When Larry Namer graduated from Brooklyn College, a hiring freeze prevented him from landing a job as a public school teacher in New York and he was forced to continue his summer job as an assistant underground cable splicer in order to eat. At this point, one might say he was as low as you could go; but one who made that statement could not possibly be more distant from the truth. For Larry was, in reality, undaunted by his circumstances, and, driven by an optimistic, indomitable spirit and more than willing to follow the flow of life’s events, he rose in the cable industry from such less than humble beginnings through his own creativity, ingenuity, and persistence to become a titan in today’s media age, founding the legendary cable network E! Entertainment with his childhood friend Alan Mruvka and then going on to expand his media creations globally to such venues as Russia, China, and India.
Larry states his upbringing in Brooklyn has been a monumental influence in his life. His working class parents wanted their children to have a better life and he learned from them the value of diligence in the pursuit of goals. His beloved Abraham Lincoln High School was one of the best in America and the preparation he received there academically and personally forged his brain and his character. At Brooklyn College, he majored in Economics, a discipline which would serve him well in the future, as would his love of reading and his interest and curiosity in the world about him.
Starting as a lowly line worker in the cable industry, he advanced quickly in both his company and his union, based on skills he acquired and his willingness to take on new challenges. He became a director of operations, which enabled him to exercise and develop his technical and financial expertise; he assumed sales and marketing responsibilities, and subsequently the development of programming content. Having already assumed the roles of technician, salesman, marketer, and manager, he was later to become a writer, producer, and developer of content in the course of leading a cable network, and still later would go on to conceive, initiate, and mastermind his own unique cable company in the United States. Not satisfied, this new age Renaissance man subsequently become a serial entrepreneur at the international level in new media technology, and he is certainly not through yet!
But, we get ahead of ourselves, so back to our story: Larry was recruited to move west from New York to Los Angeles to work for Valley Cable, a company in the forefront of the business. He assumed control of that company, as General Manager, at just 30 years old! With Larry’s imprint in every operational department, Valley Cable reached even greater prominence, but when it was sold and moved to Toronto, Larry stayed in Los Angeles, not wanting to return to the cold. He began working with his good friend from Brooklyn, Alan Mruvka, to develop an idea for a new type of cable company, one that would specialize in entertainment related to the movies and television. The forerunner of E! Entertainment was thus conceived, but now the idea had to be sold and then developed. To gain financial backing for the new concepts Larry and Alan had created in cable programming required a ceaseless effort and countless meetings for several years, but Larry persevered, continuously adjusting his presentations to the personalities of those he pitched and creatively leveraging the support of each new backer to entice new backers. Finally, sufficient support was secured and now the real work began because the ideas had to be actualized.
Working out of an apartment, which was the only office they could afford on their limited budget, using interns for staff who crashed on mattresses in the apartment, Larry and Alan literally toiled around the clock and, against all odds, created Movietime cable network, which hit the air on July 31, 1987 with a 24 hour menu of movie trailers, entertainment news, event and awards coverage, and celebrity interviews. Larry and Alan believed that cable TV could become an online newspaper, and that what MTV did for music, Movietime could do for film and TV, and they were right: from such modest beginnings, Movietime morphed into E! Entertainment and E! developed into a 3.5 billion dollar enterprise, most certainly justifying the exclamation point in its title!
When asked to comment on the shows he had personally conceived for his new network and considered the most significant, Larry had this to say to me:
Faith, the entire network reported to me and all of the creative development was a collaboration with the team. The early years were a reflection of my sensibility, which was what goes on in Hollywood is funny stuff and should be treated that way, not like it’s rocket science. So the network laid the groundwork for many of the shows you see today dealing with Hollywood, and also it was the very early mover into reality TV – many people credit us with inventing it. I guess the most notable thing we did was find and develop great hosts. It was not an accident. Alan and I realized early on that with a very limited budget the thing that would make us stand out was the hosts – love them or hate them, but feel something. In order to get the initial group of hosts we put thousands on tape and eventually picked a group of then unknowns. Greg Kinnear went on to an Oscar nomination for his acting, Julie Moran to Entertainment Tonight, Katie Wagner to Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, Mark DeCarlo to Studs, and Sam Rubin to LA news. Then, of course, came the second wave, including Howard Stern, Brooke Burke, John Henson, and so on. On the executive side, five of our rag tag bunch went in to run tv networks themselves! So, I guess I’m most proud of the people that came out of the magical environment I helped create!
