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Larry Namer may not be a household name, but his contribution to the entertainment industry is unmistakable.
Perhaps best known as the founder of E! Entertainment Television, Namer has a list of accolades that catalog his nearly 50 years of experience in the media industry.
From his beginning as the youngest general manager of a major cable system at Valley Cable TV (VCTV) in Los Angeles, he went on to oversee VCTV as it won several Emmys, Cable ACE award nominations as well as recognition by Forbes magazine as the national model for local cable television programming.
Namer has since been honored with awards like the International Media Legacy Award in 2017, the Hollywood Lifetime Achievement Award in Entertainment in 2018 and the TriBeCa Disrupter Award in 2019.
Larry Namer started in the 1970s as an assistant splicer for a cable company. “I thought this would be a mindless temporary job, but here I am still some 50 years later,” he explained.
“At MCTV, I worked with the field workers and got to learn the language and the equipment. Shortly after I joined, Time Inc. bought the company and at that time, they were mainly a publishing company.
They saw the future of video and made a plan to transform themselves over the coming decade into a media company. It was a great time to be there as it was a time of great innovation and opportunity for a young guy like myself to rise in a very traditional conservative corporate world.”
Rising through the ranks to become Vice-Chair of the local union organization for electrical workers, Namer found himself “negotiating labor contracts against the Harvard and Yale guys of Time Inc. and the other cable companies.”
He was quickly noticed and began receiving offers to go into various management positions eventually landing as Director of Operations. “I was 25 years old with 300 people reporting to me. I was the youngest of all of them, but lucky enough to have had several great mentors to be able to follow and learn from,” he remembered.
He credits his time at MCTV for his interest in innovation. “While I was at MCTV, Time Inc. Video Group started HBO and Cinemax, and then bought out Turner Broadcasting to widen the program side. Then they bought ATC which at the time was the largest cable system operator in the country. It was a great time to be there because I was able to grow up with all the new things that were happening.”
His work as General Manager of Valley Cable in Los Angeles sparked his interest in cable programming. “It was during that time that I became fascinated with the programming side of the business and when Valley Cable was sold, I decided to stay in Los Angeles and try to do something on my own.”
Thus, E! Entertainment Television was born.
Larry Namer and his friend Alan Mruvka formed the concept and set out to create a business plan. The path was not easy. “We spent three and a half years chasing the first investment dollars and eventually got a bond house on Wall Street to put in US$2.5 million. The only problem was that it cost US$60 million to start a network.”
After hoisting the new endeavor up with plenty of determination and only a small staff of 11 employees and 31 interns, investors began showing support once E! made it onto the air. “That was quite a switch from what they would say before which was ‘you are not Ted Turner or Rupert Murdoch. You can’t just wake up in the morning and start a TV network.’
So, we didn’t listen and did it anyway. Now E! is in 140 or so countries and is the number one influencer of pop culture in the world.”
However, like most innovators, Namer was always looking for the next big challenge. “I discovered the Soviet Union appeared to be ready to collapse and there would be great new opportunities to explore.
So even while still at E!, I started a company called Comspan Communications and we created programs and music events for that territory. That company had the number one TV show in Russia for 10 years and our concert division produced over 300 concerts, including the Three Tenors on Red Square, Ringo Starr, Joe Cocker, Sheryl Crow, and others.”
“The run in Russia lasted 13 years when I decided China would be even more fun and more of a challenge.”
Most recently, Namer has formed Metan Global Entertainment Group, one of the first western companies to focus on the Chinese media market. “Today we are a multifaceted company producing TV, film and internet content, as well as concerts and live events. We even have a division that helps non-media companies set up properly in the China market.”
To get a better understanding of Larry Namer’s journey, we had some questions for the media pioneer.
As a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
A Pepsi truck driver, what else? My father drove a Pepsi truck in New York and would work a second job so that his kids could go to college. That’s where my work ethic comes from.
What advice would you give your younger self?
That you need to follow your own path and not just someone else’s path for you.
What’s one critical moment that has shaped your life?
One of the most life changing times for me was when he was 15 years old, my son was diagnosed with brain cancer and had to go through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. It changes your perspective as to what’s really important in life. Somehow he managed his way through all of that and is a miracle kid.
As a media mogul, what is your favorite source of entertainment currently?
I’m a big sports fan and hoping for that to come back. I’m a NY Giants football fan and a NY Yankees baseball fan. However, living in Los Angeles, I have learned to love the Dodgers as well and go to about 10 games a year.
What inspires you?
I read voraciously. Everything now on an iPad but the equivalent of two to three books and 50 magazines a month. That on top of an hour each day on one of the Internet news sites.
How would you describe your mind?
Curious, adventurous, open.