Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Working for scale - how Quinn Martin acted to grow his business

I've scheduled a post in my Empoprise-MU music blog that mentions the Beastie Boys video for "Sabotage." In the course of my post, I use that magical phrase "Quinn Martin Production."

For people who are not old as dirt, allow me to explain.

Back in the early and mid 1970s, there were so many cop and detective shows on TV that each of the characters needed to have a gimmick so that you could tell one detective/cop from another. Colombo, for example, was the guy with the raincoat. Kojak was the bald guy with the lollipop. Police Woman was...well, she was the woman. And Cannon, played by William Conrad, was the fat guy.

Frankly, I don't remember anything much about Cannon, but I certainly remember who produced it. With a subtlety reminiscent of NASCAR, each episode of Cannon prominently displayed the fact that it was "a Quinn Martin production." (Each episode also displayed "acts" for each of the portions of the show, like a stage play.)

I didn't know much about Quinn Martin, but I ended up reading about him at the Museum of Broadcast Communications web site. It turns out that Cannon was only one of Quinn Martin's productions, and that at certain points he had several shows on TV simultaneously.

How did he keep several successful shows going at once? The Museum's biography entry explains how:

[D]uring the years at Desilu and during the first years of QM, Martin surrounded himself with a cadre of writers, directors, and producers who would later ably serve him when he was juggling the production schedules of several series. Alan Armer, George Eckstein, Walter Grauman, and John Conwell are but a few of the names to appear again and again in the credits of QM productions.

Other people surround themselves with cadres - Michael Landon comes to mind here - but with Martin, it wasn't just the people. It was also the process:

Martin compartmentalized his productions. This was done not only out of necessity resulting from the volume of television being produced by the company but also because of the trusted individuals with whom Martin populated QM. At QM, the writers, producers, and post-production supervisors had very well-defined tasks and would rarely stray beyond the parameters established by Martin. John Conwell, casting director and assistant to Martin for years, often referred to Martin as "Big Daddy" because of his paternalistic approach to production.

Read the Museum's biography for other aspects of Martin's production techniques. But in my view, these are the two key points that allowed Martin's company to grow. Certainly there are people who have genius potential, such as Orson Welles. But if you actually want to grow your company, you need to surround yourself with good people, and you need to have an environment that allows things to get done even if you can't supervise everything yourself. Without lieutenants and processes, a garage shop is going to remain a garage shop. With lieutenants and processes, a company has the potential of growing beyond the garage and becoming a Microsoft or an Apple.

P.S. William Conrad's career shows how perceptions are influenced by different media presentations. When radio was the dominant medium, William Conrad had the perfect voice to play Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke. But when a television version of Gunsmoke was prepared, Conrad's physique prevented him from portraying Dillon on TV.
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