October 24, 2005

Taking chances pays off for TV production duo

By Cynthia Littleton

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - One of the first pitch
meetings Greer Shephard and Michael Robin took after uniting as
producing partners in 1998 was with a dynamic young writer who
had no produced credits, only a charming spec script dubbed
"Why Can't I Be Audrey Hepburn?"

The script and the meeting were enough to convince Shephard
and Robin. They took Ryan Murphy under wing and embarked on the
development and production of the cult-fave WB Network dramedy
"Popular." That experience set the tone for what would become
the Shephard/Robin Co. trademark of recruiting under-the-radar
writers and guiding them through the grueling process of making
episodic television.

"We think of our company as a trio, and we always have an
empty seat at the table for our creator," Shephard says. "We're
here to help them fulfill their vision, whatever that may be."

Murphy hit the bull's-eye for the two who had so much faith
in him with his next show, FX's "Nip/Tuck." Meanwhile,
Shephard/Robin Co. further raised its profile this year by
scoring with Kyra Sedgwick as a feisty Southerner transplanted
to Los Angeles in TNT's detective drama "The Closer," created
by James Duff.

"We've been lucky in that we've guessed right most times
about who we want to get into business with, whether it's
writers that we're giving a big chance to or people that need a
little rehabilitation," Robin says. Adds Shephard, "You can
just feel it if someone really has something they want to say."

The partners are veterans of the primetime trenches.
Shephard, whose father, Harvey Shephard, was a top CBS and
Warner Bros. TV executive in the 1970s and '80s, met Robin in
1991 when she was a junior exec at ABC and he was working his
way up the ladder at Steven Bochco Prods.

By the time Robin was ready to go out on his own as
director/exec producer of the ABC drama "C-16," which had a
short run in 1997, Shephard was ready to join him as a producer
on the series. She had risen to head of drama development at
ABC, but she had become increasingly wary of how media
conglomerates were "metastasizing" into assembly line-style
development processes.

Nearly a decade later, it comes as no surprise to the
partners that their most distinctive, and most successful, work
has been done in the basic cable realm, with outlets that had
nothing to lose by gambling on unconventional ideas and
promoting the heck out of them.

"Both FX and TNT seem to have reverted to the older model
of development, where the very big decision (for the network)
is who do you choose to get into business with and what idea
are you going to pursue together," Shephard says. "And from
there, there isn't so much micromanagement. It's more about,
'Give us what it is that you want to say.' "

Robin's depth of knowledge in physical production has
allowed them to produce high-end dramas on basic cable budgets
and tight seven-day shooting schedules (compared with eight or
more for broadcast TV).

By design and necessity, "Nip/Tuck" embraced a minimalism
in its set design; "Closer" is shot entirely with hand-held
cameras, which gives "great kinetic energy into the piece" and
saves valuable prep time, Robin says.

"There are a million little-bitty ways to save money that
all add up," he says. And all of those little-bitty innovations
have contributed to Shephard/Robin's growing reputation as
purveyors of high-quality, fiscally responsible productions.
Establishing their track record with "Nip/Tuck" and now "The
Closer" has allowed them even more freedom to pursue the
projects that inspire them, which stands in sharp contrast to
Shephard's previous life as a network exec.

"At every step along the way, we always have the freedom to
say no," she says. "It's made life a lot easier to live."

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter