My Turn

A Diva Fixing America Targets TV

3/09/2011 9:20 AM

Lynn Tilton has been good to small-town America, buying and rebuilding failed manufacturing businesses and preserving jobs.

The question now is: Will she make good reality TV? Tilton is CEO of Patriarch Partners, which buys distressed companies (150 plus in the last decade), gets them back on their feet and helps retain jobs (250,000 of them by her measure). Its portfolio now has 74 companies with $8 billion in revenue.

“It’s not easy and we aren’t perfect,” she said. ” It often takes us much longer than it should. But we rebuild America.”

The subject of a vivid The Wall Street Journal profile in January - which noted her “platinum blond hair, tight leather skirts and penchant for racy remarks” - Tilton, 52, is headed into production of a reality show for Sundance Channel with a working title Diva of Distressed.

“Up until recently I wasn’t as known as you would think because I haven’t put myself out there,” she said after a Sundance press briefing last week on a new slate of nonfiction shows. Sundance, she said, was impressed by the actual impact of her work. “I wasn’t going to go someplace where they were going to make it silly because I don’t have a life, you can’t follow me around, all I do is work.”

Michael Klein, the head of original programming at Sundance, called her a force of nature, and Sarah Barnett, the channel’s chief, aptly called her “the real deal.”

Barnett also noted the irony that “she looks slightly like a made-for-TV reality character, and yet she’s been doing it for decades.”

A sizzle reel put together ahead of production showed Tilton visiting the Old Town Fuel & Fiber Mill, a Patriarch property in Maine that makes pulp and paper - and also makes bio-butanol jet fuel. The show, though, will direct her turnaround talents at businesses she doesn’t own. “We want to go save company-town companies, so we’re looking at that right now.”

Hopefully, we’ll see if the “fairy tale” turnarounds she engineers in real life also work as reality TV.

September