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Friday, April 16, 2010

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Loreen Arbus, Television Producer, Executive

Loreen Arbus is a trailblazer: she is the first woman in the United States to head programming for a national network, which she has done for both Showtime and Cable Health Network/Lifetime Television. Arbus has an extensive history in the entertainment industry, having been a writer and producer, a consultant to various networks, and an executive in network television, cable, syndication, and print media. Arbus trained at ABC, where she advanced from story analyst to executive producer of primetime specials. She left to become vice president of original programming for the then-obscure cable movie channel, Showtime. She later became head of programming for Cable Health Network, the twenty-four-hour network that evolved into Lifetime Television. Having helped to establish two cornerstones of cable television, Arbus went out on her own and launched Loreen Arbus Productions, Inc., an independent television production company with an emphasis on nonfiction programming. The author of six books; a celebrated tango teacher, performer and choreographer; a composer and artist, she thrives on setting new goals for herself. “I love challenges,” she explains. “I love charting new territories.”

Loreen Arbus is the daughter of Leonard H. Goldenson, founder and former chairman of ABC. He transformed five television stations on the verge of collapse into a worldwide broadcast giant known for its technological innovations and groundbreaking programming. Goldenson helped shape modern mass communications and transformed ABC into one of the world’s mightiest media empires.

Early on, Arbus decided to drop her well-known surname in favor of her grandmother’s maiden name, mostly because she “didn’t want to ride on [her] father’s accomplishments.” From the age of 14, she interned summers at various magazines. Working for Cosmopolitan magazine’s editor-in-chief Helen Gurley Brown was a “formative experience.” Arbus explains, “She had a hierarchy, but she gave everyone’s ideas and contributions attention. She taught me how much better anyone of us can be if we listen, never knowing from where a significant idea can come.”

Arbus joined ABC as a story analyst, at the time a traditional entry-level position for women seeking an executive career in the entertainment industry. “Women at the networks and studios were found in story development,” Arbus says. “We put our opinions on paper and that was a kind of inoffensive way for people to deal with women because they didn’t have to be in a room and listen to us.” Through hard work and solidarity with her female colleagues (with whom she regularly shared and compared salary information “as a baseline for subsequent negotiations”), Arbus quickly moved her way up the network ladder from program coordinator to program executive to executive producer—all the while keeping her family pedigree under wraps. “As women in a man’s world,” she told Mollie Gregory in Women Who Run the Show: How a Brilliant and Creative New Generation of Women Stormed Hollywood, “we wanted desperately to prove ourselves—we worked through lunch, came in earlier, left later, and were often the most reliable resources in the work force.”

It was around this time that legal pressures stemming from the Equal Employment Opportunity Act compelled ABC’s human resources department to begin posting job openings on a bulletin board. “This made it possible for us to at least see what was open—before it was closed,” says Arbus, who campaigned heavily for a position in the late-night television department. After she was formally offered the job, Arbus went to see Wally Weltman, to whom she would be reporting, and informed him that she was the daughter of the chairman of the board. Weltman, a longtime veteran of ABC, was taken aback, telling Arbus, “I can’t say it doesn’t make a difference. I’ll have to think about your working for me…and let you know in a few days.” “If I had been Leonard Goldenson’s son,” Arbus speculates, “I think everyone would have assumed I was there to take over! To me, going up the ladder at ABC was neither my birthright nor my destiny; it was an opportunity to train in the entertainment business.” After deliberating, Weltman relented (on the condition that “what we talk about is between you and me”), and Arbus became the supervisor of late-night programming for ABC. “He was a remarkable man and true mentor,” she recalls of Weltman. “I learned how important it is to always be prepared with contingency plans and to deal honestly and openly, even in those things you fear most.”

