Emmy-nominated producer and TV veteran Leslie Greif turned heads this month when he announced that his production company Boutique TV would rebrand itself as Thinkfactory Media. Greif is perhaps best known as the guy behind A&E’s hit series “Gene Simmons Family Jewels,” which just got picked up for another season, but he’s involved in several other hits and just got a pickup from WE tv for “Sinbad’s Family Affair” (premieres Apr 12) about the comedian’s home life. We sat down with Greif this month to discuss the Thinkfactory re-launch, how he picks shows to pitch and of course how he got hooked up with Gene Simmons.
CableFAX: First of all, why re-launch the company as ThinkFactory Media? What’s your goal?
Greif: I had some really talented producers, Adam Reed and Adam Freeman, and a whole support staff who were wonderful. And I wanted to create an opportunity where we could build a little company and give everyone a chance to be part of the company. Not where it’s The Greif Company, and it’s all about Leslie Greif. It’s about let’s make great product. I also have a passion for producing in all areas… I want to be a full mini boutique company, find projects that we’re passionate about, serve a specific need for what the networks are looking for, and be unique. Some only do unscripted. Some only do hard doc. Some are only scripted. I feel there’s an opportunity now to do all of them.
CableFAX: Not many production companies do all of that under one roof.
Greif: But I’m fortunate enough to have worked in all of them. I created “Walker: Texas Ranger.” I’ve written movies of the week and mini-series. I’ve directed features. I’ve done a lot of unscripted and documentary. So I have all that experience… But scripted is a long, slow process. It’s laborious. It’s high stakes, high dollars. So that you nurture. Reality television is faster…
CableFAX: Speaking of fast living, how did you get hooked up with Gene Simmons?
Greif: Gene Simmons is an old friend since I was a kid.
CableFAX: How did you guys know each other?
Greif: My father was a rock-and-roll manager. He brought The Beatles to America, he managed the producer for the Rolling Stones and discovered Barry White. So I grew up in the whole music world. So back in the day when I was a kid… I met Kiss. And then I was working with Lamont Dozier who wrote all the Motown songs… and Gene was dating Diana Ross at the time. So we go back. Then years go by, I lose contact with him—he’s Gene Simmons. Then I get a phone call from him—“Leslie”—and he’s calling me like I just talked to him ten minutes ago; I hadn’t seen him in years! He says, “Leslie. It’s Gene.” And I’m like, “Gene?” He says “What, you don’t know it’s me?”–“Yeah, Gene. It’s only been about 15 years, but okay.”
So it was funny. I was doing “Headliners and Legends,” and a lot of A&E biographies. So I said, “Let’s do a Biography together,” and we developed some shows. And out of that A&E Biography, Bobby Debitetto and Nancy Dubuc [Now, A&E/Bio Channel pres/gm and History/Lifetime pres/gm, respectively]… they loved it, and they said, “This should be a series.” There was a show called “Ozzie & Harriet” [a popular sit-com that ran from 1952 to 1966 on ABC]. It was about a band leader and his wife and two kids. He was a knucklehead at home… And I said why don’t we just juice it up and do it 21st Century style, and follow the life of Gene, who really is a crazy band leader at home with two kids.
CableFAX: And a great businessman.
Greif: Gene is astute and sharp. He’s charming. And he wanted to make people laugh.
CableFAX: What do you see as the big TV content trend over the next few years?
Greif: The networks now are trying to stake out personalized territory, which I think is smart. So that the traditional sea of sameness, where we’re going to one kind of competition show or one kind of cop show or something… that could be on any network—they don’t want that anymore. They want to do a show that is unique to their network, to their brand and that’s going to appeal to their audience. I’m finding that the networks are really becoming very familiar with who their audience is. The more they embrace that and program to that, it helps us as producers supply specifically to that…. We’re able to create for that.
CableFAX: So rather than come up with ideas and hope the networks bite, you’re getting the info from them first and then tailoring your ideas to fit?
Greif: That’s exactly it. That’s the process that has worked for me. I hear the networks. I watch them. And then I try to actually think of shows that will work for them. It’s difficult because your mortality rate is big. If they don’t like it, you’re done. And you can’t sell it somewhere else. So it’s a bigger gamble. But if and when you are successful, you have a much better chance of success for the show because you’re already in the sweet spot.
(Michael Grebb is executive editor of CableFAX)