He Keeps Teeing Up the Hits

Here’s why people are always saying it’s a good idea to pick up golf: When Michael M. Robin was in college, he was a good enough golfer that he considered playing professionally. He spent his summers working at one of his hometown golf courses—Los Angeles’ ritzy Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades.

That also happened to be where many TV producers played, so Robin made good connections. In 1986, Riviera member Bob Schiller—who wrote for I Love Lucy and All in the Family— gave Robin a gig as a production assistant on a sitcom, He’s the Mayor.

After that show ended, Robin was back at the golf course. He called another member he had met, Steven Bochco, to see if he wanted to play a round. Bochco asked Robin what he was up to, because “I’m doing this show about lawyers…. ”

That’s how Robin ended up working in post-production on the Emmy-winning L.A. Law, and side-by-side with other Bochco up-and-comers such as David E. Kelley and David Milch. By 1990, when he was just 26, Robin—by now indoctrinated in the “House of Bochco”—was already a producer.

“When you [work with these] writers, you learn how to get the story right, and the behavior of the characters right, and then you figure out how to photograph all of it in an appropriate way,” says Robin.

After 11 years working for Bochco—on Cop Rock, Civil Wars and NYPD Blue, earning Emmys along the way—Robin wanted to try his own hand at developing series. “I knew that to move from the episodic directing ranks into development, you had to make a big move and sell an idea,” he says.

With Bochco’s blessing, Robin pitched an idea around, ultimately selling 13 episodes of a series called C-16 to ABC. After that, Robin knew he could make it. Plus, Bochco had given him a back-up plan, telling him to “come on back if it doesn’t work out,” says Robin. “That was a good safety net.”

Since then, Robin hasn’t had a moment of time to contemplate going back. “In television, if you have any success, you just go like a freight train. So I’ve always kept my head down and kept moving. In this town, your record speaks for itself. So if you are successful you are constantly given more to do. That’s what’s happened with us,” he says.

Regarding the “us”: After C-16, Robin signed a development deal with Touchstone Television, and he convinced one of ABC’s top development executives, Greer Shephard, to start a company with him.

“I thought Greer’s development skills would work well with my production skills,” says Robin.

In its first year, the Shephard/Robin Co. made 13 writer deals and shot nine pilots. One of those deals was for a show called Popular that was written by a young journalist named Ryan Murphy.

Over the 13 years that Shephard/Robin has been in business—for the past decade, housed at Warner Bros.—the company has developed and produced many shows, including Murphy’s graphic, ground-breaking Nip/Tuck, which aired on FX.

Since 2005, several of those series have been produced for TNT, starting with The Closer, cable’s most-watched show, which just ended its run.

TNT had been having a lot of ratings success with off-network runs of procedurals such as NBC’s Law & Order and it was looking to expand into original production. Robin’s agent, Joe Cohen at Creative Artists Agency, told Michael Wright, executive VP of programming at TNT, TBS and TCM, that he should sit down with his client.

“When I described to Joe the kinds of shows we were looking to do at the time, the first words out of his mouth were ‘Shephard/Robin,’” says Wright. “And it was TV development love at first sight. Michael is such a clear-eyed, grounded guy. He has a marvelous creative point of view.”

James Duff is credited with creating the concept for The Closer. But Robin came up with a way to make the show that allowed it to be produced at a very high quality for a relatively low cost. “From the very beginning, all of that was really built into the production’s DNA,” says Wright. “Michael designed a really smart production plan.”

As The Closer ends its run, Robin is busier than ever. He’s been working as a consulting producer on TNT’s hit Rizzoli & Isles, and he’s also launching TNT’s remake of Dallas, shooting now and expected to be on TNT’s air next summer. He also has several projects in the works, including a couple with author Michael Lewis, who wrote the books on which the hit films The Blind Side and Moneyball are based.

“If you want to be a director, you really have to know about all of these different disciplines,” Robin says. “There’s not a day that I spend that I’m [not] noting something about people or life. It all goes into a mental file that later gives me a point of view on how a scene should be played. You have to make sure you get all of that right.”

E-mail comments to palbiniak@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter: @PaigeA

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.