EXCLUSIVE: The Goldbergs and Schooled executive producer Doug Robinson has re-upped his overall deal at Sony Pictures Television for five more years. Already the longest-tenured producer at the independent TV studio, where he has been for 17.5 years — all in the same office on the Sony lot in Culver City — Robinson and his DRP production company will remain there through 2024.
Under the big new pact, Robinson is working on a development slate, which includes a comedy project with newly minted Grammy winner Tyler, the Creator, and book acquisitions as he is plotting expansion into limited series and streaming next.
The extension follows a strong May 2019 broadcast upfronts for Robinson who went 4-for-4, with both of his pilots, ABC legal drama For Life, starring Nicholas Pinnock, and NBC comedy Indebted, starring Fran Drescher, getting picked up to series, and both of his existing series, ABC comedy The Goldbergs and spinoff Schooled, renewed. The feat brought Robinson’s portfolio to four current on-air series — the most ever for the TV producer — including the first drama series, For Life, which debuts Feb. 11, days after the Feb. 6 debut of Indebted.
Robinson was in the third year of a four-year overall deal he had signed at Sony TV in 2017 when he was approached in late 2019 about re-upping early for a longer term.
Sony TV is the only studio home Robinson has ever known. After a first career act as an agent, he left Endeavor to pursue TV producing, and his client Adam Sandler offered to partner together at Happy Madison. The two set up shop at Sony Pictures Television in in 2002, extending Sandler’s longstanding relationship with the studio on the film side.
Robinson’s producing endeavors were off to a rough start, with Happy Madison’s first series, comedy The Mayor starring Ben Feldman and Anna Kendrick, scrapped by the CW a few months after the network had picked up the pilot to series. The three shot episodes never aired.
Soon after that, Robinson sat down for a meeting with writer-comedian Tom Hertz whose stand-up act, focused on relationships, he was familiar with.
“He kept trying to pitch me a show about a commercial jingle company that he had worked at, and I kept pushing that to the side and said, ‘tell me about your relationships’. He started doing things from his act that I remembered, and I said ‘that’s your show, about three people in different stages of relationships, engaged, married, and single’. That became Rules of Engagement. That was probably 14 or 15 years ago, and thankfully I’ve had at least one show on the air since then.”
That includes two series that have gone to syndication, CBS’ Rules of Engagement and ABC’s The Goldbergs.
After several miraculous last-minute renewals, Rules Of Engagement aired for 7 seasons. Its run will likely be eclipsed by The Goldbergs as the longest-running series produced by Robinson. The comedy, created by Adam F. Goldberg based on his experience growing up, is now in its seventh season.
“I think it goes at least another year, if not longer,” Robinson said of the ABC series, which also spawned a spinoff, Schooled.
Both series went through showrunner transitions recently. On the mothership, Chris Bishop and Alex Barnow replaced creator Goldberg who moved from Sony TV to ABC Studios for a big overall deal and has been focusing on development.
“Chris and Alex are great. They have been there from the beginning, they know the show really well,” Robinson said. “We still have Adam’s home videos, but those guys know the stories and know the characters, and I think it’s been a pretty seamless transition.”
Schooled went through two showrunner changes in the span of months, with Hertz, back in business with Robinson, and Vanessa McCarthy recently taking the helm.
“It’s been a rocky start in terms of finding the right showrunner, and I think now we finally found the right showrunners,” Robinson said. “The good news is, the problems that we’ve been having making the show haven’t at all translated to how the audience is watching the show. The people who love The Goldbergs are loving Schooled, and it’s holding that audience. I think that if we can let more people know that Schooled is on, that show can run for years and take over for whenever The Goldbergs is finished.”
After 15 years partnered with Sandler at Happy Madison, Robinson in 2017 launched DRP with his first solo overall deal at Sony TV and brought in executive Alison Greenspan. (Since 2014, Sandler has been focused on producing and starring in movies for Netflix under a string of back-to-back deals at the streamer.)
Happy Madison’s slate was largely comedy-driven as it inevitably reflected Sandler’s comedy brand.
“When I started DRP, it became about what do I want to do. I want to do shows that reflect more my taste,” Robinson said. “And so, the big focal point was doing dramas. Part of that was, how do you change the perception of a brand, and my brand was associated with Happy Madison. The focus for the first two years was, let’s find a drama, and I was fortunate enough to get a call from 50 Cent who said, I have the guy with a great story for you, and that became For Life.”
Executive produced by Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and written/executive produced by Hank Steinberg, For Life is a fictional serialized legal and family drama inspired by the life of Isaac Wright, Jr. about a prisoner (Pinnock) who becomes a lawyer, litigating cases for other inmates while fighting to overturn his own life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit.
“For Life is something I’m really, really proud of,” Robinson said. “Nicholas Pinnock who plays the lead is incredible and an unbelievable find. It’s a show that’s on network, but feels like a streaming show.”
Following DRP’s expansion into drama, Robinson is setting his sights on limited series for the cable/streaming marketplace. He is currently putting together two limited series projects to take out, one based on Jodi Picoult’s bestselling novel A Spark of Light and one based on Cat Marnell’s memoir How to Murder Your Life.
Joey King, coming off an Emmy nomination for her starring role in The Act, is attached to star in Spark Of Light. Described as a Dog Day Afternoon in a woman’s reproductive health services clinic, in Spark Of Light, what appears to be another day of service to women at the clinic, becomes tragic as a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire, taking all inside hostage.
Marnell’s How To Murder Your Life is described as a candid and darkly humorous memoir of prescription drug addiction and self-sabotage, set in the glamorous world of fashion magazines and downtown nightclubs.
“I’m never going to be in the volume business, it’s not why I’m here, it’s not why they (Sony TV) have me here,” Robinson said. “I want to continue to make comedies because I like making comedies, but I want to do a lot more drama, and I want to eventually find that prestige show, and both of these books have a certain pedigree to them that I want to continue on.”
Robinson’s office is conveniently located steps away from the sound stages where all four of his current series are filmed. The reasons for him to stay on the Sony lot were far beyond logistical.
“I love everybody at Sony. They’ve treated me incredibly, incredibly well,” he said. “I think that what I love more than anything about this place is, because it’s an independent studio, you have to do better, you have to fight for your shows. Rules of Engagement was something that every year we had to figure out how do we keep that show on the air, and nobody does it better than this place. They work harder, they’re scrappier. I like going to work with that mentality every day. I like the people here that support that fight, that fight alongside you, that creatively are in line with me, so why would I want to go anywhere else?”