10 Ways Producing Television Taught Me to Succeed
The other day, while taping an upcoming episode of Entrepreneur's Get a Real Job podcast for this very website, I was reminiscing with host Dan Bova about our days producing television together. We shared stories about demanding talent, disastrous productions, and great shows that never went. I left that conversation thinking about how much I’ve learned while producing television over the last twenty years…
Specifically, I left thinking about how much producing television has taught me about running my own business, and how I wouldn’t be a successful author of two novels, Oil and Marble and Raphael, Painter in Rome, without that experience. So, here are my favorite lessons from television that I hope will help you produce your own success.
1. There’s a new show every day
For most of my career, I produced five-night-a-week of television. Some days we put up great shows, other days, real stinkers. But the next day, we always had to put on another show. I treat my writing and business life the same: yes, I make mistakes, but I don’t dwell on them. I learn from them and put out a new “show” every single day, no matter what.
2. “No” is as good as “yes”
When I was learning to book guests on talk shows, I was disappointed when someone said, “No.” But a more experienced producer taught me that any answer is good because it lets you take action. When you get a “Yes,” you get to start producing the segment. When you get a “no,” you get to cross that person off your list and move onto the next ask. In business, you’re going to hear “no” a lot, but when you start taking that as an opportunity to move on, you’ll stop dreading rejection and start feeling empowered by it.
3. Obstacles are opportunities for success
At 5 AM the morning after Osama Bin Laden was killed, I drove to the studio to cancel our guests and book a new line-up. Even though I had to cancel weeks of work, I wasn’t upset; I was excited. Yes, I could’ve approached that morning as a “problem to be solved,” but instead I saw it as an opportunity to take our guest list from good to great. When something goes wrong, I challenge you to see it as an opportunity to make your “show” even better. This outlook will not only improve your business, it’s more fun, too.
4. No matter how bad it seems, it’ll work out
I’ll let writer Tom Stoppard take this one, with this exchange from his brilliant screenplay for Shakespeare in Love:
Henslowe: Allow me to explain about the theater business. The natural condition is one of the insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.
Fennyman: So, what do we do?
Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
Henslowe: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.
These are the truest lines I’ve ever read about the entertainment industry, and I apply them to my business, too. Yes, things always fall apart, but somehow, if you keep working, the answer appears. How? I don’t know. It’s a mystery.
5. “No” is not an answer
Even though I said above that “no” is an answer I often get from others, it’s not an answer I give to myself. One of my favorite production coordinators had a sign hanging over her desk that read, “No is Not an Answer.” When someone asked for something, she never said, “No, that’s impossible,” even if it was; she said, “I’ll figure it out.” In Hollywood, you must find ways to make the impossible possible; I apply the same attitude to my business.
6. Anticipate questions
Prepping a host for an interview is like a verbal pop quiz. I had to get good at guessing which questions my host would ask me, so I could be prepared with the answer. I still try to guess the questions that might arise during any speech, pitch session, or meeting, so that I can always come across as the expert in the room.
7. Have a sense of urgency
In television production, if someone asks for something, they don’t need it ten minutes from now, they needed it ten minutes ago. I inject this same sense of urgency into my business. I don’t rush unnecessarily, but I also don’t put things off. If I can do it now, I do it NOW. I work and write like the TV cameras are about to roll in five, four, three…
8. Don’t be intimidated
I’ve been in rooms with every kind of “important” person: presidents, billionaires, rock stars, Nobel Peace Prize and Oscar winners… And you know what? They’re just people. Some are nice, some are mean. Some trip or pass gas on the way to stage. I don’t care which agent is reading your work or which CEO has agreed to meet with you, don’t be intimidated. You deserve to be in the room with ALL of them.
9. Insecurity is normal
I’ll tell you another secret about meeting famous people backstage: they’re just as insecure as you. They have me check their teeth for food. They test their jokes on me. They ask me if their answers are good enough… So, the next time you’re up all night wondering whether you’re talented enough to succeed, just tell yourself that you’re no different than (insert favorite celebrity name here).
10. Listen to your own voice
After nearly two decades of producing interviews with famous people, I’ve found that the most successful all have one thing in common: they are uncompromising in their vision. You must find your voice and always listen to it. That’s the best way to produce your success.