In an underground office on the campus of Santa Monica College, Claude
Brodesser-Akner is working with his producer, Matt Holzman, and
associate producer, Darby Maloney, to describe the current status of
the Oscar broadcast — and work in a pun.
Finally, Brodesser-Akner says, with some satisfaction, “The Oscars are mired.”
Welcome to the world of “The Business,” a half-hour syndicated radio program
devoted to the nuts and bolts of the entertainment industry (pun
intended), hosted by Brodesser-Akner each week since June 2004.
Produced by KCRW-FM 89.9 in Santa Monica, the show is distributed
nationally to public radio stations.
On the show, Brodesser-Akner explores, surveys and comments on all
facets of the entertainment business, reaching out to executives,
producers and artists, as well as other journalists, that he might not
otherwise know, deepening his — and in the process, our —
understanding of what is occurring in Hollywood on a weekly basis.
Between drafts of the script for this week’s broadcast, which involves
a lot of cutting and arguments among Brodesser-Akner and his producers
about meaning, nuance, as well as the insertion and deletion of more
puns, Brodesser-Akner and I repair to a side office to hear his story.
Long before his 2006 marriage to Taffy Akner, the former West Coast
director of education for mediabistro.com, and taking on a hyphenated
last name, Brodesser, 35, grew up in Centerport, Long Island, a good
Catholic boy. The son of German immigrants, he attended parochial
school at St. Phillip Neri in Northport and St. Anthony’s High School
At the liberal-arts-oriented Skidmore College, he led a peer-to-peer
writing program that taught expository writing, and after graduation,
took on a gig teaching English in China as part of a sister school
program founded by a former Shakespeare professor.
Returning to New York — by his own account, he “washed ashore,
indigent,” Brodesser launched into a series of internships that, in
hindsight, each “presaged the imminent demise of editors.” Kurt
Andersen departed New York Magazine shortly after Brodesser arrived;
arts editor Karen Dubin exited The Village Voice the week he started;
and at the Charlie Rose public television program, the woman he was
supposed to report to never appeared, even on his first day.
Nonetheless, in 1996, Brodesser landed his first paying job at
Mediaweek magazine, covering TV broadcast stations at what turned out
to be an interesting time.
“It was just after the telecom bill was passed,” a period that saw a great agglomeration of local stations and outlets.
Brodesser’s next stop was at Variety’s New York edition, where in
keeping with his internship experience, the Broadway editor left
shortly after his arrival. Brodesser was given the beat, which he took
on, not as a fan of Broadway musicals, but as a reporter — “Just a guy
with a pad asking questions.” Broadway was a small community, and he
sought out The New York Times’ Frank Rich, who became a mentor and
advised him to be fearless.
Variety got aggressive, breaking daily stories.
“It was great fun,” Brodesser recalled.
In 1998, as the call of the Internet made a thousand ventures bloom,
including sites that hoped to transform entertainment industry
reporting (and make its reporters a fortune), such as inside.com and
creativeplanet.com, Variety lost most of the members of its film
Brodesser moved to Los Angeles to cover film and found it different
than New York, where, as he recalled, he could attend a party at Tavern
on the Green and walk up to the dean of theater agents, George Lane,
and then wander over to playwright Edward Albee — with the
understanding that with a drink in one’s hand, all comments were off
At Brodesser’s first Hollywood premiere in 1999 for the Martin
Lawrence-Luke Wilson action-comedy, “Blue Streak,” he approached Drew
Barrymore, introduced himself, explained his “drink-in-hand” rule; and
they started to chat. He asked her about rumors he had heard concerning
the production of “Charlie’s Angels.” She answered and then wished him
well. Brodesser was delighted to have had a Hollywood moment.
Within minutes, several beefy bodyguards surrounded him.
“Your night is over,” they said. “You threatened Miss Barrymore.”
Despite protestations that he was a member of the press, they picked
him up and tossed him out — literally.
Gossip columnist Mitchell Fink wrote about it, and the incident got
some play. The next day, Peter Bart, editor of Variety, called
Brodesser into his office.
Brodesser feared that Bart was going to fire him. Instead, Bart was
tickled pink (and here Brodesser slipped into a British/patrician
accent): “That’s how you do it,” Brodesser recalled Bart telling him,
referring to the ruckus he caused. “….That’s the way we should do
And that pep talk informed his next seven years at Variety.