Arbus soon parlayed that fearlessness and tenacity into television history by becoming the first woman to head programming for a network. “When I was ready to leave ABC, I spent a good year looking and then two offers came along. One was to head the Group W stations [Westinghouse] and one was to open up a West Coast office and take Showtime into original programming. To me, Group W was an established, older, white man’s world that needed fixing in some areas, but working there would have nothing to do with pioneering. At the time, Showtime was basically a movie-buying service and largely unknown. It was most exciting to realize that I had an offer to help brand a new network—and that I could make a difference. “Against my lawyer’s advice—he’d never even heard of Showtime!—I took a job with half the amount of money, no perks and a lesser title than if I had gone to Group W.” Working with Jeffrey Reiss and Jules Haimovitz, the founders of the network, Arbus, as vice president of original programming, initiated cable’s first made-for-television movie-pilot, Falcon’s Gold; its first scripted (comedy) series, Bizarre; and cable’s groundbreaking reality series What’s Up America, while at the same time spearheading the successful campaign to gain Emmy recognition of cable programming by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (ATAS). “It was quite a big step forward,” she said. “At the time, the networks thought cable was the enemy.”

Impressed by and rewarding her success, network parent Viacom moved Arbus from Showtime to help launch Cable Health Network, which eventually evolved into Lifetime Television. As senior vice president, she oversaw all program development, production, acquisition, scheduling, and on-air promotion for the fledgling cabler. Within her first three months, she made production commitments and negotiated all deals for 1,671 half-hours of programming (424 acquisitions and seventeen original series). She brought Regis Philbin to cable and introduced Dr. Ruth nationally. Subsequently, she supervised program development and production for Viacom’s network and first-run syndication divisions.

A high-profile professional and pioneer in her field, Arbus is a sought-after speaker at national and international media conferences and is passionate about encouraging and mentoring women in television, film, and communications.

For over two decades, she has co-hosted a monthly luncheon for prominent, high-level women in communications. To date, over 15,000 women who represent various facets of the entertainment industry—including but not limited to television, film, print, public relations, music, new media, as well as philanthropy—participate in highly stimulating conversations, which evolve into open and provocative discussions about culture, industry projects and issues that impact the daily lives of women in the industry and more.

Arbus is a tireless advocate for a variety of media-related and nonprofit causes.

She serves on 11 non-profit boards, including: The Paley Center for Media; The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation; The Women’s Media Center; Muslim Women’s Fund; New York Women’s Forum; United Cerebral Palsy; Harvard Kennedy School of Government Women’s Leadership Board; Harvard School of Public Health; Harvard Medical School Advisory Committee for Neurobiology; The Weizmann Institute of Science; Town Hall Los Angeles and a member of the Brookings Institution.

Arbus has served as a two-term governor for the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences; on the boards of the Producers Guild, The Caucus For Producers, Writers and Directors, Women In Film, Women in Cable and Telecommunications; and as chair of Women In Film International.

She was co-founder and for seven years co-chair of the Lucy Awards for Women In Film. She is founder and co-chair of an annual luncheon, “Women Who Care” for UCP/NYC, and she was among the core group of founders of the Los Angeles Donor Circle of The Women’s Foundation of California. She is a cofounder of The California Governor’s Media Office for Employment of the Disabled.

She has been recognized by numerous organizations for her humanitarian and professional accomplishments. A partial list of awards/achievements include: The Heart of Giving Award presented by President Bill Clinton in 2001; Genii Award for Lifetime Achievement presented by American Women in Radio & Television; the Power 100 Women In Entertainment presented by the Hollywood Reporter; the National Association of Women Business Owners Hall of Fame Award; the 21 Leaders for the 21st Century Award presented by Women’s eNews; the Distinguished Service Award presented by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences; the Headliner Award presented by Women In Communications, Inc. She was chosen as one (of forty) of the Leading Women Entrepreneurs of the World 2002 and has also been honored with the Disability Awareness Award presented by The California Governor’s Committee for Employment of Disabled Persons, the Women of Action Award presented by the Israel Cancer Research Fund, the Woman of Achievement Award presented by the Friends of Sheba Medical Center, and the Project Angel Food Award 2002.

Arbus is also a renowned professional Argentine tango dancer and choreographer, having costarred in, co-produced and co-choreographed the first theatrical Argentine tango stage show to originate in the United States with which she has toured four continents.

