PMA Podcast Transcript: Episode 33, Landings: Jason Goldberg
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Iyanah Bativala: This is the PMA podcast Landings. And you're listening to an interview with the senior manager of scripted development at MTV Studios, Jason Goldberg. Jason, why don't you introduce yourself?
Jason Goldberg: Yeah, totally. My name is Jason Goldberg. I graduated Cornell in December of 2013. And right now I live in Los Angeles and I work in television. I'm a senior manager of scripted series development at MTV Studios. Mmm. And I've, I've been doing that for, I've been at Viacom for the last four years, but I've been in this role for the last year or so.
Iyanah: So, what exactly is it that you do?
Jason: Um so I, I work as a development executive, what I do is I help... Everything before you know, like you see a show on your television, that's kind of like what we do. We work with writers and producers and you know, talent. And what we do is we either come up with a concept and try to execute it with, by finding a team of writers and you know, filmmakers and stuff to make that either through a pilot or you know, through you know, making the series as a whole or through a script. Um and, or, or what we'll do is we'll field ideas from the community and develop with them, and pick a show up with them, or a movie or something like that. So, you know, my job at MTV Studios is to oversee a lot of that development with the rest of my team and work with these people in the creative community to make television shows and movies and stuff like that. And what I also do is I also, I work on the studio side, which means that I am also making stuff for other places. So I go out and, you know, I help sell the shows to other networks. Streamers, places like that off of the MTV, like linear network. So it's a little bit of both working on the network side and working on the studio side, but it's all on development.
Iyanah: And what are you working on at the moment, if you're allowed to say?
Jason: Yeah. I'll say whatever I guess has been announced. I'm working on a lot of projects. One of MTV Studios’ big mandates at the moment is to go back and look at our 35 years of intellectual property. And you know, there's not a lot of scripted on MTV right now, but there was a lot of scripted in the past and a lot of really groundbreaking shows, whether it be an animation or drama or comedy. So what my main task is revitalizing a lot of those older projects by working with the original show creators or new creators to develop new versions of it. So there was a show called "Daria" that was a big animated show in the 90s that I'm working on a revitalization on, and that's more of a spinoff. I'm working on a show called "Celebrity Death Match," which was a stop-motion animated show. And that was like a sketch comedy show where celebrities fight to the death. Mmm. I'm working on an adaptation of an animated series that was on in the nineties called "Aeon Flux." And we're, you know, we're doing that with Gale Anne Hurd who produced "Terminator" and "The Walking Dead." And I'm working on a show called "Undressed," which was an anthology series about sex and dating. So, you know, it's looking back at a lot of older IP and it's also building a new slate of original content that is about pop culture and youth culture and music culture, things that have the MTV DNA in them. And some of it is animated, some of it is live action, some of it is funny, some of it is super dramatic. And it's film and television.
Iyanah: Is MTV’s original content only broadcast on MTV or do you guys also sell it to streaming services?
Jason: Yeah. So that's, that's, that's the exactly, kind of like the interesting thing going on right now. Because, you know, IP is everything. Everyone wants content and everyone wants recognizable characters and creators and things like that. So we are sitting on something really, really valuable at MTV. So in terms of scripted programming MTV, the linear network on VH1, which I cover as well, they, they over-index in reality television. It's been hugely successful for the network. But you know, it's sometimes, the scripted properties are maybe better suited elsewhere, whether it be another Viacom channel or whether it's a Netflix or Hulu or even another premium network. So what, what my goal is to do is to find the right place for it. We're developing, you know, the best versions of these shows and then we're going out around town and pitching them to places, and some of it might end up on MTV proper. And some of it might end up with a streamer and some of it might end up somewhere else. But there's lots of exciting avenues for content nowadays. So, you know, it's really, really great that you could find whatever place is best suited for a piece of content. So that's, that's been like a real great opportunity by working on the studio side where we just find the best home for it.
Iyanah: Mhm. And could you walk me through how you got to where you are today starting from when you graduated Cornell?
