Brett Paul, Exec. Vice President, Warner Bros. TV


Current title and employer?

Executive Vice President, Warner Bros. Television Production

Okay, but what do your really do?

Warner Bros Television Production is a division of Warner Bros. We produce scripted programming for each of the major broadcast networks. Our current shows include:

CBS: Two and a Half Men, Big Bang Theory, The Mentalist, Eleventh Hour, The New Adventures of Old Christine, Without a Trace, Cold Case

NBC: E.R., Chuck

Fox: Fringe, Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles

ABC: Pushing Daisies

The CW: Gossip Girl, Smallville, Supernatural, One Tree Hill, Privileged

And other recent hits include West Wing and Friends.

I report directly to our President, Peter Roth. In general terms, I am the most senior business executive for our division with oversight of business affairs, production, legal affairs, finance, estimating, etc. As you might expect, I work closely with Peter on implementing his initiatives, visions, goals and targets for our division. Over time, we’ve developed a close working relationship, so I’d also like to believe I serve as a sort of consigliere for him on all facets of our business as they arise.

In addition, I oversee and manage our day-to-day business operations. That includes managing budgets, personnel decisions, meeting with department heads and helping set their respective agendas. If I’m doing my job effectively, I’m as unobtrusive as possible throughout the entire process.

Law school? Law Review?

University of Miami. And yes, I co-authored FDIC v. Philadelphia Gear: A Standby letter of Credit Backed by a Contingent Promissory Note Is Not a Deposit (The Supreme Court Changes Gear).

At which firms did you work?

Cahill Gordon & Reindel (~4 years)
Hill Wynne Troop & Meisinger (~2 years)
Finley Kumble et al. (~2 months…They dissolved after I joined them out of law school.)

Practice area?

Corporate transactional, securities, mergers and acquisitions

Worst memory of being a lawyer?

As unpopular as this may sound on a website called “Bitter Lawyer,” I actually loved certain aspects of the practice, and it’s hard to pinpoint any one particular experience as the worst. Freakishly long hours, responsibility for minutia and a few thankless clients standout as the negatives.

If I had to pick something, I’d say my interactions with a certain Senior Partner (whose name also happened to be on the door) were particularly unpleasant, yet in hindsight, comical. I’d like to say they seasoned me for professional experiences to come, but in truth, they were one of a kind and didn’t have much of an impact on anything other than helping me to grow a thick skin.

A couple interactions stand out. I moved to California from New York one week before I was to begin a new job. Senior Partner invites me to his house in Malibu at 11:00 AM on the Sunday preceding my first day for what I thought would be social get together—maybe a brunch. A warm and inviting gesture since he had recruited me from across the country. When I arrive at his house, Senior Partner has already eaten, and he gives me a stack of documents to review. We talk for an hour about securities issues, and then he sends me back to the office for an afternoon’s worth of work, which he wanted me to fax to him at the end of the day. The workload and timetables he set pretty much ensured I wouldn’t be catching a meal until well into the evening. It was a good example of things to come.

Another favorite… One random weekday, without any warning, Senior Partner leaves a new assignment on my office voicemail at 3:00 AM. He follows up by leaving messages again on my office voicemail at 5:30 AM from his home, 6:30 AM from his car, and 7:30 AM from his office, wondering why I hadn’t finished it yet. I got all four messages when I arrived at 8:15 to start the day.

Best memory of being a lawyer?

Actually, I have quite a few. I was always impressed with how bright and capable I found so many of my colleagues. And dedicated. For all of the knocks they endure, generally speaking, I think lawyers are a highly underappreciated lot.

Working with Michael Becker at Cahill Gordon & Reindel on any number of transactions particularly stand out. To this day, I think he’s one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met. One particular transaction I enjoyed—probably because it was so early in my career, and I played a meaningful role—was when we represented Drexel Burnham Lambert on financing Maxxam’s buyout of Kaiser Aluminum. It was both exhilarating and terrifying since I was the junior man on a staff of only three lawyers (Michael Becker, a mid-level named Germain Curtain, and I) for the entire three months it took to complete. It involved board meetings, drafting complex securities language (indenture provisions, etc.), working with some extraordinary lawyers and bankers, traveling cross-country numerous times, etc. I gained a lot of experience, billed a lot of hours, lost a lot of sleep and packed on a lot of weight in those 3 months, but it was worth every moment.

And, needless to say, I love the team I work with at Warner Bros.

Describe your “I have to get the F*** out of here epiphany?”

I received Senior Partner’s handwritten comments on the draft of a preferred stock certificate I had prepped for review, in which he expressed his dissatisfaction by writing the word “No” 17 times down the left-hand column of the document—all addressing the same issue of how I drafted a particular anti-dilution provision. The lead chips from the pencil were still on the document from where he had broken its tip, apparently writing in anger. And notwithstanding the broken tip, he felt compelled to keep writing. Just the same word, “No.” He didn’t call me or explain what he wanted; he just kept writing it over and over. (Passive aggressive?) I found his reaction disproportionate in the context of both my workload and the provision’s complexity. And after about two years of work, it broke the camel’s back, so to speak. Maybe I’m making this part up, but I think the fix was tweaking a few words. My thought at the time was, “Life is definitely too short,” and I left shortly thereafter for a job at the beach (transitioning to my career to television, working on Baywatch, as it turns out).

