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Viewpoint: Hey, what’s the big idea?

"I grew up wanting to be Brandon Tartikoff. To me, he was a genius."

"I grew up wanting to be Brandon Tartikoff. To me, he was a genius."

Television executive Brandon Tartikoff, who served as NBC's president of entertainment through much of the 1980s, is interviewed by Charlie Rose in 1992. (Still frame via broadcast)
Television executive Brandon Tartikoff, who served as NBC’s president of entertainment through much of the 1980s, is interviewed by Charlie Rose in 1992. (Still frame via broadcast)

This guest column originally appeared on Substack.

I love ideas. I love when they come to me. I love to think about them. I love it when they get far enough in my head that I make a slide deck to pitch a VC I choose to not meet. I love that I truly believe that every fifth deck is going to be *the one.* The big idea that’s going to break out. Put me on some map somewhere. So where do ideas come from?

Kids who are jocks look up to sports stars. Smart kids want to be scientists or astronauts. I wasn’t either. I was a nebbishy, Jewish kid who loved TV. I grew up wanting to be Brandon Tartikoff. To me, he was a genius. He was the wunderkind who, at 32, became the president of NBC’s entertainment division.

Everyone can see trends. They’re the big things you can’t avoid even if you try. Most people try to split that atom looking for new ideas. Which is both hard and competitive. Because everyone else is looking to split those same atomic trends too. Forget fission, think fussion. Tartikoff was a genius because he could fuse two trends to make something new.

I choose to believe this story is real, like some people choose to believe in the Easter Bunny. The all-music video cable brainchild, MTV (a great story that’s so apropos today), launched in 1981. That’s also the year Tartikoff took over NBC. He needed new ideas for the last-place network. By 1983, Tartikoff had become obsessed with MTV. Wanting a new cop show, he scribbled “MTV Cops” on a napkin and gave it to a producer. Those two words became the 1980s icon, “Miami Vice.”

(My final high school English project in 1986 was a video based on Miami Vice. Some of the folks who embarrassed themselves in that have gone to become partners in law firms, the guy who plans strategic air defense, and the president of a really big telecom firm. Which tells how much I wanted to grow up to be a TV exec, explains my inability to write, and the import of Miami Vice on my generation.)

If you weren’t 18-35 in the mid-80s, MTV and Miami Vice don’t mean a damn thing. It wasn’t like the rest of TV. The show’s style guru, Michael Mann, explained it like this: “We haven’t invented the Hula-Hoop or anything. We’re only contemporary. And if we’re different from the rest of TV, it’s because the rest of TV isn’t even contemporary.”

It all happened because Tartikoff saw two trends, glommed them together, and voided the details. Genius. Genius. Genius. That last one is critical. Don’t fill in the blanks too early. Run with your ideas and let others run with them. You’ll be amazed where they go.

So how do you “Tartikoff?” Well, you could observe life, find two trends, and add a plus sign. But one person can only observe so much life. So that could take a while. You need a way to scale inputs. You could go to a comedy club and sit through set after set of observational humor until something strikes you. But even that could take a while. So, what’s a would-be entrepreneur to do?

Let’s strawman this: Who or what is the least creative thing you know? AI. It’s a black box full of details. So, it makes sense to do the opposite. Open your mind and throw away the details. That way, you’re a hammer and the world looks like a nail. Or, in this case, you’re Anthony Yerkovich and everything looks like a napkin with inspiring word combos on it. (Yerkovich produced Miami Vice.)

(Image via LinkedIn)
(Image via LinkedIn)

Notkin. Napkin. Close enough. Likes on social media. Loyalty program. Go.

Charles Benaiah is the CEO of Watzan, a techy company for medical media. When he’s not running a media company, he reads about media, thinks about it, pull out what’s left of his hair dealing with it, and then he writes about it over on unCharles. Follow him on LinkedIn by clicking or tapping here

The opinion reflected in this article is the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the viewpoints of or its parent company, Solano Media LLC.

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About the Author:

Charles Benaiah

Charles Benaiah is the co-founder of Medspoke and the founder and CEO of Watzan.