MANH — May 2013
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Reality, Check!
Ray Rogers

Meet the New York heavies behind reality TV.

Anthony Bourdain: The King of the Kitchen

When Anthony Bourdain penned Kitchen Confidential in 2000, he thought it would cater only to his fellow restaurant employees. "That's not a huge demographic," says the chef known for his iron gut and Teflon personality. "I didn't even think it would lead to another book." But it did—as well as a television offer. "I was still in my 'better keep my day job' mode," says Bourdain, a former chef at New York brasserie Les Halles. "I naturally assumed they were full of sh*t." But with his second book, A Cook's Tour, which included "ludicrously self-indulgent" travel as a main ingredient, he realized they weren't. He began shooting with the same "no expectations" ethos that characterized his approach to writing. "It's very liberating," says Bourdain, an understated presence in a hyped foodie scene full of celebrity chefs, cooking competitions and branding. "Television is a means to an end. I like telling stories and keeping each episode different, from a downbeat conflict show to silly food porn the next. I think viewers are much more intelligent and engaged than programmers think."

More than 10 years and four shows later (A Cook's Tour on Food Network, No Reservations and The Layover on the Travel Channel and The Taste on ABC), his instincts proved right. Now the 56-yearold host brings his acerbic wit, counterculture take on travel and seemingly insatiable palate to CNN for his boldest platter yet, Parts Unknown. The season starts in newly liberated Myanmar and culminates in political hotbeds like the Congo and Libya, where he dines with rebels. "We tend to think bad things happen in other places," he says of his remote locations. "We try to put a human face on countries that most can't even locate on a map—though I'm not naive enough to think this will lead to world peace." But his unvarnished lens, wanderlust and populist take on eating just might get viewers to open more than their mouths. —Marisa Fox

Teresa Launi Sorkin: The Production Maven

"The hardest part of being a reality producer? We need to find the craziest people who will bring the drama, but we also need them to be dependable enough to show up on time," explains Teresa Launi Sorkin, president of Prototype Entertainment, a TV and film production company. Sorkin grew up in Soho and attended New York University before heading to Milan, where she studied economics and modeled. After a stint as an entertainment correspondent on Italian TV, she decided that working behind the camera was a better fit. Back in the U.S., she worked on Laguna Beach and The Hills for MTV; then in 2007, she co-created the network's controversial show The Xeffect, which showed young couples getting drunk and hooking up. "It really pushed the envelope for its time," she says. But standards evolve quickly, and by 2009, Jersey Shore had made on-camera smushing routine.

Currently Sorkin, 37, and her partners Bethany Parish and Frank Rainone have a first-look deal with The Weinstein Company and can boast 10 shows in development, including ones about psychics, surfer girls, Wiccans and guys who pour concrete, as well as a relationship show that's premiering on MTV in June. "These shows are really cast-driven," says Sorkin, who lives with her husband and two kids in Battery Park City. Besides bringing the crazy, "reality stars need to be willing to reveal the good, the bad and the ugly on camera," she says. "If they don't, this isn't for them." But promising shows can also fall apart when cast members' lives are too out of control. "We were doing this show called Trailer Girls about girls in a trailer park in South Carolina," she says. "It didn't work out because the girls had serious issues because they weren't professional actors, they were trailer girls." —Anne Marie O'Connor

Meryl Poster: The Straight Shooter

Long before she took the reins of Mob Wives and the Project Runway franchise, executive producer Meryl Poster was well-versed in the ways of reality TV. As a Miramax Films honcho, Poster appeared on-camera alongside Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in the company's very first reality series, Project Greenlight. "At the time, I wasn't sure what I was getting into," she says of the 2002 cult favorite, in which Damon and Affleck saw a wannabe filmmaker's dream project through to production.

But despite any initial misgivings, Poster took beautifully to the medium. Her shoot-fromthe- hip style made her a Greenlight fan favorite. And it continues to serve her well in a genre in which authenticity is both rare and key. "I've always said, I am who I am," says Poster, 48. "I'm very honest and straightforward. It isn't always pleasant, but it's always in the best interest of the company."

From her very first show business job—as the second woman ever to work in the William Morris Agency's famed mailroom—on through the two decades she worked for Miramax, she has maintained that sense of loyalty. "My position may have changed over the years, but I really haven't," says Poster, who executive produced such bigscreen hits as Chicago, Chocolat and The Cider House Rules.

She's loyal to her TV shows, too. The daughter of a swimsuit manufacturer and a model with a love of fashion, Poster was already a die-hard Project Runway fan when, in 2011, Harvey Weinstein lured her back from NBC to executive produce both Runway and its spinoffs Project Runway All-Stars and Project Accessory. "My 13-yearold daughter and I still watch it all the time," she says. And Mob Wives—which Poster says she knew was a "home run" right away—is the icing on the cake. "It exposes us to a world we've never seen," she says, explaining that she sees that as the main appeal of the genre.

"The best reality shows either take you to a place you've never been before, or take your own life to another level," Poster says. "Either way, it's a great escape." —Alison Gaylin

Mark Mullett: Agent of Influence

"People like to give reality TV a hard time," says Mark Mullett, William Morris Endeavor agent for unscripted and lifestyle television. "I might be drinking my own Kool- Aid, but I look at each show, from Honey Boo Boo to Housewives, as an anthropological incision into our societal fascia," Mullett continues, his schmooze impassioned. "Love 'em or hate 'em, they would still be doing their thing, whether we watched them or not."