How did you make the transition from lawyer to television executive?

In all seriousness, I left the ivory tower of Hill Wynne Troop & Meisinger for a storage closet-turned-executive office on the second floor of very non-descript two-story building. (No joke—I could touch all four walls with my feet planted and swiveling at the hips.) It was then the home of All-American Communications, a publicly traded entertainment holding company. My office looked out on a Pizza Hut across the street, which I often mused could have been the most urinated upon in the entire chain. The neighborhood has improved a bit since then, but at the time, it wasn’t particularly lovely.

Despite their humble surroundings, All-American was a growing company and needed an in-house lawyer; a jack-of-all-trades who understood finance but also had an interest in entertainment. It was there I learned the broad strokes of the television business. We produced and self-distributed the first run of Baywatch, had an off-network marketplace, had a small record label (Weird Al Yankovich, James Brown) and acquired game show formats, which we distributed internationally. I was quickly introduced to development, production, distribution, finance and branding.

The executive team was quite seasoned, and they ran a very lean staff. I was given as much responsibility as I could handle and had a great time participating in virtually every facet of the business. Tony Scotti and Myron Roth gave me a great opportunity for which I’m thankful. To this day, I maintain a close friendship with Greg Bonann, the creator of Baywatch—a friendship born out of frequent negotiation, which usually found us on opposite sides.

How long have you been at Warner Bros?

I started 12 years ago as a mid-level business affairs executive. I negotiated overall deal for writers, talent deals for actors, rights acquisitions and network license arrangements. Over the years, I took on additional responsibilities in the group, eventually running it first with a partner and later on my own. Then a few years ago, I took on more of an oversight position of not only business affairs, but of the other business operating departments. I most recently added physical production to my areas of oversight responsibility.

Any advice on bitter lawyers out there looking to change careers?

Following passions is a lot easier said than done, but follow your passion nonetheless. Pragmatic issues such as covering your living expenses play a major role, no doubt, but having said that, lawyers are not an inherently lazy group. Getting through law school not only sets you up for being a lawyer, but it also prepares you for the perseverance required to make a career change out of the law, if that’s your desire.

Use your skills. Get involved in things that take you closer to your destination. Meet people. Follow up. Be aggressive. But always maintain the quality of your character—that’s a lesson I’ve learned working so closely with Peter all these years. No one is going to give it to you (unless you happen to have been “born on third base,” so to speak).

Read more interviews and Bitter Success.

10 Comments

  1. Al Dickman

    November 4, 2008 at 3:45 am

    This is a good interview from a good guy.  He highlights the kind of dillweeds we have to deal with every day.  I love the story about the asswipe boss who telephones him 4 times before he comes into work (at 8:15 am) .  With dipshits like this for bosses, a lot of people wouldnt even want to become lawyers.  But it’s good he got out, booking a job in California, where there are still some real babes!  No going back to the law firm after that!

  2. Bitter Third Year

    November 4, 2008 at 8:57 am

    Enjoyed this one very much!

  3. Katherine

    November 4, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    very cool interview

  4. Ex-BigLaw

    November 4, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    Definitely among the better interviews here!

  5. Govt Worker

    November 5, 2008 at 2:12 am

    I like this guy.  He’s not smug, but down to earth and tells it like it is.  The story about the comulsive ass-hat partner is a real wake up to students who haven’t experienced this type of psychosis before.  Trust me, it happens even in the government environment, where we’re not even getting paid the big bucks!

  6. Brian Bradley

    November 10, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    Brett, So glad to see you are doing well.

  7. Sara

    November 13, 2008 at 7:06 am

    He’s cute!

  8. Natalie Baff

    November 17, 2008 at 10:10 am

    Brett,

    We’re very proud of your accomplishments.  I’m your cousin from NJ.

  9. Matt Cohen

    April 2, 2012 at 5:32 pm

    I actually went to high school with Brett over 30 years ago in Miami Beach. Despite being one of the most popular guys in our high school back then, he was always very nice, approachable and an all-around good guy. Always very level-headed,down to earth, and lacking in the pretensions of many people in our class. I am very glad to see that he got out of the legal rat race and is doing well in the entertainment business. Way to go, Brett!—————————–
    Matthew Cohen, Esq., Class of 1980(MBSHS Hi-Tides)

  10. Tim Sheehan

    March 29, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    I knew Brett during my time at WBTV (last three years of my career at Warner Bros). He was probably one of my favorite clients to work with. His staff at the time (2000 – 2003) was awesome. Brett is reasonable, personable, down to earth and just an all around great guy.

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