Jason: Yeah, for sure. Um I, came to Cornell and [graduated in] December 2013 and I was really, I really wanted to do television and film, and I didn't really know exactly what or how, I didn't know if I wanted to be a writer, I didn't know if I wanted to direct, I didn't know if I want to be an executive. They didn't....Yeah. Yeah. I didn't really understand it all until, I guess, I was thrown into it. So, you know, when, I... Um. When I was graduating, I was looking for jobs. I was looking for opportunities that were kind of just in media. And then I was in a screenwriting class that I really, really liked with Austin [Bunn, associate professor]. And he let me know that a friend of a friend was looking for an assistant. And that guy, the guy that was looking for an assistant, was Lee Daniels. And this is December 2013 and this is when Lee just made Lee Daniels’ "The Butler." Um and he was about to start "Empire." And it was, it was just an amazing, the timing was really, really perfect and it was a great opportunity to work really, really close to a creative as they were creating something that was going to be really, really big. And it was a lot of personal assistant-y type stuff in addition to a lot of creative stuff, almost 24/7. It was difficult, but really rewarding. And after that, I, I lived in Chicago for "Empire" and then I moved back here. To, um... Back here? I'm sorry, New York. And I got a job working as an assistant at HBO in their marketing department where we would do, I don't know if you watch the end of HBO stuff, but like there's often that like ancillary content, like behind-the-scenes type stuff. Um, and so we would make that stuff. And so it was, I really, really loved everyone there. I thought everyone was amazing and brilliant and like, just really, really wonderful creators. But I did want to get back into more of the front side of the creative, which was on the development side. And like a lot of that is in Los Angeles. So I said, okay, I'm going to move to Los Angeles and I'm going to just take the leap. I'll work in the mail room, I'll work in an agency or whatever. But I got a job working in New York in scripted development at VH1 when they were, you know, working on a new scripted department. And so I avoided going to LA. I worked in New York for a few years. I worked on a show called "The Breaks." I worked on a show called "Daytime Divas" with Vanessa Williams. Um and it was great because it was a really, really small team and I learned a lot, a lot, a lot from the two execs I worked for, Morgana Rosenberg and Maggie Molina. And I got promoted off the desk after a few years and I was working out of New York and by that time I started working on MTV stuff. And then, you know, there were some changes that happened, and I had the opportunity to go to Los Angeles to work on the MTV studio side and then kind of just left at the opportunity because what I noticed was if you want to work in scripted development, the easiest place to do it is in Los Angeles. You can do it in New York. You could do it, you know, internationally at other places. But it really is the central hub, and a lot of the job is meeting people and going to breakfast and coffees and lunches and, and you know, meeting writers and, and it's really an in-person type job. So, although I loved working in New York and you know, there was an amazing theater scene, and an amazing comedy scene, and there's a lot of filmmaking going on in New York, but LA at this point in my career was like the most important thing. And I, and I moved to LA and I absolutely loved it and I felt like I met more people in that first couple of weeks in LA than I did in four years in New York. So like, it's definitely something that I recommend to people if they can get to LA, go to LA if you want to be in this field. And so that's kind of how I got at MTV and, you know, I got, I slowly got more responsibility on different projects and, and got to, you know, sit as an executive on projects. And it's, it's been a great opportunity because I work luckily at a place that believes in making important good content for young people, and they trust the instincts of their executives, and they give people a lot of autonomy to, um, create shows the way that they, that they should be created and that the execs are all working in a place where I think people trust that, and people, people, have a lot of respect for creators in the workplace and you know, it's a nice place to work as a young person.
Iyanah: And you mentioned you almost took the agency route and personally that's what I'm planning on doing after graduation. Is that something you recommend or do you recommend…
Jason: Yeah. You know, I, I think, I think that's definitely something I'd recommend. It's funny I recommend it to everyone even though I didn't do it, but I, I felt as though I had to play throughout the years a lot of catch up because I didn't do the agency route. It's just, first of all it's an amazing place just to meet people. And I think that's the most important thing is you just build an instant network of people that you'll know throughout your career. So that's great. You also just like learn the ins and outs of how the industry works and all the players and who's important and the politics and like, you know, often the bullshit-y aspects of the job that you probably, well, like, but will have an implicit understanding by the end of it that we'll like just be the backbone of, you know, your career. And it's also a place to like, discover what you like and what you don't like. Cause you could, you know, you could sit on a desk for talent and you can sit on a desk for you know books, books to TV, books to film or you could be at music. So like, it's a great opportunity to just float around and figure out what you like and what you don't like. Because oftentimes you start an assistant job and you're like, I don't think I like this at all. And you'd feel, you can feel a little trapped. So it's a great opportunity to figure out what you want to do. I know a lot of people who did the agency route, some of them are agents, some of them are not agents. But I think all of them, I think found value in the experience of being at an agency.
Iyanah: And did you do a lot of summer internships while you were still in school?
