Ask Steve Rotfeld, and he'll tell you that his dad was always a "pretty big
character." Berl Rotfeld created the cult sports-documentary series Greatest
Sports Legends (where he hobnobbed with the likes of Jim Brown, Reggie
Jackson and Mickey Mantle), was profiled in Sports Illustrated, and
was known for wearing a cowboy hat and a long, flowing coat. "He looked like a
Western gunslinger," Steve says.
So, it wasn't going to be easy when, in 1986, Steve stepped out from his
father's long shadow to work on his own. After graduating from law school, he
had spent five years working alongside his dad on Legends, but left to
start Steve Rotfeld Productions out of his Pennsylvania home.
"I set up shop on the second floor of my house," Rotfeld explains. "It was
just me, a desk, a typewriter and absolutely nothing to do." But Rotfeld, who
had won an Emmy for writing The Legend of Jackie Robinson, was not
idle for long. He partnered with 44 Blue Productions to produce a series of
sports-blooper clip shows with sportscaster and baseball funnyman Bob Uecker
called Bob Uecker's Wacky World of Sports. Rotfeld took the shows to
syndication, and "that got SRP on
the map," he says.
Rotfeld then produced 65 episodes of ESPN's Lighter Side of Sports,
which is when things began to take off. Perhaps the best indication: He and his
team were forced to move out of his house after a neighbor complained. "We had
grown from one car [in the driveway] to four or five," he jokes.
Steve Rotfeld Productions, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year,
is now a well-respected independent production company. It has branched out
from sports to children's and family-friendly programming such as Wild About
Animals and Awesome Adventures, which currently air on Fox
Rotfeld began developing kids programming in the mid-'90s, when stations
received a mandate to carry three hours of educational shows a week. "The only
business that was left to a niche player was this weekend morning [slot] for
children's FCC-friendly programming," he says. Thus, Wild About Animals,
hosted by Mariette Hartley, was born. Sixteen years later the show endures,
with Animal Planet recently picking it up for a three-year run.
In 2008, Steve Rotfeld Productions established the independent satellite The
WorkShop, headed by onetime SRP
producer Tom Farrell. The WorkShop has developed Golf Channel programming such
as The Haney Project, Golf in America and the upcoming Donald
J. Trump's Fabulous World of Golf. The Haney Project, in which
golf-swing coach Hank Haney tries to improve a celebrity's golf game, will
debut its second season, featuring Ray Romano, on March 1.
Syndicators are quick to praise the quality and output of Rotfeld's team.
Art Moore, VP of programming at WABC
New York, has had a working relationship with Rotfeld since the late '80s. "In
this business, you have a lot of used-car salesmen and so you don't always get
what [producers] tell you you're going to get," Moore says. "When [Rotfeld] says he's going
to deliver something, that's what he delivers."
It's a notion passed through the Rotfeld generations, for whom television
production is still a family business. Rotfeld's wife, Fern, is SRP's director of syndication. Their son, Robby, is
producing new episodes of Wild About Animals. And their daughter,
Carly, recently graduated from college. Berl Rotfeld passed away in 2005.
Away from the cameras, Rotfeld is an avid tennis player and golfer (he is
better at the former than the latter), and began playing the guitar 10 years
ago after watching Eric Clapton's legendary performance on MTV Unplugged.
Rotfeld maintains a strong hands-on approach to all of SRP's content. During the snowstorm that pounded
much of the East Coast on Feb. 10 (a day in which one could be excused for
taking it easy), Rotfeld was working from home like the old days. His
typewriter has been replaced by a laptop, but his work ethic remains steadfast.
"The day that I stop enjoying this is the day that I'm not going to be in
this business anymore," he says. "I just love the process."
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