Paramount Pictures library should be tapped into for repurposed product. That’s the buzz word of ’04 – repurposing. So an example of that would be when Paramount Pictures owned the underlying rights to the great Gloria Swanson movie Sunset Boulevard, which became a Broadway musical. Paramount Pictures and Viacom benefitted from that. There are many, many, many opportunities like that. There are many opportunities for Showtime to work with MTV, for example. In our Britney Spears concert MTV is very much a partner, VH1 is very much a promotional partner and a production partner. We’re doing a comedy special with an ABC star named George Lopez. Now he’s not a CBS star, he’s not part of the family, but he has a book coming out that’s published by Simon & Schuster, part of the Viacom family, so Simon & Schuster and Showtime are working together in promoting the George Lopez special on Showtime. We need to do more of that. We need to do every possible project we can do because there is not one discipline in media or entertainment that is not covered somewhere in this vast Viacom family.
UMSTEAD: Given your entertainment background, do you ever foresee yourself in front of the camera?
LARKIN: Oh, I think those days left with my hair. Old entertainers never die, you just find other jobs. I know the chairman of CBS, Les Moonves, who is an extraordinary executive, creative executive, is a former actor. I think he’s a member of the Actor’s Studio. I’m certain he would love to get back in front of the cameras. I would love to get back in front of the cameras. My wife jokes with me. She says, “You never got it out of your blood, did you?” I say, “No, no.” But I perform everyday, Tom. I’m performing now. I perform in a corporate environment. We all play our roles. I don’t know, given the right opportunity if someone came to me and said, “You don’t have to audition. You don’t have to go back through that gut wrenching hell of being turned down ever again. We’re going to give you a job and we want you to star.” Okay, I’m there. I don’t know if I could resist an offer like that. I do miss it. I’m looking at Broadway now as an opportunity for this company of showcasing talent, performers, and Showtime playing a producers role in some of these and ultimately being able to take those rights onto our network. So those are some of the things I’m looking at to reconnect with my old roots and where my passion always lies – a few blocks down the street here. I don’t know. I don’t know where life’s going to take me. I’ve given up trying to figure it out. I firmly believe if you want to make God laugh make plans. At this point I’m kind of along for the ride, a very active participant, but no master plan right now. Just enjoy every minute.
UMSTEAD: Well, given your 20 years at Showtime I’m sure the industry is richer for your performance here. Thank you very much.
LARKIN: A kind thing to say, Tom.
UMSTEAD: Thank you very much for taking time out to talk to us. I’m Tom Umstead from The Cable Center. Thank you.