Arbus is a member of the Writers Guild, Authors Guild, SAG, and AFTRA.  We are so pleased to present Loreen Arbus as our latest Mover and Shaker!

Peachy Deegan interviewed Loreen Arbus for Whom You Know.

What first inspired you to enter the television industry?
My original career goal was to be an investigative journalist.  As circumstances would have it, I landed an internship in the beauty department of Cosmopolitan magazine and therefore, through happenstance, had an extreme change of direction... From print I went into television, although I concurrently wrote six books, was syndicated by Copley, became a Contributing Writer for LIFE magazine, Los Angeles Magazine, and wrote articles for many other publications.

Did you watch a lot of TV as a child? 
I was not allowed to watch any TV!  The only TV I saw was when my parents went out for the evening and, on a few occasions, I successfully negotiated with the housekeeper. 

How do you think national programming should change or not overall in the US? 
As a cable pioneer, I can say, first hand, that the changes - - because of the advent and growth of pay and basic cable networks and the Internet - - have revolutionized media.  There are detractors who decry, “There is just nothing on television…” In my opinion they couldn’t be further from the truth.  In fact, as someone who is always interested in knowing what other people think about pretty much everything and because my career track has been in television, I have made it a point to ask many people over the years (at dinner parties, on airplanes, etc.), “What do you watch on TV?”  Invariably, those people who disrespect TV have sampled very little and are hard pressed to tell me what they’ve seen.  Usually they will say, “Well, the only thing on TV to watch is 60 Minutes and some programs on PBS.” This is absolutely absurd! 
I didn’t actually answer how “national [television] programming should change” because I think, with such an extraordinary spectrum of options, people can make choices which precludes the need for change.  That being said, what could and should change is what masquerades as “news”. The content of most news programs should be eviscerated!  In 2008-9, 29% of primetime writers were women, only up 9% from 1997-98.  However, the representation of women directors, a paltry 9% in 2008-9, only went up 1% from ten years prior.  (The representation of women writers and directors in film is even worse.)  All minorities are horrifically underrepresented in television.  Sexism, ageism, racial discrimination and hardly any people with disabilities remain today consistent but utterly unacceptable facts. I also think that reality programs should get real and disclose that both judges and contestants are heavily scripted.  Even what appears to be “spontaneous” is largely contrived.  I also adamantly feel they should take the drinks out of the hands of folks on reality shows who, clearly, the producers/director is trying to loosen up.  How irresponsible!

What do you think of national programming in the US compared to other countries?
As one who is sadly not linguistically facile, I really do not have the basis to compare locally originated, foreign language programs with US programming.  I can say that the British have consistently identified new formats and concepts in all genres which have influenced American primetime.  Ironically, they have both raised and lowered our standards depending on which show that was adapted in the States you are watching.  However, when it comes to news, I seek out foreign sources.  The unparalleled bias on U.S. news programs is a horrific byproduct of economics, exploitation, arrogance, and the limitations of those who purvey “news” in the United States.  

How can more women become more successful in "a man's world;" specifically in the realms of television, business, Wall Street, sports and other traditionally male-dominated industries? 
To succeed, one must take risks and one can feel very alone as a consequence, but at the same time, one should keep in mind that there is safety in numbers which is to say networking, creating strategic alliances, and collaboration can propel one’s agenda and recognition considerably.  Women should avail themselves of some pretty significant research that has come about in the past few years, demonstrating that women and men do think and act differently but those differences are not negative and, in fact, men would serve their own purpose better if they are gender blind!

What was it like to work with Regis?  
Easy!  Great!

How about Dr. Ruth? 
What a character! 

