Learning and Adjusting to Mistakes in Hollywood

Steve Mosko has a significant amount of power in Hollywood.  He is the president of Sony Pictures Television and negotiated the largest syndication of a program in television history—the multimillion-dollar, record setting Seinfeld deal.  Steve can control a room as soon as he walks in and seems completely at ease doing it.  Interestingly, some of his confidence can be traced back to the mistakes that he made.  Steve learned from those mistakes and used them as precedents to help him prepare better in the future.

The following is an excerpt from the book “Dare to Prepare” by Ron Shapiro and Gregory Jordan.  It shows that even one of the most powerful people in Hollywood can learn from mistakes to better prepare in the future.

Steve became a Hollywood executive at a very young age.  He especially impressed me with the way he realized that he still had a lot to learn even as his career took off.  That openness to making adjustments and learning from mistakes has contributed significantly to Steve’s progression and general competence.  Two of his mistakes, one simple and one significant, demonstrate Steve’s use of errors as opportunities to adjust his preparation.

The simple mistake is one anyone could make.

“In the early stages of the “Seinfeld” negotiations around the country, I made a simple but critical mistake,” Steve said.  “We were sending out our salespeople with an enormous amount of material for the presentations.  Binders, videos, PowerPoint, materials.  One day one of our guys checked it all in at the airport and the stuff never arrived in time for this presentation.  This is a multimillion-dollar deal and we almost blew it.  But we adjusted quickly.  We perfected a system of FedExing and verifying arrival.  We learned to package everything perfectly so that the materials would not be damaged.  We even negotiated a good deal with FedEx.  We sold “Seinfeld” in 213 markets and were negotiating with four to five stations in each market.  We quickly learned that organization would alleviate the anxiety of our salespeople.  That adjustment contributed in a mundane but significant way to our success.”

Steve made the significant mistake in the late 1990s when Sony developed a new program that was billed as the way to attract the growing young urban audience in the late-night slot.  A void for that audience had been created when Arsenio Hall ended his show.  Steve had a dream partner in the legendary music producer Quincy Jones and his trendsetting magazine, “Vibe”.  The combination of Quincy and Sony created great enthusiasm nationwide among local television stations’ decision makers.  They had the entertainer Sinbad as the host.  But after the program’s strong initial sales, the bottom fell out.  Why?

“We made a huge mistake,” Steve said.  “Rather than have one producer running the show we ran it by committee.  Everything from picking the host to designing the set, from deciding where we would shoot to setting a format, was made by group decision.  Everyone was being so respectful to each other.  We never had  a strong point of view or someone leading the charge.  We picked a young host who wasn’t the greatest choice.  Without a single clear vision, what could have been a major success got bogged down.  An amazing idea got all fouled up.  The program was off the air in a year.”

Steve, who was executive vice president of sales at the time, got a valuable lesson in programming that he continues to apply as president of Sony Pictures Television today.

“You can only have one head coach per program,” Steve said.  “There has to be one person calling the shots and being held accountable.  That is the only way I pursue programming ideas now.  You can take ideas from many sources, but one executive producer has to make the decision.”

Mundane or monumental, lessons like these can make the difference between someone who can adapt to situations or is overwhelmed by them.


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