Bruckheimer Brings Big Pic Vision to Small Screen
Leslie Moonves knew in 2000 that CBS wasn’t where he wanted it to be, but he had a good idea of how he could turn his network around. And those plans included a liberal dose of successful filmmaker Jerry Bruckheimer.
Moonves says Bruckheimer was “unbelievably creative and his movies were spectacular.” But there was more that was attracting Moonves’ attention.
“He had his finger on the pulse of what America really wanted to see,” says Moonves, president and CEO of CBS Corp. “He has a real American sensibility, a populist sensibility. I always wanted to convert him to a TV guy because I felt the sky’s the limit for him. And he bore that out pretty well.”
Before Bruckheimer, CBS was experiencing a slump and became associated with an aging audience. Due in part to Bruckheimer bringing two projects to the network — “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and “The Amazing Race” — the Eye was able to attract a more youthful demo.
“There’s no question that CSI helped turn the tide of CBS back then,” Moonves says. “The single biggest move was putting ‘CSI’ and ‘Survivor’ on Thursday, which was the most important night both monetarily and perception-wise. It was a huge evolution for us.”
Not only was Moonves impressed with Bruckheimer’s instincts, but he was also impressed with his work ethic.
“What was amazing then and now is how involved he is,” says the network chief. “Even when he had seven shows on the air, he had seen every rough cut. He’s also very collaborative.
“He’s a superstar, but he likes other people’s input because he feels good ideas come from all over the place and he listens and puts the best ideas in place.”
Moonves counts Bruckheimer as both a valuable asset to the company and as a friend. “He is a quiet, thoughtful, decent man who has a humility about him not normally seen in this business,” the CBS honcho says. “It makes working with him much sweeter.”
As eager as Moonves was to get into business with him, Bruckheimer’s future producing partner Jonathan Littman was just as reluctant.
Littman passed on three meetings a mutual friend tried to set up with Bruckheimer before finally agreeing to meet with him — it was a cat-and-mouse game that puzzled Littman’s wife, to say the least.
“Sometimes you need smarter people in your life,” Littman says. “The first words out of Jerry’s mouth were ‘I love TV, I don’t know TV and I want people who will tell me.’ Knowing what you don’t know, owning that, well it was the first time I’d heard someone of his stature in Hollywood say that. Probably the first and the last time.”
The two had a healthy conversation for about an hour, and Littman realized then what his wife already knew: He would be crazy not to get into business with Bruckheimer.
Bruckheimer felt quite strongly that people watched TV with their thumb on the remote, and in order to stop them from clicking you had to provide something fresh and innovative. To him, that meant changing television from radio with pictures to making shows a visual storytelling experience.
“At the time, it was such a big change,” Littman says. “People don’t remember what TV looked like in 2000 and what it looks like now, and much of that was driven by Jerry.”
Littman humbly states he was simply in the passenger seat as Bruckheimer assembled the “CSI” team.