Who have you enjoyed working with the most and why? 
I cannot single out “the most” in virtually any sphere.  I’ve had such extraordinary and diverse experiences working (in the for-profit and non-profit worlds) with numerous and truly amazing people!  I can say that at a time when it was particularly significant, in my formative years, I was the beneficiary of invaluable insights because I had the opportunity to watch and learn from Helen Gurley Brown, then publisher and editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine.  Everyone on the staff, from the lowliest of lowlies (which I was!) to the senior editors, was treated respectfully and our ideas were acknowledged.  If we came forth with bad ideas, we could learn from them because Helen hand wrote a note and offered her constructive critique.  In essence, she practiced “open sourcing” (1,000 years before the Internet “discovered” it), because she kept a Suggestion Box outside her office and took seriously whatever landed in it.

What are your favorite TV shows today? 
My “guilty” pleasures are mostly to be found on MTV, VH1, Bravo, and The Learning Channel.  I visit various of the Discovery networks a lot. I LOVE reality series where I can vicariously live others’ lives and learn from their experiences.

What are your favorite TV shows no longer on TV?
I’m a sampler - - I cherry pick new programs so I have a working knowledge of what’s on TV.  I have never been a week in, week out TV viewer except when it comes to magazine news shows, and, fortunately, they are still on TV.  Favorites that have been on TV were mini-series and movies as opposed to series.

What did you learn from your father? 
The power of nice.   Greeting people.  Taking an interest in their stories, needs, ideas.  Total disregard for status symbols.  He could have cared less about having a big house, many homes, the A+ location of homes, the A+ parties, the A+ guest lists, the top of the line cars, first class plane tickets, and all the endless, materialistic symbols of “success”.  What he did care about was raising money to help people who are disadvantaged; raising awareness of the need for diversity (he was instrumental in introducing to television the first woman primetime anchor, the first African American primetime anchor, the first African American family in a series, closed captioning, depiction of people with disabilities). 

How would you like your father to be remembered?
As a great visionary and innovator… 
For his character, decency, and uncompromising integrity and trust. People knew him to be open-minded, ethical, and altruistic, and as someone who always listened to and learned from others. He used his influence and power for the greater good.
My Father will be remembered for his dedication to diversity and helping others. 
In 1949, with my mother, he Co-founded United Cerebral Palsy (UCP), the 5th largest health agency in the U.S.  He empowered the largest minority in the world- - people with disabilities. At my mother’s urging, my parents met with NASA’s scientists and proposed that they apply their technological breakthroughs in accomplishing the first manned moon exploration to people on earth.  Today’s use of robotics for disability therapy was engendered by my parents.  My Father convinced NASA to adapt the use of space suits in occupational therapy to help handicapped limbs move and to adapt lightweight materials developed by NASA to make wheelchairs more mobile and easier to carry. Other space age technologies that were developed as a direct result of this meeting were the use of a multi-directional conveyance - - similar to the one used on the moon that climbed over rocks - - it allows people with disabilities to surmount many obstacles, including stairs, and the implanting of electrodes behind the kidneys for the treatment of  kidney paralysis as well as the use of electricity to stimulate kidney function.
My parents were responsible for the first –ever exchange program between students at Harvard Medical School and M.I.T.- - merging the worlds of medicine and technology. The result was the creation of The Master's Degree Program in Health Sciences and Technology (HST).  Today this collaborative template is used world-over.
In 1955, United Cerebral Palsy Research and Educational Foundation (now known as Cerebral Palsy International Research Foundation) was co-founded by my parents and has been instrumental in contributing to the elimination of three major causes of cerebral palsy and other neurological disabilities - - German measles (previously the most common cause of Cerebral Palsy), jaundice in the newborn, the fetal heart monitor used in hospitals worldwide and maternal-fetal blood type incompatibility known as RH Factor.
Currently, among myriad scientific projects it funds, the Foundation has been able to create something unheard of in the past and perhaps unique in the world today. Phase One of The “Miracle in the Middle East” project  brought together scientists from Israel, Palestine and Jordan, in concert with the Royal Family of Jordan, to collaborate on working with children in the Middle East with cerebral palsy and other neurological conditions. The success of Phase One has motivated the Foundation to raise funds to create Phase Two of the project that will include Morocco and Egypt.

