Charlie Ebersol Teams up with Michelle Obama for ‘6 Certified’

TV runs in Charlie Ebersol's family. But his new project is all about America's veterans

Photo credit: Got Your 6/Brian Dowling. Chris Marvin, managing director of Got Your 6, with producer Charlie Ebersol at Got Your 6's inaugural Vetfronts event in Beverly Hills.
Chris Marvin, managing director of Got Your 6, with producer Charlie Ebersol at Got Your 6's inaugural Vetfronts event in Beverly Hills.
Photo credit: Got Your 6/Brian Dowling. Chris Marvin, managing director of Got Your 6, with producer Charlie Ebersol at Got Your 6's inaugural Vetfronts event in Beverly Hills.
Chris Marvin, managing director of Got Your 6, with producer Charlie Ebersol at Got Your 6’s inaugural Vetfronts event in Beverly Hills.

First Lady Michelle Obama and industry executives launched 6 Certified in Washington, D.C., this morning. It’s an effort to integrate accurate portrayals of veterans into film and television shows. The program is part of the Got Your 6 campaign, a military term that means “I’ve got your back,” which was launched in 2012 as a response to a call to action by the First Lady and her Joining Forces initiative.

Once a project enters post-production and meets 6 Certified eligibility requirements, a studio or production company may submit the project for consideration. If subject matter experts grant “6 Certified” status, the project may display the badge during credits. For instance, Warner Brothers can submit “American Sniper” to be considered for certification as of today.

Charlie Ebersol, the son of longtime NBC Sports chief Dick Ebersol and actress Susan St. James, is behind the 6 Certified program. As president and CEO of The Company he’s also producing unscripted series including CNBC’s “The Profit.”

FishbowlDC: What is the premise behind 6 Certified?

Charlie Ebersol: More than anything it’s about creating a line in the sand for the entertainment industry that says, “Which side of this conversation are you on?” If you’re going to say, “We support veterans,” then this is the way for there to be an objective measurement if you’re actually doing it. And if you’re not doing that, you’re not getting certified.

The view is that we’re very big on hollow gestures in the media, especially in Hollywood. It’s very easy to get up and say, “I support the troops” or to say we have a responsibility to take care of our veterans and then turn around and misrepresent the veteran community in a movie well, that can do way more damage than good. 6 Certified is holding people’s feet to the fire to make sure they live up to the platitudes that we as a Hollywood community have spoken.

And it’s all about subtle integrations. You don’t have to feed people spinach but you can put vegetables into something that tastes good. People will actually consume it. For example, with the LGBT movement, shows like “Will & Grace” enormously affected how the country looked at the sub group and shifted the paradigm. This is not in any way to indictment the media for not doing a good job. It’s trying to draw out and award people who do it the right way. There’s been a lot of truth from American Sniper and Lone Survivor — they do an excellent job of accurately representing veterans and with Modern Family, in telling a veteran storyline in a normalized yet beneficial way.

FishbowlDC: What is the biggest stereotype facing veterans from a production perspective?

Ebersol: You’re talking about hundreds of thousands of highly trained people who work hard and are highly technically trained and yet we boil them down to one of two things: they’re either heroes or victims.

One of the best vehicles is “Modern Family” because of Ed O’Neill’s character Jay Pritchett. He’s a veteran but he’s not portrayed as a hero – it’s not a hyperbolic performance but they do highlight things that as a veteran make him a very productive member of society.

One of the biggest scripted production companies and showrunners called us last week and said, “I want to hire veterans and I want to be able to tell stories about them in a real and accurate way. How do we go about doing that?” That engagement and that conversation is a huge win. And what he will do for his five or six television shows on air is that he’ll start to recognize the value of reaching out to that community to hire people but to also tell stories. From our perspective, it’s the awareness of education more than anything. The power of the media is about the subtlety of messaging and it becomes an important part of the process.

FishbowlDC: What do you see as the next phase of 6 Certified a year from now?

Ebersol: We’re going to roll this out pretty slowly because it’s important for the validity of the program. Over the next couple of years making this multi-platform – we’re not just looking to certify films, we’re looking at television and the Internet and all different areas. In this first year it’ll be a lot less about being content creators and a lot more about us certifying projects as being accurate and normalized representations of veterans with the hope to lead by example and the content creation will follow.

FishbowlDC: Switching gears, as producer of “The Profit,” what are your thoughts about entrepreneurial shows being so popular?

Ebersol: We’re doing another show soon with CNBC, too – actually we’re doing a couple of shows in that realm. As the economy has come back, the American dream is largely predicated on the idea of manifest destiny.

A lot of people dove into the waters of trying to create their own company and the sophistication required in running your own business and having a potential business is significant. And what we try to do in the process – and now what we’re doing in future shows – in different stages in the process is providing the tools to succeed.

By the way, back to veterans, the modern American military is largely predicated on the idea of entrepreneurial culture. Every soldier is trained to be an entrepreneur in a matter of speaking. We see extremely high numbers of incubators that are exploding right now because they see this.

FishbowlDC: What can you share about the shows you’re currently developing?

Ebersol: We’re in the process of casting it so I don’t want to give away too much but what we are thrilled about is that we found somebody who is real, who is really doing it. This was a guy who really believes in the American dream and really believes in helping people. He figured out a way to profit from it.

Our new shows are largely predicated on working people who really came from nothing, who fell on their faces and got back up and who are looking to the very, very beginning of young companies and teaching them this has a lot less to do with how you run your business or what your business is than who you are and what it means to be a business owner.

We’re focusing more on personality and character — I don’t mean character like Goofy — but I mean character like honor, responsibility, duty…a lot of the stuff we’re talking about with veterans and in a little less blue state, more red state viewpoint.