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The Men Behind the Screens

These TV Executives Show that Not All Cigar-Smoking media Moguls Are in Film

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Nowadays, production studios lose money on shows until they are sold into syndication. "It used to be that if we sold a show, we made money up front, and if it was really successful, we enjoyed the syndication rewards. We're now in a business where the question we ask every time we endeavor to make a new TV series is, 'How much are we willing to lose on each episode, be it half-hour comedy or hour drama, until we hit the fourth or fifth season?' Those deficits are tremendous and add up to tens of millions of dollars--and that's with a successful show!"

Happily, money's no object when it comes to cigars.

"I like Romeo y Julieta No. 2s, which you can smoke anytime," he says. "But at the end of the day, it gives opportunity to pause and reflect and truly relax. When I get home or after a business dinner, it's a lot of fun to sit outside, in the quiet of the evening, and smoke a cigar. My wife, Lissa, often comes out and joins me in a smoke. Or when we go out with our friends. There's nothing sexier than a woman with a cigar."

And there's nothing quite as decadent as a lost weekend with your buddies in Havana to sample the cigars there. A couple of years ago, Solomon did just that with a group that included John Langley and Malcomb Barbour, creators of Fox's "Cops," and Greg Meidel, then the chairman of Twentieth Television and now the chairman and chief executive officer of Studios, USA Television.

"We stayed at the Hotel Nacional and literally smoked cigars with our eggs at breakfast right through our post-dinner," recalls Solomon. "We didn't sleep too much. The place is alive 24 hours a day. We went to Hemingway's favorite haunts, La Flora Dita and La Bogadita del Medio, and most of the cigar factories, including the Partagas factory where we watched them hand-rolling cigars. They say there's nothing like smoking a Cuban cigar in Havana and they're right."

Crime Does Pay
Say you've just broken the law. Now, suppose there's a camera crew recording your arrest. Then, a producer comes up to you with a release form asking your permission to broadcast all that on a national program.

And you sign it.

"I think it's the Warhol Syndrome--everyone wants his moment of fame," shrugs producer John Langley. "But it's the media age; it's not that big a deal anymore."

Luckily for the Santa Monica, California-based Langley, most people disagree, keeping "Cops"--the Fox show he created and produces--on the air for a decade. The unscripted, documentary-style program featuring footage of real cops on the job helped pioneer cinema verité on television and led to the explosion of reality shows in the early 1990s.

"We're like the Energizer Bunny--we don't make a lot of noise and we keep on going," says Langley, whose show has garnered four Emmy nominations. "Although, we've been ripped off so many times, I feel like Velcro. But that's the nature of the beast. You cannot copyright reality." But if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, such praise he can do without.

"I'm proud today that I directly turned down invitations to do 'Cops' in another form," he says. "Why would I want to copy myself? TV, in general, is always marching to the same drummer and it's always a funeral march. There are always shows that will stand apart--like 'ER' and 'NYPD Blue'--but, for the most part, TV fails to learn the same lesson over and over again. It copies itself endlessly to the point of stupidity. 'The X-Files' succeeds, so unfortunately, now there will be 50 'X-Files' imitations."

Although cable is now the breeding ground for innovative television, Langley expects the Internet to eventually assume that mantle. "The Internet is the next form of television," he says. "At this point, it's a research and e-mail tool, but its real impact will be interactivity as television. It will offer thousands of channels and phenomenal programming specificity."

A self-proclaimed outsider, Langley has also flirted with maverick ideas. The former literature instructor got into television in the early 1980s with a documentary called "Cocaine Blues," about the cocaine phenomenon in America, and similarly themed prime-time specials hosted by Geraldo Rivera. It was the pioneering days of reality TV and was considered breakthrough television at the time. Networks loved it, because it was cheap; Langley loved it, because it kept him employed.

"Hiring myself was the only way I could get a job," he says with a laugh. "I could never be corporate. Better to be the trailblazer than a trail follower."

But sometimes, it's not so bad to jump on a bandwagon--especially when it comes to a good smoke. "I blame [USA Television's] Greg Meidel for getting me into cigars," says Langley. He knowns Meidel from his days at Twentieth Television, which syndicates "Cops."

"We were at a restaurant in L.A. called Eclipse and had a cigar afterward with Cognac," recalls Langley. "It was an Avo. It was a really enjoyable experience and I've been hooked ever since. Now, I smoke them after every lunch and dinner. It's relaxing. It's like sex; it takes away that nervous edge." A fact not lost on Langley's wife, who he says encourages his hobby for its pacifying effects.

"After lunch, I prefer a Montecristo No. 1 or 3; after dinner, it's Romeo y Julieta Churchills," he says. "They're Cubans and totally illegal. But fuck 'em--let 'em arrest me. I'll have a crew there filming."

Los Angeles-based Susan Karlin is an award-winning journalist who has written for the London, Los Angeles and New York Times, Playboy, Newsweek, TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly.

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