Interview with KPI's Vinnie Kralyevich


Note: Vinnie has developed and produced nearly 300 hours of television programming. While at KPI, Vinnie led the company's explosive growth in the mobile and broadband arenas. Highlights of his career include creating the HD special "Rome: Engineering an Empire", which was the recipient of to Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Non_Fiction Special and Editing; developing and direction DEEP SEA DETECTIVES and WEIRD U.S.; and serving as Executive Producer for The History Channel's ENGINEERING AN EMPIRE series. Vinnie attended Parson's Scjool of Design (NYC) and majored in Fine Art Illustration.


1. Where do you find inspiration for a new show idea?

There’s no science to it. Usually web sites, magazines, people you meet, contacts you made on others shows. For example, I have a 100 great dive mysteries since KPI has a skill set doing underwater mystery. We have one idea that we are pitching about Ben Franklin’s ‘Black Fleet’ of pirates It is a fascinating story that I would never have pursued if an oil rig crew I worked with in past hadn't called me and said, “check this out.”

We just did a show about Hitler’s skull in Moscow. We DNA tested it and proved it was a women’s skull, so now we get forensic science calls and other networks want us to do one for them. When we won the Emmy for our Rome show other networks asked us why we did not come to them on it. But success has many fathers and failure is an orphan. We have lots of ideas that never get sold that no network wants and that I believed and invested in.

We get a lot of ideas, talent and access from many different places. The hard part is listening to it all, and bouncing it around with others and seeing if it is worth pursuing to the next step. Time is money.

2. What research do you do before going into a pitching session?

TiVo a few shows, check the line ups, do some homework on ratings, read interviews with the executives I am going to meet with and try to learn about their programming challenges so you can best address in your pitch. You don’t want to waste someone’s time. Your pitch needs to answer the question “what’s in it for me?” from the execs point of view.

3. What advice do you have for upstart producers trying to get their foot in the door?

Put yourself in the role of the executive. Why should they take your meeting? What’s in it for them? They will listen to you and if they like you they will first pair you with a prod co like KPI – it happens to us all the time. But you’re not selling an idea, you’re selling a solution to a programming problem and so that idea needs to be malleable to suit a networks needs.

The other thing to do is pitch to a prod co to champion your idea or your access.

4. What show do you wish you had produced and why?

I would like to have been part of the pioneering shows that came out of NYC in the early 1950’s. Ernie Kovas still blows me away. Also Your Show of Shows was a live 90-minute sketch comedy appearing on NBC on Saturdays 9:00-10:30 p.m. This was a huge amount of eyeballs and pressure to deliver. I like that. The creators of the show said, “We didn’t know it was insane to try to pull this off every week, had we known we never would have done it.” In addition to Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca the writers for that show included Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Danny Simon, Larry Gelbart, Mel Tolkin and Carl Reiner.

My father had an uncle who was a cameraman on the Jackie Gleason show and said Gleason would keep coolers of beer out of frame on stage between the bulky stationary cameras and when they cut to a commercial Gleason would down a beer. I don’t suggest that, but it was a pioneering time.

When cable first came out it was a pioneering time as well. A lot of the networks that claim today’s real estates on cable are still with us today. Would they be able to survive if they started today? Probably not.

But I tend to gravitate, admire, and learn from the people who invent their own space rather than copying what others do well. Look at Curb Your Enthusiasm—that created it’s own space.

I think it is the only way to have longevity is to take in everything that is great – and there is lots of it – and seek out your own trail. It sounds cliché but we stand on footsteps of giants and are surrounded by so much good talent on screen everyday it can be intimidating. So I like to study them and put hose lessons in my toolbox -- but then make own music.

The hardest thing to teach producers is that any good artist needs to steal and learn from masters. Creativity is not an isolated process. It is trying, throwing away, studying how others dealt with problem and keep reinventing. Many producers fall in love with their work but it is a collaborative business and the ones with the most tools in their toolbox can use the creative instincts they hone across any genre.