UCPREF’s culturally-diverse scientists focus on our human similarities, not our differences - -  developing new, innovative ways to improve the quality of life through collaboration.
Many qualified medical school graduates, unable to get government research grants due to their non mainstream ideas and lack of experience, have been supported by UCP and ultimately received major grants to continue their research.
My Father was a television network pioneer who gave birth to more “Firsts” than any other person in television history

A partial list of his “Firsts” include:  the introduction and distribution of foreign films in the United States; television network diversification into other media:  publishing, feature film production, amusement parks, recording industry, Broadway, worldwide videotape distribution of programs for Americans in foreign countries (a concept analogous to but before the advent of home video or the technology of TiVO); the involvement of a major film studio in television production (Warner Brothers); a dedicated television production studio; multiple radio networks; movies made for television (MOW) and miniseries; primetime serials, soap operas, animation; franchises (western, doctor, detective, caper, and action genre series); program documentaries produced outside of the news department; religious programming; broadcast of the McCarthy trials (the ONLY network to do so); broadcast of the Olympics internationally; sports coverage around the world; a news bureau in the Middle East; affiliation with cable and development of its own cable networks (ESPN, A&E, Lifetime, The History Channel); the introduction of closed captioning; the first-ever telethon (UCP - - it ran 46 years and raised millions of dollars;  it also introduced into American homes a subject that was taboo - - people with disabilities, and educated the American public as well as hugely evolved the concept of philanthropy which is about giving, regardless of how much or little). 

My Father encouraged others to embrace their civic responsibility.
He single-handedly spearheaded a political movement, Voting for Democracy.  He invited three presidents of the United States, the presidents of CBS and NBC, and several legislators to a panel discussion to radically address the news department roles in election coverage and education of the public.  He proposed that polls be kept open long enough so people could find a convenient time to vote and all polls close at the same time as he was concerned that the networks might have an unhealthy influence on voting by using such devices as exit polling and early projections. 

Where do you think the best place in Manhattan is to learn how to tango, and where is the best place to tango once you have it mastered?
Check out Richard Lipkin’s website, (
), or call the Tango Hotline which is updated daily:  212. 726. 1111.  New York has an amazingly dense concentration of teachers, musicians, singers, milongas (places to dance Argentine tango), practicas (places to practice Argentine tango with some guidance).

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence? 
Miss [STET] Karen Hensen - - my older sister’s lifelong caretaker.  My parents.  My father, Leonard H. Goldenson, Founder/Chairman, ABC.  Against all odds, he bought and transformed five failing television stations into a third network.  From humble origins, he became a pioneer in broadcasting and one of the most powerful men in media. Virtually every innovation, every “first”, in television history occurred at ABC during the 33 years my Dad was at the helm. He envisioned media synergy; identified and cultivated talent; and believed giving back should be part of everyone’s personal commitment.   Another influential person in my life was my mother, Isabelle Goldenson.  Her ideas and his connections were responsible for changing the laws of our country and improving the lives of so many.  They lobbied to create Section 502, The Architectural Barriers Act, which, for the first time, prohibited discrimination on the basis of disability.  Her unique ideas resulted in federal funding of $30 million for orthopedic equipment and national laws mandating shaved corners of street curbs, motorized lifts on public transports, lowered public telephones, enlarged restroom cubicles, ramps in public buildings, and designated “handicapped” parking in every city in the United States.  Recognized as the predecessor more than twenty years prior to the American With Disabilities Act of 1990, Section 502 directed communities around the country to take steps towards greater accessibility for people with disabilities.

