Q&A: Cleveland O’Neal Makes the Connection to National Syndication

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By Annlee Ellingson
L.A. Biz

With “Entertainment Tonight” and “Extra” already on the air, one might not think another entertainment magazine could survive, let alone thrive, in the competitive tabloid marketplace. Yet “Made in Hollywood” has done just that. Now in its ninth season, the weekly program focuses not on gossip or celebrity news but on the actual making of movies with filmmaker interviews, behind-the-scenes segments, set visits, sneak previews, and awards shows and other events. The show reaches 107 million American homes and regularly ranks third among weekend editions in the category.

And it does so without the backing of CBS or Disney or Warner Bros., as the nationally syndicated “Made in Hollywood,” its spinoff “Made in Hollywood: Teen Edition” and “Live Life and Win!” (a kind of “60 Minutes” for teens) are independently produced and distributed by Connection III Entertainment. The company is effectively “a mini-network, for all intents and purposes,” said president and CEO Cleveland O’Neal, who considers himself as much an entrepreneur as a producer. “You’re doing the same thing that Fox and NBC and ABC are doing except you don’t have 40 [or 60] hours a week. In our case, you have two to three hours of programming, but you control and own all of that.”

O’Neal made the leap into independent syndication on the tail end of the popularity of after-school specials, when he learned to distribute movies like “What About Your Friends” himself rather than accepting what he called “monkey points” from the studios—net points that don’t yield any actual checks. He flew and drove to TV stations all over the country—back when they were still locally owned, before consolidation. He built out a network and then returned to those clients with a weekly show, bartering airtime for ad space. That allows O’Neal to go to Madison Ave. with his Hollywood content.

So far, the arrangement has worked. O’Neal wouldn’t share financial details, but he did say revenue has grown “at a 10 to 20 percent clip,” and the 20-person company invested $2 million last year to expand into new office space and build a state-of-the-art digital TV studio on Wilshire across from LACMA.

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