His clients range from master reality TV producer Lenid Rolov, whose credits include Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes, The Hills, Cyndi Lauper: Still So Unusual, and the The Real Housewives New York City and New Jersey franchises ("The next season of Housewives of New Jersey is apparently explosively wild," says Mullett), to One Louder Productions (creators of MTV's teen self-improvement show, Made), Anne Burrell of Food Network, Nate Berkus and Kathie Lee Gifford. Clearly Mullett, 29, thrives on media mashup: "My day is always undulating," he says. "Every day is really different, and that kind of pacifies my self-diagnosed ADD."

The key to successful reality TV, Mullett says, is simply a matter of great storytelling. "A dynamic, magnetic character always has a place on TV," he says.

The Gucci-, Dolce- and Dior Homme-suit wearing Mullett, a daily habitue of SoulCycle (another of his clients), grew up in Manlius, N. Y., just outside of Syracuse, and was determined to work in New York City's entertainment industry. In 2005, after graduating from Hamilton College, he won an entrylevel position at the William Morris agency, starting in the mailroom as all new hires do (in the footsteps of David Geffen and Michael Ovitz), and has been on the fast track ever since. Does Mullett ever disconnect from his iPhone? "No, I really don't," he says. "I feel like it stares at me at night, but that's OK." —James Servin

Scott Lonker: The Super Agent

Life is unscripted, and the career trajectory of Scott Lonker has proven similarly unpredictable. A top agent at legendarily powerful talent agency CAA, Lonker, 39, enjoys a reputation as one of unscripted television's most innovative powerhouses: He currently represents much of its top talent, including Criss Angel, Johnny Knoxville's Dickhouse production company and the creators of ubiquitous hits like The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? And ImpracticalJokers. What launched his career, however, was a hilarious misunderstanding. After graduating from Rutgers in 1996 with little career direction, he found himself working the door at a Washington, D. C., comedy club. "I didn't know anything about entertainment—I grew up in Margate, N.J., where my dad owned a pet store," Lonker says. "Backstage, all the comedians' contact info was posted up on a wall, and I'd noticed they were repped by different agencies. I thought they were photo agencies: It was like, 'No, dum-dum, they're talent agencies.'"

Once he'd figured out that key detail, Lonker's professional ascent began. Landing in the mailroom of William Morris' New York office, he found a crucial mentor in WM's thenhead of TV, Jim Griffin. At the time, reality-based programming wasn't the Zeitgeist driver it is today, allowing Lonker to build a solid foundation in that growing arena. His taste and industry savoir faire eventually led to a four-year stint as vice president of unscripted development at A&E, overseeing smash series like Dog the Bounty Hunter.

He transitioned back to agency life in 2011: Joining CAA's Manhattan operation, he'd become ideally poised to tackle the opportunities of unscripted's burgeoning "golden age." "I'd gotten a 360-degree view of what goes into making a hit," Lonker explains. "Shows were going straight to series, with no pilot. When I realiZed how competitive the market had become between networks, I didn't want to miss anything on the selling side. It's just always exciting to look for stories that haven't been told yet, or in a way we haven't seen before." —Matt Diehl

Vinnie Potestivo: The People Person

It takes a character to know a character. Gesticulating wildly while telling tales of reality coups (from bringing Mandy Moore and Molly Sims to the sector in his early days at MTV to casting the Millionaire Matchmaker in Manhattan), 6-foot-3 casting agent Vinnie Potestivo, 36, is one big lovable Italian family man. It's no wonder he rhapsodizes about the matriarch of The Real Housewives of New Jersey series (for which his firm helps cast supporting players) and takes pride in "MTV's other Vinny from Staten Island" (Vinny Guadagnino from Jersey Shore), recognized as a hometown reality heartthrob. Growing up the oldest of six kids in a one-parent household in an outer borough was early training for the demands of casting reality television programming, says Potestivo, who rose through the ranks at MTV before starting his own namesake casting agency, Vinnie Potestivo Entertainment.

"As a kid, my job was to keep the other kids out of the kitchen—I did that by entertaining each one of them individually," he says. "I can work for MTV, VH1, Bravo, A&E Biography, and so on, because I have that many family members and I can tell versions of the same exact story to my grandfather as easily as I can to my brother."

The real key to his success in the genre comes from being "a person hoarder, and a story hoarder," says Potestivo, who counts more than 160 people in upward of 35 markets in his "COPS" program—which stands for Character Outreach Program, or COPS on patrol. That reach gives his firm the ability to search high and low for, say, "adult babies"—"and that's not even strange or unusual for me"—as easily as the girls next door. But so far, for 2013 it's been all about the moms. "As of January, we've sold five projects that all have strong mothers at the center of every show." Hardly surprising, as the mom controls the remote control in the family, he says— "they're like the TV gatekeepers." And what does his own mom make of his chosen field? "My mom loves what I do," he says. "But I still get phone calls from her congratulating me on like, American Idol or the Academy Awards—neither of which I have anything to do with." —Ray Rogers
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