Hollywood's Israeli-born woman of impact
Orly Adelson, president of Dick Clark Productions, is queen of America's metastasizing awards shows.
American television stars have recently been spending a lot more time at the hairdresser and the spa, dressed in tuxedos and evening gowns ahead of some "event." This word, normally a code word for a bar mitzvah party or a wedding, has now come to signify a festive celebration with many people attending and many self-congratulatory pats on the shoulder, all beamed to the masses over the small screen. Instead of bring checks in envelopes for the celebrants, they are presented with statuettes. In both cases, the hope is that there will also be some good music.
These events, mostly award ceremonies that have come to be a little outdated, have increased over the last few years because like the finals of reality shows, they are unique and there is not much point in recording them ahead of time and watching them later on, after the results are known, while fast-forwarding through the ads. Television viewers are willing to watch them live, while advertisers are happy their ads are being seen, and the networks are busy inserting promos for their new series. This way it can be talked about in the virtual or real coffee corner afterward or during the event itself.
One noted organizer of such events is Orly Adelson, an Israeli woman who has lived for many years in Los Angeles and has been the president of Dick Clark Productions (DCP ) for the past four and a half years. In this capacity she is responsible for developing, producing, funding and distributing presentation ceremonies for the "Golden Globes," the "American Music Awards," the "Academy of Country Music Awards," and the "ALMA (American Latino Media Arts ) Awards," as well as the reality dance show "So You Think You Can Dance." (A similar local version was billed as "Nolad Lirkod," or "Born to Dance." )
Adelson is not producing this month's Emmy television awards ceremony, but she is certainly included it, being an Emmy nominee for producing the 2011 Golden Globe awards ceremony. "I won't be able to be there because I'm busy working on producing another ceremony," says Adelson at a Tel Aviv cafe during a working visit to Israel, which includes visits to her mother in Jerusalem and brother in Tel Aviv. During her short trip here, an important deal involving her company happened to be signed. It was sold to the consortium of Guggenheim Partners, Mandalay Entertainment and Mosaic Media. The Hollywood Reporter noted that the consortium is one of "experienced, long-term investors with a deep understanding of the media and entertainment industry and a history of collaboration with each other."
"I can't say how much money the company was purchased for," says Adelson, "but I can say that I'm very pleased. This will enable us to continue growing. That's the idea. Everyone will benefit from this."
Ratings on the rise
Perhaps even a few Israelis will benefit. Her meetings in Israel included some with television and high-tech executives who, with technologies being developed here, can help update this veteran medium to the television of the future.
"We were the first to use Twitter and transmit red carpet events on the Internet as well," says Adelson. "At the 'American Country Music Awards,' we had a three-hour preliminary program which was the third most-watched program on the Internet around the world, after the royal wedding and the MTV awards ceremony. We also had a virtual party from Times Square at the same time as our special program. We were the first to upload a digital version of this program. It happened four years ago; this had not been done any place else before then. The moment we used the Internet, all the other channels followed us. But at the time, when we had just proposed it, the networks were fearful, did not understand what we were talking about and who would see it. We told them 'everyone!' The network was worried that the preliminary program on the Internet would compete with the preliminary program on television. They didn't understand that actually it brings viewers to watch the ceremony and that's what's important." "Our New Year's Eve show is the most watched program on that night," she continues. "It is hosted by Ryan Seacrest [host of "American Idol"] and is broadcast on the ABC network. It is watched by 90 percent more people than all other broadcasts combined. Anyone who feared the medium and didn't grasp that this only brings more viewers to watch the actual broadcast, missed the boat."
Since Adelson became president of Dick Clark Productions in 2008, the ceremonies' ratings and the number of them being produced are on the rise. Now there is also the "NFL Honors Ceremony" (for the outstanding American football players, held a day before the Super Bowl ). This year the company will also produce the ceremony awarding the Streaming Prize for Internet creations. The company's earnings are increasing (according to the Hollywood Reporter ), and the evidence is the major deal signed this week.
"When I started this job, there was no digital division, they didn't know how to handle sponsorships, which is important, and they didn't maximize the existing opportunities in award ceremonies. Since my background is in production, I knew what had to be done to improve these shows - we raised the production level, changed everything down to the smallest details, such as graphics, for example. We were the first to include Tweets on the bottom of the screen during the acceptance speeches, which is technically very complex, because it has to go through our filter and then also the broadcasting network's filter. In short, after taking care of all these improvements, we renegotiated with all the networks and signed better contracts."
Dick Clark's blessing
Dick Clark, a veteran American game show host, died in April at 82. Clark was an iconic American television personality. Between 1957 and 1987 he hosted the seminal rock 'n' roll show "American Bandstand," as well as game shows "The $25,000 Pyramid" and "Bloopers" (an earlier, American variation of "Fisfusim," which Adelson revived and now has brought back to the screen ). Clark also hosted "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve," which has been broadcast annually from Times Square for many years.
