Call It The Mighty Ducks Hit the $treet
As the stock market has sputtered, so too, have some New Economy-glorifying entertainment vehicles. Seems like only yesterday Fox was lapping up the buzz from its weekly television drama, The $treet. But along with so many market caps relegated to the dot.coffin, the show -- which mixed fictitious boardroom intrigue with lots of steamy sex -- has been pulled off the air.
Still, like a high school crush, Hollywood can't seem to take its eyes off business these days -- and especially books about business. The latest literary cross-pollination comes not from tell-all Silicon Valley hipsters such as authors Michael Lewis (The New New Thing) and Po Bronson (Nudist on the Late Shift). Instead, Tinseltown is pairing up with two balding management gurus who like to pad around in unfashionable black rubber shoes peddling lessons about -- hold on to your pocket protector -- teambuilding.
Teambuilding? That's drama? Hollywood producer David Gerber, of thirtysomething and In the Heat of the Night fame, sure seems to think so. Gerber has secured the movie rights for High Five!, a tome from the management guru team of Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles. It's the story of a lone-wolf manager who learns about cooperation and camaraderie by coaching his son's hockey team. In the end, this solo flyer learns how to build a high-performing team worthy of the Stanley Cup one day.
Gerber, who has a development deal with 20th Century Fox Television Studios, has reportedly paid six figures for the book rights, and he's fast at work on finding a screenwriter to develop the script into a feature-length movie. The story's simple themes and parable-like storytelling will lend themselves to the big screen, Gerber believes.
How times have changed. Twenty years ago, Hollywood wouldn't touch business as fodder for entertainment. Corporate behavior was considered to be a real yawn. But that was before Shawn Fanning became sexy and secretaries started becoming millionaires by cashing in their stock options. The New Economy has spawned a slew of new magazines for hip dot.commers (Wired, Fast Company, Red Herring), lots of bestsellers, dramas like TNT's Bull, and even movies, like the recently released Anti-Trust. True, the glory days may be over with the market's tumble. But America's fascination with the New Economy and all things digital lingers on.
Blanchard, co-author of High Five!, is something of the Stephen King of the management-book set. The business-press public adores his stuff. His One-Minute Manager sold 10 million copies. But not everybody is a fan. Some critics deride his work as so much lightweight fluff. Blanchard bristles at the charge. "A lot of business books are written to make the authors look more intelligent and business schools seem necessary," Blanchard says. "Business isn't tough. It's common sense, but not common practice."
FINDING AN ITCH.
Thus the duo goes to great pains to make sure their work adheres to a school of thought commonly known in business circles as KISS (Keep It Stupidly Simple). Before starting a book, Blanchard and Bowles ask themselves: What is the greatest management itch that needs to be scratched? Once they've figured that out, they build a narrative around the itch. Then, like a massive Hollywood focus-group effort, the two pass out their manuscripts to anyone who'll read them, synthesizing the feedback they get before publication.
For Blanchard, the foray into movieland is a logical extension of his management seminar, aptly named "Flicks," at Cornell University's business school. There, he uses movies such as The Karate Kid and Hoosiers to demonstrate some of his basic principles: "Serve Others and You Serve Yourself" or "Put Values Before Personal Profit." After his students watch The Doctor, in which an arrogant, cold-hearted physician gets to see what it's like to be a patient, Blanchard distills the movie's essence for his B-schoolers: It's a "great customer-service story" and an example of "wonderful turnaround."
He's the first to admit it: Blanchard has long dreamed of one of his books becoming a celluloid sensation. "I want to make the greatest management-training movie of all time," Blanchard says. The need is self-evident, he figures. "Wall Street is about teaching people that making money is the only reason for being," says Blanchard. "I don't think anybody should get a big bonus for getting [rid of] a bunch of people. My five-year-old grandson could do that!"
Turns out this is not the first time Blanchard and Bowles have been approached by the movie set. There was interest in their 1997 bestseller Gung Ho!, another management parable about how to motivate employees. But the producers wanted to add a sultry subplot that ran too racy for the homespun duo's just-folks ways. They even blanched at any curse words being uttered in the script.
"With David Gerber, we feel we'll be part of something that we'll be proud to be associated with," says Bowles, who teaches business courses in Winnipeg, Canada. "The bottom line is about helping people to help each other, that's the ultimate." After so much dot.com-infused greed, that's a message Gerber is banking that the masses want to hear. Anybody for an uplifting movie about hockey as a metaphor for corporate life?
By Michelle Conlin in New York
Edited by Douglas Harbrecht