Video Age: What first got you into the television business?
Herb Lazarus: An accident, like most things. I didn't go to school to become a television executive; I got into the business in 1954. I have a brother who is a nationally syndicated cartoonist. He does two comic strips called Momma and Miss Peach. In those days, he was doing some freelance work and was designing an end credit, which turned out to be for a television production and distribution company. His friend, who had commissioned him to do it, was Al Capp's brother Jerry. (Al Capp did L'il Abner). Later, my brother called Jerry Capp and helped me get a job with a company called Television Programs of America.
VA: What did you do at TPA?
H.L.: Initially, I was a gofer. I then moved into the operations department where we made sure that the film got from station to station in time to be played. We used to bicycle 16 mm prints around the country.
VA: How old were you back then?
H.L.: I was 19. I had graduated a couple of years earlier and was working at the Benrus Watch Company. I then left to go to California -- bummed around out there for awhile -- and then came back [to New York] to look for work.
VA: What was living in New York City like in those days?
H.L.: New York was a very exciting city -- it still is. This is the way I describe it to people who haven't been there: "You can get anything you want 24 hours a day -- and some things you don't want!"
When I was with Fox their office was in Hell's Kitchen, which was not the nicest of areas. In the summertime, around 9 'o clock at night, they'd set up a big screen on the street and run movies, just to be neighborly and hoping that it would help ease tensions.
I was born and raised in Brooklyn, lived most of my life there and then moved up to Tarrytown in Westchester County. When we went there looking for houses, realtors would say to us, "What part of the Bronx are you from?" I said, "No, we're from Brooklyn." The realtor then said, "No, Brooklyn people are supposed to move to Long Island. Bronx people move to Westchester." I replied, "We're doing it a little differently."
VA: How do you like the West Coast now?
H.L.: It's different. I've been living out here since 1973 when I moved over to work for Columbia Pictures. We're used to living here now, but my wife, my current and first wife, she'd go back to New York in a split second.
VA: What was distribution like when you were with TPA?
H.L.: Back in 1954, the international business was little to none. I mean there was some, but it wasn't a meaningful part of our business. In those days, we were producing shows for syndication. We would produce shows, mostly in Canada, and sell them to large, regional advertisers in the States, to companies that would buy 15, 30, 40 markets. In the Midwest, for example, there was Continental Oil or a brewing company out of Milwaulkee or a beer company out of Texas. At one point, TPA was bought out by a company called ITC, which first became Polygram and then became Universal. We had 60 salesmen in the United States. For example, we had two or three salesmen in Chicago, and their job was to call on agencies and try to get advertisers to sponsor the programs that we were producing. Then the sales guys would go into the markets, get time periods from the stations and try to put the deals together.
Initially, you would call on the station. You'd tell them what you were doing and ask them if they had a time period. They'd say, "Yes, we've got 6:30 on Wednesday night." So you took the 6:30 on Wednesday night, went to the advertiser and screened the show for them. Then you would ask them for a 52 week commitment. In those days we produced 39 originals and 13 reruns. If the advertiser said, "Look, I like the show and I want to do it, but I can't afford 52 weeks," you'd reply, "All right, give me a 26 week commitment and let me see what I can do." You would then go to another advertiser and ask them for 52 weeks. They'd say, "Look, I can't do 52, but I can do maybe 26." You would then take the two 26s, go back to the station and say, "Good news...