JHRTS NY Recap: A Conversation with Liz Gateley & Tony DiSanto

JHRTS NY: A Conversation with Liz Gateley and Tony DiSanto

JHRTS-New York was honored to host two of the decade’s most important cable producers and programmers, Tony DiSanto and Liz Gateley. The duo behind the upstart producing powerhouse DiGa, Tony and Liz most recently served as President of Programming and Senior Vice President of Series Development for MTV. We were treated to anecdotes, advice, and much wisdom from Liz and Tony, who were joined by our moderator for the evening, Marc Victor, the senior producer and head booker of NBC’s Today Show.

As is always helpful and insightful, Liz and Tony shared their journey to success with the group. Liz began her career in the mailroom at the venerable William Morris Agency, where she later worked in the talent department (and avoided having anything thrown at her during her tenure) before leaving to stake her claim in the development world. Liz was later hired by Dawn Ostroff, then serving as Senior V.P. of Programming at Lifetime, to work in scripted development for the cable network. Her resume then made its way to the desk of Tony DiSanto at MTV, who hired her to join his development team. Tony, on the other hand, spent 30 years at MTV, starting as an intern and eventually running the network. For Tony, MTV was an amazing place to work (hence his long stay there), though he contends that for him, the entertainment business “isn’t even work.”

Tony and Liz also ruminated on their success at MTV. To say that they were successful is perhaps an understatement when you look at the long list of programs they created, developed, and/or put on the air:  Jersey Shore, Teen Mom, 16 and Pregnant, America’s Next Best Dance Crew, The Buried Life, The Hard Times of RJ Berger, Teen Wolf, Skins, and TRL with Carson Daly. Perhaps most interesting, Liz, in her very first year at MTV, put the game changer Laguna Beach – followed by its spinoff The Hills a year later – on MTV’s air.

What guided Tony and Liz and their team in the non-scripted realm? Finding real, relatable characters in middle America. Though they may not exactly describe Laguna Beach, their later successes are most definitely exemplified by that paradigm. For all of their programming, though, the dynamic duo was focused on “making pop culture, not following pop culture.” That is certainly what happened when Liz and Tony took a chance on a passed-over casting tape from sister network VH1 called Jersey Shore, which they described as probably their most-unexpected gigantic hit. Tony first realized the show would be as big as it is when, during the first 60 seconds of the premiere, he noticed what he described as the “first Twitter explosion…even Jimmy Fallon was tweeting!”

The audience was also intrigued to learn how creatively Liz and Tony think about their non-scripted productions. Because Tony has always considered himself a film person, he is incredibly cinematic, even when producing reality fare… going so far as to use classic films as a guide for cinematography, music, and lighting choices for his programs. The Hills, for example, used the Goldie Hawn film Best Friends as its style guide, and the producers based much of the shooting style for that show on the film. That kind of intense creative thinking might be hard to accomplish when, as Tony and Liz did at MTV, you make 60 pilots and greenlight 30 series each year. But, “content is king,” so what goes on the screen is of upmost importance always.

Marc Victor brought a new aspect to our JHRTS conversations… the speed round. This new tool, deftly executed by Marc, allowed us to learn much about our guests. Liz’s favorite profane word? Starts with an “f.” Tony’s? We also think it starts with an “f,” but it’s hard to know for sure. We also found out that, although Tony doesn’t have too much time to actually watch television, he does enjoy The Office and Howard Stern’s on-demand interviews. Liz loves the grit and edginess of Breaking Bad, and Marc Victor (though incredulous at first) now really understands and appreciates Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Oh, and Tony loves Swedish Fish.

As for DiGa, their new independent venture with backing from Barry Diller and Ben Silverman, Tony and Liz are excited “to be scared again.” They hope to take their sensibility and vision for program to multiple outlets now that they’re “sellers.” What they’ll miss? The ability to greenlight their own shows, of course!

Tony DiSanto and Liz Gateley at the JHRTS NY event

Tony DiSanto and Liz Gateley


The audience at JHRTS NY: A Conversation with Tony DiSanto and Liz Gateley

JHRTS Members sit down for A Conversation with Tony DiSanto and Liz Gateley


Tony DiSanto, Marc Victor, Liz Gateley

Tony DiSanto, Marc Victor, Liz Gateley


Comments: 1

  1. Tremain Julani Smith says:

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