Jason: Um I did some summer internships. I, I was lucky enough to be connected to this girl who worked at HBO. This girl named Amanda Troken and she hooked me up with, um, an interview at HBO and like got me in their pool for, um, I think it was my junior year, and it was an internship at HBO Go. When HBO Go was starting and was like at product development. So it was like kind of working on the interface with HBO. It's like, I, I was excited to be at HBO. But it was not what I wanted to do at all. It was very, very tech heavy. And it was not related to like the television side at all. It was really just working on their apps. And this is when HBO Go was first launching. So it was very, very new. And it was, to be honest, having a lot of, you know, issues with the interface and people using it and the user experience... So it was a cool experience to learn about those things. But I, I definitely figured out fast, it's definitely not what I wanna do. And after that, I got an internship the next summer with scheduling at HBO. And so that internship was a little bit more interesting to me, definitely. It was working more about like how the next, like, you know, year looked at HBO when it came to movies and TV shows, and how you're going to slot things and ratings and stuff like that. So it was really educational and I learned, I've learned a lot about that, and I worked with an amazing team there. Just really, really wonderful, nice people. So those internships helped me eventually get that intern—that job at HBO after I worked for Lee Daniels. So it was, it was useful to have those. And what I loved about the HBO internship program they had, like an intern speaker series where like the top execs at every department would, would come in every week and you'd get to ask them questions and stuff like that. So like that, that was really impactful. And I think about a lot of things that those speakers said to this day because those are some of the best and brightest execs in the biz, to this, to this day. And that was about like, you know, seven years ago at this point. And I still see their names everywhere. They were really, really cool. So it's a, it's a great program at HBO... And that, and that was really just me lucky enough to make a connection with this girl Amanda Troken, and shout out to Amanda Troken who is awesome. And she, you know, she just put me in the pool and it, it, it worked out. So yeah, it's really, really unfortunate that a lot of these jobs and internships that you're, you're seeing online, it's like, it's like applying into the void, it's so, so, so hard to be selected because there are so many applicants. So if you could organically meet people and, and just, you know, keep a list of, you know, of every company and say like, do I know someone here? Do I know someone here? And like you eventually, the more you, you talk with people and network and whatever, you eventually know someone in everywhere, by the time you know, you're... A little bit later in life. But you just have to really maintain relationships and foster good, good, good friendships with people. These, those are the people that say like, if you see a job posting and you say, Oh wait, I know someone there, let me send my resume to them, or, you know, whatever. That's, that's the stuff that gets seen by HR. It's when you're able to pass it along that way.
Iyanah: Okay. And what were the things you did at Cornell that helped you with your career later on?
Jason: I think of three things, probably. Number one is my screenwriting class with Austin Bunn, even though I'm not a screenwriter. Everything I did in that class was really, really important for development, having a job in development, because you learn how to listen to writers, to give feedback in an effective way. Because one of the hardest things, I guess, that you struggle with in your first few years of working in development is like, you know, when something good and you know when something's bad, but why is it bad or why is it good? And I think having that class helped me articulate a lot of those feelings that I had about when I read my peer's work. And it was a really, really, really good, great environment, and a really, really... We were lucky enough to have Austin who was an amazing professor to be guiding us through the development process, the workshopping process. So that is something that I think about every day and he taught us how to write covers and stuff, which is for those who don't know it's something that everyone has to do, if you have a job working in development or even at an agency where you have to go through scripts and give some reason, criticisms for your boss. Second thing that was really, really helpful was, I had a class with Sahara Byrne where I TA-ed a class where we interfaced with executives at Fox for, we'd watch a show, "Sleepy Hollow," every week. And we would talk to the executives after the show or before the show. And it was a really, really amazing class to, to TA because I got to meet a lot of really, really cool people at Fox. And to this day I still know someone that, and that during that time, while he was an assistant and I was just a TA in the class and you know, now I see them a lot in the industry. So that was really cool. The third thing I did a lot of research over the years with Professor Poppy McLeod and that was almost unrelated to what I do, but really, really helped with organization and analysis. And turned me into like a very, very almost scientific thinker when it came to linguistics and you know, working in a comms lab, I thought that was really, really great because it was, you know, the science of language and the science of group work. And so I feel like it really, really helped with both the way I process information and also, you know, management styles and group work and things like that, which is, takes up a lot of, you know, the job because you're working with so many people either inside the company or outside the company. And it's a lot of teamwork stuff. So those are the three things that I think of at Cornell that I thought were really, really helpful.
Iyanah: Um and I know you mentioned Austin, but who were some of your other mentors, not necessarily at Cornell, um and how did they help you?