Still nothing could have prepared Brodesser for the call he received in
2003 from Akner, who was then director of education programs for
journalism site, mediabistro.com. She called to ask him to teach a
workshop. Little did either of them know this call would lead to love,
marriage and the baby carriage — not to mention circumcision,
conversion, separate dishes for meat and dairy and a hyphenated last
As he recounted to me recently, Brodesser was someone who thought he
might never get married or have children, but, as he put it, “I met my
wife and it was kapow!”
And so, as reported in a New York Times article about their wedding,
former Catholic school boy Brodesser, the son of a “father conscripted
at age 14 into the German army near the end of World War II,” and
former yeshiva student Akner, the granddaughter of “a survivor of the
concentration camp at Dachau” and whose concerned mother, Daniela
Shimona, prayed for her daughter at the grave of the late Lubbavitcher
Rebbe Schneerson, only to have a change of heart when she saw a video
about conversions at the nearby Lubbavitch center, were married in 2006.
Brodesser-Akner told me that the thought of raising a child with Akner
inspired him to convert. He studied first at the University of Judaism
(now American Jewish University), which he felt did a great job of
organizing 5,000 years of history and learning into a syllabus. But, he
says, “I wanted more.”
He wanted a conversion that would be accepted by the Orthodox, and his
journey led him to Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David-Judea, who
became his sponsoring rabbi, performed the marriage and to whose Modern
Orthodox congregation the family now belongs.
He says his wife jokes that “her punishment for dating a Catholic boy
is living an Orthodox life.” They are Sabbath observant, keep kosher
and Brodesser-Akner now sports a multicolored kippah.
He says that although being observant is not always easy, “it is worth
it.” As someone who used to work all the time, Brodesser-Akner is
grateful for the respite of Sabbath. But it is the feeling of community
— of belonging and caring — that he has experienced as part of B’nai
David-Judea that seems to have most deeply impressed him.
Brodesser-Akner explained that although he has lived in a great variety
of neighborhoods in Los Angeles and was a very social person, it was
only as part of his temple that he experienced a deeper level of
community, where each member is cared for. Brodesser-Akner spoke
movingly about the visitation schedule organized for a sick elderly
congregant and about the attention and care he and his wife received
recently in the weeks after their first child was born.
In this last year, Brodesser-Akner also joined Advertising Age as Los
Angeles bureau chief, reporting on the entertainment industry (he left
Variety in 2005 and worked for FishbowLA, a mediabistro blog, and wrote
for Los Angeles magazine, before being poached for the launch of
TMZ.com in 2006, where he lasted a year).
He finds himself at Ad Age at a moment when the industry is in turmoil
and the worlds of advertising and entertainment are increasingly
converging. To what end, it is hard to say — but that gives him plenty
to report and comment upon.
For example, Brodesser-Akner views the Writers Guild strike as
“disastrous,” not because the writers’ cause is without merit, but
rather because they are so overmatched by the conglomerates that own
the studios and networks that he “doesn’t see this ending well.” He
notes the folly of an industry that claims it can’t afford to pay
writers, while remaining hostage to star salaries and profit
As for the Oscars, Brodesser-Akner reminded me that last year, fewer
than 11 percent of the audience had seen the nominated films. Evidence,
he feels, of the disconnect between mega-audience movies and films
On the taping of “The Business” that I watched being produced, which
aired Jan. 14, the discussion focused on a growing trend to loosen
copyright protection on music, as well as an acknowledgement that
independent films, such as “The Kite Runner,” might suffer at the box
office without award shows, such as “The Golden Globes,” for promotion
At the start of our conversation, Brodesser-Akner joked that he had
converted to Judaism for the heavy food and self-deprecating humor. But
let me take a more Jesuitical — I mean talmudic — approach: Perhaps
he did it for the questions. Because, the only thing we know for sure
about the entertainment business, based on the past, is that whatever
occurs, there will be plenty of questions.
So, beyond the strike and the Oscars remain the questions: Where is the
culture going? What will we watch, listen to or play? And on what will
we see and hear it? How will it be financed? What will pay for it:
hedge funds, product placement, advertising sponsors or Internet ads?
If these questions intrigue you, then the answer is simple. Tune in to Brodesser-Akner for “The Business.”
Tom Teicholz is a film producer in Los Angeles. Everywhere else,
he’s an author and journalist who has written for The New York Times
Sunday Magazine, Interview and The Forward. His column appears every
Copyright 2008 Tommywood