THE EDGE WITH JAKE SASSEVILLE has become the little show that could. What started out as a small idea on local access television, fueled with a lot of energy and passion, has landed Fortune 500 companies as its advertising partners and gotten on the radar of the top studios in Hollywood.
I set out from LAX in a brand new 2008 Ford Focus courtesy of, well, Ford. My Chief Ideation Officer (CIO) Peter B is riding shotgun. We like to be creative with our titles. It’s a great thing that our show sponsor Ford gave us this car for the week because vehicle rentals in Los Angeles are a fortune when you tack on the "under 25 years old" surcharge.
I navigate the freeways of LA using Google Maps on my BlackBerry and my driving/navigating/emailing/texting/calling/deal-making and multi-tasking makes Peter B a bit nervous. His ESP instincts almost prove correct as we narrowly miss a sixty-mile-per hour collision while making an illegal turn. No harm, no foul.
We are meeting my new manager, Mark Schulman of 3 Arts Entertainment. It represents Rainn Wilson, Mario Lopez, Chelsea Handler, Chris Rock, Tina Fey, Howie Mandell and, most recently, Jake Sasseville. Unreal. Mark is around 5’9 and works out probably one hundred times a week.
As we ride around Hollywood in his Range Rover, Mark reminds me of Vince’s manager, Eric Murphy, on Entourage. Mark is smooth in the pitch room at the networks and knows how to play the Hollywood game. He’s an easygoing guy though, for a Hollywood manager.
Mark has 11 meetings lined up in four days with TV studios, cable networks, syndication companies and international distributors. All the big ones like ABC, NBC, CBS Paramount, Sony Telepictures, MTV and VH1. Mark’s assistant, Kristina is constantly calling and texting as people cancel and reschedule meetings.
The City of Angels. The land of movie stardom opportunity. Streets are littered with actors, actresses, hosts, reality stars, models, agents, managers and even some normal people. I’ve worked hard to distance myself from the traditional LA lifestyle. The idea of being a "struggling actor" or "struggling host" has never really been my mindset yet it’s often the default conversation of many who aspire to Hollywood royalty.
Many people in Los Angeles who are working as bartenders, dog walkers or any other barely-pay-your-bills-and-follow-your-dream-at-any-cost jobs talk about struggling in LA as if it’s a way of life. They speak as if coming to Hollywood is a struggle, living there is a struggle and succeeding in this industry is the ultimate death-defying struggle. It’s a morbid look at the world that I choose not to subscribe to.
My view is that if you see yourself as a struggling anything, you will struggle. If you see yourself as a successful talk show host who is able to move mountains, get executives excited about a vision and be able to do things that would otherwise be considered "impossible," then you’ll be that person too. One’s business and success is merely an extension of one’s thought coupled with a lot of hard work.
The LA attitude is really on display at the TV networks we visit. The offices at Paramount are in a building called The Mansion. It’s like something straight out of a movie. VH1 is near the beach in Santa Monica, and everyone is dressed like they just came out of a club.
All the execs we meet with have a certain sense of aloofness that comes from having a job inside of an industry that is seeing so many changes from outside its walls on YouTube.com and with independent producers. Remain confident not cocky I remind myself.
It’s so hard to tell my story and my business model over and over again and keep it fresh. I always add curve ball banter with Peter B. or Mark when pitching. It usually keeps them on their toes and keeps me from being bored.
NBC and me
The highlight of my four days in Hollywood was meeting with Rick Ludwin, executive vice-president of NBC late night in Burbank. We’re quickly waived through by security as my name is on the list at the NBC gates. These are the same gates that Johnny Carson used to come to work in every day. We walk past The Tonight Show with Jay Leno sound stage and up to the NBC late night offices. I think to myself: This is where I’ve dreamed of being since I started THE EDGE in Maine when I was 15.
Rick has been at NBC for nearly 30 years. My palms are sweaty as Rick enters the room. He’s an older guy, probably in his sixties. Heck, he’s been with NBC since 1980. When I was 16 doing my show on local television in Maine, I remember mailing Rick a pitch package filled with VHS tapes of my local access show, along with letters of recommendation and a detailed three-page pitch on why I should be on NBC. I thought that was the way for a network to notice a new show — certainly an audacious move for a 16-year-old. I don’t think Rick remembered my package. It’s probably for the better.
As we begin the meeting, its clear Rick has done his research on me and my show. He seemed genuinely impressed. The meeting goes well. Mark, Peter B and I play off of each other well in the room and they give me the space I need to improvise my way through the meeting. My mouth is dry and my lips smack against each other. Rick makes me a little nervous. He probably likes it like that.
Rick sits with us for over an hour and tells me NBC really doesn’t have any open slots for THE EDGE right now. He does, however, give me a great piece of advice: "You really need to find the type of comedy that your show is going to be about." He then tells me that all NBC late-night hosts have found their own shtick and it would be only a matter of time before I found mine. "Even Carson Daly found his," he adds. I smirk. Just the same, it was a thrill to be able to sit and brainstorm with one of the master puppeteers in late-night television history.
The brand called Jake
Hollywood’s a competitive town. In a world where YouTube is re-defining what it means to be a one-hit wonder and executives are scrambling for an Internet presence, it’s no wonder the stakes are higher. I think if you’re an artist in entertainment, it’s essential to know and build your brand. The only reason Overstock.com, Ford and my other sponsors signed on to THE EDGE so early on is because I knew my brand.
Overstock.com bought into a few of our YouTube videos and a big vision. But, and this is the most important lesson I’ve learned in business, both the YouTube videos and the vision were anchored in a brand. I firmly believe the very best and most successful people in entertainment are also some of the best business people. Go create a brand. Build a business. But know your brand. And make sure your brand functions as your business.
We wrapped up the week and headed to the airport. Someone we met this week will have an opportunity for me and my TV show. Maybe it’ll happen next week or next month. Now, it’s time for Mark Schulman to do his manager thing, LA style.
For more information on Jake Sasseville or his show, THE EDGE WITH JAKE SASSEVILLE, head to www.edgewithjake.com.