"I run the company that bears his name and that's why it was important to me to get to know him and receive his blessing," says Adelson. "The first thing I did after getting the job was to phone him and tell him that I'd like to introduce myself. Every New Year's Eve he would finish his work at around 1 A.M., and then he and his wife had a small party for ten of their closest friends, people who had been with him during his 40-year career, and he immediately invited me to this party. It warmed my heart; I felt that he created a supportive circle around me from the moment I started the job. I still work with two of his sons at the company."
Adelson, 55, may be a behind-the-scenes woman in Hollywood, but she stands out in the Tel Aviv cafe thanks to her elegance and glamour - tall and thin, she is dressed in white and wears dark sunglasses. She has not lived in Israel since 1982, but frequently travels the Los Angeles-Tel Aviv route, and employs in her company Israelis such as Ariel Eliezer (head of the company's digital department ) and Asaf Blacher, himself a producer. "It's only because they were the most talented and the most suited to the job," says Adelson. Actress Romi Aboulafia of "Allenby" is her niece, and actor Mark Ivanir is married to her other niece.
Before leaving for the United States, Adelson completed her studies in sociology and musicology at the Jerusalem Academy of Music, then at Hebrew University and later on at Tel Aviv University. At the end of her studies in Israel she met the man who would become her husband, Andrew Adelson, and moved with him to the United States. "Just like my mother met my father in England and moved with him to Israel," she says.
Now they live in Brentwood, a very fashionable neighborhood of Los Angeles. Her son Jonathan is a student at the University of Michigan and her daughter Corrie works in the television industry in Los Angeles. Twenty years ago, Adelson started working for the television producer Michael Brandman, who specialized in adapting plays into television films. In 1991, she sold her first film - "Shoot First: A Cop's Vengeance," about a rookie police officer in Texas - to NBC, and that launched her career. She became vice president for development in Brandman's company. Later on she joined Roger Gimbel as an independent producer for the firm of Carolco-Gimbel. Several years later the firm changed its name to Gimbel-Adelson. Now, as president of Dick Clark Productions, Adelson oversees twenty different television projects, including reality shows, dramas and talk shows, and just now finished working on the "Miss USA Award Ceremony." Last year, she also produced the "Miss Universe Pageant." She also finds time to produce documentary films and continues to be the agent of Ryan Kwanten, the actor who plays Sookie's brother in "True Blood."
Gervais' golden touch
She says her busiest time at the company is in the winter. They work a long time on the New Year's Eve show and right that comes the Golden Globes, which over the past few years has gained a lot more attention because of the endearing host, British comedian Ricky Gervais.
Was it your decision to bring Gervais back year after year to host the show? Was it because of or despite his jokes about the participants?
"It was a joint decision together with the foreign reporters' association and the NBC network. We thought he was very suited to the show; it hadn't had a regular host for ten years, and he was appropriate. The moment you have Ricky Gervais you know you'll get a comedian's perspective and you have to go with that perspective. It really proved itself as far as we're concerned. Now I don't know who will host the Golden Globes.
"We organize this ceremony in three weeks," says Adelson. "Only in December are the nominees announced, and then everyone goes on their Christmas break, and we have a very limited time to close with the actors who will present the awards. We can't decide who will present the awards before we know who the nominees are, because most of the time we don't want the presenters to also be the recipients. Sometimes it's possible to guess who won't be nominees if they didn't have any major projects and then you can arrange to have them."
Adelson was named one of the Hollywood Reporter's "Power 100 Women in Entertainment" as well as one of Variety's "Women of Impact." She is also a member of the Women In Film association and is part of a Hollywood Reporter mentoring program for young women in the entertainment industry, which teams young women from distressed areas with senior Hollywood women executives.
"After I managed to raise money for my first film, I felt I had to take a student under my wing and be her mentor. The first film I obtained funding for was in 1995. It was the second time that a woman had ever managed to obtain funding for a television film. It's amazing that it only happened 17 years ago. The young woman I mentored came from East Los Angeles for two years and now she's going to Berkeley. "Men have their golf course where they close deals; women also need to help each other," she says. "Because there's nothing you can do about it, even though there are really a lot of women who are senior network television executives these days, it is still a closed men's club. Men are at the top of the pyramid at all the television networks and even if you consider the alternatives to Hollywood - Sundance, for example - there is a solid majority of male directors."
How can you reconcile your involvement in women's affairs with the beauty contests the company produces, including your latest innovation, the index showing the audience's view of the contestant's beauty? "It's complicated. I have an obligation to the company. These are the kinds of shows it does. It's not just my own personal taste. But I must say that it also reflects it. I was the one who suggested this change to the competition's organizers. I look at everything as part of the creative process and think about how it can be improved - I want the show to be more about content than just about women in bikinis on the stage."