Jason: Yeah, totally. You know, I mentioned Austin, I mentioned Sahara Byrne was always great to me. Poppy as well, just really, really, really helpful. And you know, it's very, very hard because all these professors have a lot of students and a lot of brilliant, wonderful people. But I felt like those three just in particular did like such a wonderful job at helping me figure out what I wanted to do giving me the right opportunities and connections and moments to shine. So that was really, really helpful. I think after that my mentors were... Luckily a lot of the people that I've worked for, I've mentioned I worked for Maggie Molina and I was her assistant for many years in New York and Morgana Rosenberg, I assisted her as well, and now I work with her and it was they're, they're just, both, just two wonderful people that I still talk to every single day. I mean, Maggie I don't work with anymore, but I still text her all the time and I ask her for advice and Morgana Rosenberg as well is just one of my best friends, and one of the most wonderful people I work with at MTV right now. And I was just, I literally, everything that I know about development and about working with writers and working with producers and working with people internally, like I learned from those guys. Another mentor of mine is Pam Post. She is the reason why I moved to Los Angeles. She was my boss for quite some time and she was she was just fantastic because I learned so much about her management style and she brought such kindness to everything that she did and, and such thought and care for her people. And yeah, I, that was just so, so wonderful to see an industry that could often feel kind of cutthroat, and you can feel kind of lost, and I felt a little lonely when I first moved to Los Angeles. Like she was so, so good to me. And I still remain close to her. So those are kind of the mentors that I think about when I think about you know, how I want to be for other people.
Iyanah: Mhm. And where do you see yourself going from here?
Jason: Um. I don't know what's next. There's a, there's a lot of uncertainty in the industry right now. I don't know when this is going to air, or when people are gonna listen, but you know, there's, there's a merger going on at Viacom, so, you know, everyone's kind of figuring out what's next. Are, you know, are we going to be doing a streaming platform? Are we going to be making more stuff for air? Are we going to be making less stuff for air, so, you know, it's a really uncertain time. And so of course I've been thinking about kind of, you know, what, what do I want to do next? I think what... I definitely want to be creating content. Someone said this really, really well to me the other day. They said they want to make content with consciousness, with a conscience. Yeah. Content with a conscience. That's what they said. That's what I liked. I liked that you want to, you know... In the industry... We join film and television to like, have a lot of fun because like, TV is fun and film is fun. But like, what's really, really amazing is that like how impactful film and television can be. And especially with young audiences where I'm lucky enough to work with now where you could like, you know, you could change people's minds about stuff and you could really influence, like such positive, progressive things in the world. So, you know, I don't want to, I don't want to work in documentary and I don't want to work in, you know, reality and I don't want work in news, but like, and I love scripted, so like I think about all the things that, that scripted television has done for, um, for people and for the, the world. And I think of things like "Orange Is the New Black" and like what that has brought to the world in bringing visibility to what's going on in our prison system. And I think of things like "Transparent." And although it ended up being kind of problematic, like, that was the first time I think my parents saw trans people on television. And I think it really, really changed the narrative, I think in this country because visibility really, really matters. So I think I just want to work at a place that's making things that you know, are, are making really, really entertaining programming, whether it be film or television, um but it's making stuff that I find important and I find really, really cool and different and good for the world. I think that's where I want to end up next. And that's where I see myself in the next five years. I don't know whether that's going to be at a network or a production company or whether that's at Viacom or somewhere else, but I just want to work with really, really smart, good people who want to make a lot of content but want to make things that are meaningful. So that, that's kind of where I see myself.
Iyanah: And do you see yourself in development forever, or have you ever wanted to branch out into something else?
Jason: Um, I like development. I'd like, um, I like, I like development. I will say that I could see myself being in this for quite some time. I also like, would love to, you know, do a stint which is producing and working kind of independently as well. Like that would be cool for me. And I like, you know, there are two sides to development, there's development and then there's like current programming. So like where, you know, you would, you'd work on a show after the pilot and continue it throughout the first season and the second season, the third, and like, there's something I really, really love about that too because I find that it's, I don't know, it's almost, almost like fan-fiction, like working on your favorite shows and continuing their legacies and making sure that you're servicing the characters in the best way beyond the pilot. Like there's so much to find and, and love in development, and current and producing and so it's all kind of in the same arena. So yeah, I do think I'll end up staying there. In terms of films or television, um, I'd love to work in both. I feel like, um, right now you can, it's less... Of a chance you'll get pigeonholed into one, because content can live almost anywhere now. So like, whether it be a film on Netflix or a television show on Netflix, like nobody is really saying, oh, well you can't do this or you can't do this. Like, it's actually like a really amazing time for people to dip into both. Um, I'd love to stay in both. Um, but I'm open to, you know, kind of doing whatever, and content is always changing. So, you know, we might be making eight minute things all the time, like what Jeffrey Katzenberg is doing at Quibi. So, you know, definitely open to just making good content anywhere.
Iyanah: Jason, thank you so much for speaking with me today.
Jason: Thank you for having me on this. This is really cool. What you guys are doing.
Iyanah: This has been Landings.