Brent Montgomery, owner/executive producer of Leftfield Pictures, learned one of his biggest lessons for succeeding in TV while selling knives in college.He told a customer a knife would cut through a melon with one swipe— without actually knowing if it would. Luckily, the melon sliced cleanly. “After that, whether it is TV or knives, I’m very careful of not selling something that is not tested out,” Montgomery says. “We try and vet out everything.”
Being honest with a cast before filming is also something Montgomery strives for. “We are very straight with people—telling them this is the hardest thing they’ll ever do…and it could go nowhere.”
This diligence and candor has worked well for Montgomery, whose company has had major unscripted successes with History’s Pawn Stars, spinoff Cajun Pawn Stars and American Restoration, as well as Science Channel’s Oddities franchise and ABC’s Ball Boys, among others.
New York-based Montgomery is in the process of opening a Los Angeles office, which should be ready by yearend. “The move is to really tap into the local talent pool because we want to do more celeb stuff,” he says. Leftfield is already helping produce Celebrity Yard Sale (working title)—created by Lance Bass, about celebs getting rid of some possessions, to be auctioned off for charity. Lifetime picked up the show last month.
The 250-plus-person company is also hiring a New York-based CFO, essentially to handle acquisitions. Leftfield plans to be aggressive in acquiring other production entities that will complement its programming.
Montgomery, who calls reality TV “a three-ring circus,” didn’t always aspire to work in the field. As the oldest of three growing up in San Antonio, he hoped to become a baseball player, but pursued journalism at Texas A&M. While there, he worked at CBS affiliate KBTX, which allowed him to pay most of his college tuition and get job experience. Graduating in 1997, he moved to NYC, where he began as a production assistant in ’98 on the Fox newsmagazine Fox Files, which lasted one season.
Montgomery worked his way up the ladder from associate producer to producer on several reality shows, all the while shooting various projects of his own on the side. Ironically, Montgomery, whose company has found success with maleskewing series, says he really got his chops working on female-skewing series such as The Bachelor and Wife Swap.
A significant break came in 2008 when he sold reality series The Principal’s Office—about the inner workings of school administrations—to truTV, marking the formation of Leftfield Pictures.
The company’s big moment came in July 2009 with the premiere of Pawn Stars, about a family-run pawn shop in Las Vegas—an idea Montgomery came up with while in Vegas for a bachelor party. Pawn Stars is now History’s most-watched series; the show broke a ratings record in January 2011 when an episode attracted 7.7 million total viewers. To date, Pawn Stars is averaging 5.6 million total viewers.
Montgomery loves working with History and Nancy Dubuc, president and general manager of History and Lifetime Networks, whom he calls “the smartest person I’ve met in or out of the business.” Dubuc praises Montgomery’s business sense as well.
“I think that Brent has done a remarkable achievement—managing the success of very big shows, but also managing the growth and success of his own company,” Dubuc says.
Pawn’s success, and the success of other networks’ “copycat” series, prompted spinoff Cajun Pawn Stars, which debuted on History last January and has averaged 2.5 million total viewers to date.
Leftfield is as busy as ever with 18 series, four pilots and approximately 20 development deals—with about half female-skewing, aiming to broaden the company’s slate. Next up are projects including demolition series Bid & Destroy on NatGeo; Science Channel’s Oddities spinoff, Odd Folks Home; and two series at History (not announced at presstime), all airing later this year.
With everything that is on his plate, Montgomery feels fortunate to work with his wife, Courtney, who serves as Leftfield’s head of production. “I get to share the triumphs with her…and have that support when things aren’t going well,” he says.
The couple makes it a rule to always have dinner and watch one show together. But you won’t find reality TV on Montgomery’s must-watch list, which instead favors shows such as Homeland and Eastbound and Down. “I like to watch scripted, because I like to do something different,” he says.
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