Larry and Alan had had faith in a simple and logical idea; they knew it would be successful and this confidence provided the perseverance they needed for their journey – they just would not take no for an answer!
After developing E! Entertainment into a force, Larry moved on to new challenges worldwide. As incredible as his successes were in the United States, his accomplishments in foreign countries may be even more astonishing.
Larry first set his sights on Russia. There, he had a gun held to his head, he was mistakenly arrested as an assassin, and he faced endemic economic chaos generated by the breakup of the Soviet Union. That would stop most people but not the indefatigable Larry Namer, the entrepreneur of world entertainment, who proceeded onward intrepidly: he befriended the mayor of Saint Petersburg and put on a music festival there and then went on to produce and promote hundreds of music concerts and athletic contests in Russia. All of this was just a great adventure for Larry! He also brought the soap opera Santa Barbara to Russian television for a successful run.
After Russia came China for the globe-trotting Namer. He arrived there, immediately immersed himself in the everyday activities of the people, and was actually able to create a popular comedy/drama series about Chinese life and culture, truly an extraordinary and unheard of accomplishment for an outsider, and this achievement was even further heightened by the enthusiastic acceptance and acclamation the show received among the Chinese people. Namer’s “Return to the Village of Good Fortune” was not just a popular show, it was a ratings powerhouse! Namer also introduced a Chinese version of entertainment news called Hello Hollywood! providing not just news but gossip, entertainment, celebrities, glamour, visions of the California lifestyle, and a full measure of the products used by the heroes and heroines of popular culture, thereby concocting a branding paradise for advertisers. When one considers that such programs have access to 1.3 billion Chinese viewers, one realizes the scope of Namer’s accomplishments.
How could an outsider such as Larry Namer have such good fortune in China where many others have failed? He forged his seeming disadvantage of not being Chinese into an advantage, becoming an unbiased observer of what is taking place now in China. Indeed, Larry made a concerted effort to understand Chinese culture and how media technology is used there, and his penetrating analysis of personal and business trends in modern day China has enabled him to create fabulously successful entertainment ventures which simultaneously satisfy the needs of viewers, broadcast entities, and advertisers. He does this by integrating the voracious desires of the Chinese people for information and products into a framework of good story telling; his insights into the contradictions of Chinese life due to the conflicts of old values with very rapid change fueled some engrossing and heartwarming tales much appreciated by his audience.
To deal with multiple cultures, one needs a multi-cultural organization. This is the purpose of Larry’s Metan Global Entertainment Group. Larry has made an incisive comment about how best to serve a world audience:
“We US folks got kind of spoiled with the fall of the Soviet Union leaving us to be the only major force in the world. We looked at Russia and Eastern Europe and saw that a lot of folks there wanted to be just like us and live exactly as we do. Then along came China and debunked that myth. Chinese people are happy to be Chinese and while they want to learn about us and our culture, they don’t want to be us. I think the smartest thing Metan ever did was realize that early on and focus its media properties to very specifically target the Chinese audience in Mandarin language while others thought giving them American product with subtitles would be more desirable”.
Next on the agenda, Larry hopes to replicate his Chinese successes in other countries such as India, with each production accommodating the interests and desires of the native people. He will continue to work in China expanding his entertainment enterprises.
How could one man, Larry Namer, have become so proficient in virtually every aspect of modern media technology? He just learned how to do what he had to do, meeting each new challenge as it arose, with confidence and determination. For his wide-ranging accomplishments, he has been recognized by such esteemed publications as Forbes and such prestigious groups as the National Cable Television Association. To this day, Larry Namer starts each day with enthusiasm for his projects and is constantly generating new ideas based on his reading about the world and his diverse human interactions throughout the planet. Larry believes that you should let both your brain and your heart guide you as you attempt to make the most of your journey through life. He himself wants to continue to take tech to places where Rupert Murdoch is not, to places where smaller voices around the world can be heard – this is what he is all about! Larry Namer is a man who doesn’t just generate ideas, he enacts them! As one can see, the former underground cable splicer has now reached the heights!