What are you proudest of and why? 
I am proudest of my life priorities:  my commitment to doing for others.  I co-founded the Media Access Office which was established in association with the California Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities. For over 20 years, this office has been the single most broad-based and important influence on media consciousness in terms of depiction and employment of those with disabilities (consulting to studios, networks and production companies; producers, directors and writers). It is funded through the annual Media Access Awards event which honor those projects and people who have impacted all media (TV, film, theater, advertising) with respect to disability awareness.
I am also proud of setting precedent:   I am the first woman to head up programming for a US network.   As Vice President of Original Programming for Showtime, I initiated the first movie-made-for-pay and the first scripted comedy series and cable’s first co-production(s).  As Senior Vice President in charge of program development, production, acquisition, scheduling and on-air promotion for Cable Health Network/Lifetime, I helped launch the 24 hour network -- within just 3 months, I put into development, gave production commitments and negotiated all deals for 1671 half hours of programming (424 acquisitions and 17 original series.) 
With my dance partner, I was the first non Argentine to tour a theatrical presentation of Argentine tango which originated in the United States; other firsts in the Argentine tango dance world include distributing an instructional video (the first from the US); performing for the opening of World Cup soccer; dancing for the Emperor of Japan; performing at the Hollywood Bowl and on Broadway.

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do? 
In my next life, I would like to take my passion for designing clothes and interior design beyond these being avocations.

What honors and awards have you received in your profession?
I have been recognized by numerous organizations for my humanitarian and professional accomplishments. A partial list of awards/achievements include: The Heart of Giving Award presented by President Bill Clinton in 2001;Genii Award for Lifetime Achievement presented by American Women in Radio & Television; the Power 100 Women In Entertainment presented by the Hollywood Reporter; the National Association of Women Business Owners Hall of Fame Award; the 21 Leaders for the 21st Century Award presented by Women’s eNews; the Distinguished Service Award presented by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences; the Headliner Award presented by Women In Communications, Inc., the Disability Awareness Award presented by The California Governor’s Committee for Employment of Disabled Persons, the Women of Action Award presented by the Israel Cancer Research Fund, the Woman of Achievement Award presented by the Friends of Sheba Medical Center, and the Project Angel Food Award 2002.  I was named one (of forty) of The Leading Women Entrepreneurs of the World 2002. 

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan?
Dancing Argentine tango in the spring, summer, and fall on the South Seaport Pier, Pier 45, and in Central Park.  My favorite environment in the world is the Chelsea Market.

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan? 
My favorite place to shop is at outdoor arts and craft fairs, and farmers markets.

What is your favorite drink? 
Hot chocolate at Maison du Chocolat or MarieBelle.

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan? 
My favorite restaurant experience is discovering new, mostly ethnic places eg Ethiopian, Turkish, Korean, Szechuan and Hunan Chinese, Thai, Mexican, and Moroccan...  I love various Central and South American cuisines and have sushi at least once a week.

What is your favorite Manhattan book? 
The Sidewalks of New York:  A Celebration of New York History by Bill Harris

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why? 
An arts program for people with disabilities; a campaign to rescue animals; an afterschool/weekend program and camp that transports young people to dance and music concerts and art galleries and museums, and allows them to engage in dialogue with people who can expand their horizons and give them the dreams to dream and the confidence and tools to pursue their dreams.  

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience? 
I don’t “do” athletics.  Life begins after 10 PM (except Friday afternoons and Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon) because that’s when I escape into dance. I will leave a black tie event to do this and my friends know I don’t stay late at dinner parties - - I dance Argentine tango virtually every night of my life, wherever in the world I am.

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else? 
Dance Argentine tango on a pier with the skyline of the most magnificent city in the world behind me, with the breezes of the East or Hudson Rivers, the sparkling lights of the distant shores, being part of a community and yet, at the same time, escape into a meditational place with the most beautiful music in the world - - and, for three minutes, a dream partner.

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience?
Dancing Argentine tango across the Williamsburg Bridge with eleven other couples for over three hours.

What do you think is most underrated and overrated here? 
Underrated:  How nice and friendly New Yorkers generally are, and the pleasure of the new law disallowing taxi drivers from using their cell phones.  Overrated:  Times Square.

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it?
I particularly enjoy "Small Screen Scenes." It's really informative and well written. "Small Screen Scenes" recently devoted a fantastic column to "The Loreen Arbus Focus on Disability Scholarship" launch and I thought it was extremely well done.

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you? 
If I put this in print, it is more likely I will finish the three goals I have set for myself:  bringing out a CD of my own original Argentine tango compositions, finishing my seventh book, and writing/illustrating a children’s book.

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