Matt Blank, Dennis Basso and the Story Behind Meghan McCain’s Latest TV Project

Last week,  it was all about authors and agents, and today it was television titans’ turn in the rotating cast of characters that is Wednesdays at Michael’s. Tonight when Liz Smith hosts her annual kick-off for her Literacy Partners’ initiative, the joint will be jumping with social types like Diane von Furstenberg (who, we hear, recently broke her shoulder skiing and is, no doubt, sporting a fashionable sling) and her Vespa loving hubby Barry Diller, Cynthia McFadden, Cornelia Guest, Calvin Trillin, Nan Talese and Gay Talese. We won’t be there to trade air kisses with the glitterati, because we’ll be chatting up our favorite Bravolebrities at their upfront party across town (Giggy, that means you!).

Today I was joined by Evan Shapiro, president of pivot (yes, with a lower case ‘p’) the new cable network targeting the all-important millennial audience  launched by Participant Media, the production company responsible for an impressive slate of projects, including An Inconvenient Truth, The Help and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. Participant chairman and founder Jeff Skoll and CEO Jim Berk tapped Evan to spearhead the company’s expansion into television in May of last year. Prior to that, he had served as president of IFC and Sundance Channel where we was responsible for award-winning program, like the buzzed about Portlandia.

I could barely keep up with Evan, whose passion for his latest gig was evident from the moment he sat down. The incredibly youthful 45-year-old father of two teenage girls told me running pivot is his “dream job,” because he’s doing more than creating what he considers groundbreaking television. “Ten years ago I would have said my dream job would have been at NBC or CBS.  Today, it’s this job because we’re doing something that’s going to have an impact on the world.” Evan dismisses the notion of millennials as spoiled and entitled and instead compares them to ‘the greatest generation’ saying, “Like ‘the greatest generation,’ they have been handed a series of events not of their own making, and, post 9/11 and the Great Recession, they have a real sense of their place in the world and want to make a difference.”

Besides their devotion to doing good, says Evan, the millennials (defined as the coveted 18-34 demo, but Evan says the network is ‘reaching out’ to viewers as young as 15) are not watching television the way their parents do or did.  Earning their loyalty is criticial to the future of television. “If you’re under 30 you do not have a land line and about half of today’s college graduates are not signing up for pay television. They are watching on their way on their devices, and we’ve trained a generation to believe doing one thing at a time is not enough.” Television industry execs wedded to the idea that the status quo has not changed are headed for a rude awakening, he warns. “When people say that [pay TV] subscriptions are flat, that’s because people aren’t dying off in large numbers right now. If, over the next 15 years, 30 percent of the paid TV  eco-system erodes, that would represent the loss of $30 billion in subscription revenue and $40 billion in advertising revenue. What we do in the next five years is a lot more important than most people think.” There’s no point in resisting change, says Evan, because if you do, you’re dead. TV execs have gotta get with the program and embrace it. As he so eloquently put it, “My entire life has always been about f*****g with what already is.”

Diane Clehane and Evan Shapiro

No grass is growing under Evan and his team as they leverage the unique distribution assets of Participant Media, whose purchase of  The Documentary Channel and Halogen TV from The Inspiration Networks, once combined and rebranded,  will reach an estimated 40 million subscribers through an agressive distribution system utilizing a variety of platforms in line with its mission to create television that inspires and accelerates social change. Keeping in mind that millennials have FOMO (fear of missing out), says Evan, Pivot will offer them a variety of ways of ways to watch. “I want to reach both pay television viewers and broadband believers. Pivot is the first network to reach 100 percent of Comcast viewers, Time Warner viewers, FIOS, AT&T customers. Pay TV customers can get us in a bundle and live on demand. Pivot isn’t the future of television —  it’s the present.”