5. What types of shows do you think are most in demand now?

Shows that can deliver the most eyeballs at best cost and shore up a networks brand. I guess the answer people would want to hear is docusoap, or reality, or game shows, etc. But it is not that easy, the idea can transcend genre. If someone out there figures out how to invent a show that brands a network, comes in a price point that is acceptable and is ad sales friendly, you have a winner. So these are the components I look for in any idea.

6. What types of programs do you wish were in demand now? (or think should be)

KPI’s sweet spot is blending CGI to tell stories. That costs money. So I wish there were more show that would use this amalgam to bring stories to life. They do not necessarily have to be historic.

We just did a show that is a tie-in to the movie 2012 and we were able to benefit from all the CGI the film used. But CGI is a tool and not always the solution.

But I think there is always hope for something that is yet to be discovered I think a lot of programming can be created for the red states, the meat and potatoes types that could care less about what east and west coast liberal sensibilities.

7. What types of projects interest you most and why?

Any project really. It is the pitch process and the shaping of a new idea that excite me.

And the ideas I look for do not copy a successful company that KPI is not. Let Thom Beers do Thom Beers, he will do it better than us. Let Mark Burnett do Mark Burnett, he will do it better than us. So what can KPI do better than them? Many things.

In 2010 I want to drive KPI into an unclaimed space that will define the company. I don’t have the answer yet on what this unclaimed space is, but this is a process of trial and error and our development dollars will reflect this trial and error process, but we will not do it at expense of our core competencies.

What I mean by unclaimed space is below. Some companies I’ve been thinking about that claimed their own space in a market that seemed crowded are ...

•Starbucks: Pay 4x more than regular coffee. Who would have thought it?
•Southwest Airlines: Focus on your backyard, not the world, and have fun doing it. Overhead is low, profit high.
•CNN: News 24/7? It will never work.
•Wii: Don’t build a competitor to PlayStation, build a different user experience that is based on fun and almost low tech.
•IPod: Most computer companies would have simply buried the music-playing feature of their computers as one of its many accessories. Steve Jobs’ brilliance was recognizing that this feature within a computer can be lifted out and isolated as a whole new product that could reinvent how people use music.

IPod came out with an intuitive design, and weirdly, new versions came out that cannibalized previous iPod hardware. Did buyers get mad? No, they bought the new models each year. And that changed the music industry, an industry that was not nimble and is still trying to shore itself up. And what to play on the iPods once you exhaust your CD collection? Well, early adopter Napster got shut down, Apple smartly cut deals with labels and created iTunes and invents and monetizes a new model on how music is delivered.

So what unclaimed space is there in media? It does not have to be TV, but TV will most likely be part of it for KPI. These are the ideas I look for.

8. How important do you think it is for your show idea to have an online component?

I don’t think it matters. That was a big thing about three years ago but doesn’t seem to be an issue much now. Everything can have an online component if you want it to, but it is the eyeballs you pull on TV that matter to the execs I pitch to.

9. Where does most of your budget funding come from, if not from the network?

In KPI’s case 100% from the networks. In one case I used the equity on my house and 401ks but I don’t suggest that.

10. How often do you attend industry conferences and festivals, and which are most important for your business?

We go to as many as we can afford. Realscreen is the most important for us while NATPE and MIP vary.

More about KPI:

KPI (Kralyevich Productions, Inc.) is an Emmy Award winning production company whose clients include A&E, Bravo, Discovery, TheNational Geographic Channel, Animal Planet, TLC, History, The Travel Channel, Discovery Health, Fine Living, The Military Channel, MSNBC, Smithsonian Networks and HGTV. The New York City based company was founded by Vincent Kralyevich in 1992 and since then KPI has diversified into other genres as noted below. In 2007, KPI was acquired by Lightworks Producing Group in NYC.

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