New York Festivals® International Radio Programs & Promos Awards Spotlight Interview series showcases respected game-changers from the radio community, exploring their individual formulas for success and their thoughts on the ever-changing world of all things radio. This week’s interview we shine the spotlight on Jeremy Lipkin – producer/writer Sirius XM Radio/Howard Stern Productions whose series “SNL on Stern” earned the Gold Trophy in the 2012 New York Festivals International Radio Programs & Promos Awards.
NYF: You wrote, researched and co-produced the award-winning documentary series “The History of Howard Stern,” how did you get interested in long-form? Could you talk about the timeline from concept to finished program?
JL: In a nutshell, I started my career as a promo producer in television (Nickelodeon, CBS) which evolved into writing & producing “medium-form” content, roughly 2-5 minutes long. I did get to write 2 hour-long specials for Nickelodeon but the long-form thing didn’t really happen until I got to Sirius XM in 2007, it just kind of happened naturally. I was to hired to research, write & co-produce “The History of Howard Stern” special which was supposed to be a 10 day special covering his entire career. Once I started doing the research and began to piece the Howard story together, it grew very quickly. We had access to Howard’s entire tape archive – over 30 years of material – and I realized it was not going to fit it into 10 days! It sounds strange to say that, but considering Howard has saved tapes from literally his whole entire life, there was a LOT of material to sort through and play as part of this show. We had tapes of him as a little kid singing the Rolling Stones into his tape recorder, his college radio shows, tapes from his early career in Hartford, Detroit and Washington, DC…and we wanted to play as much as possible since a lot of it had never been heard before. Plus we were getting to many great stories from the various people we interviewed, we knew we had to break it up. We agreed to split up “History” into separate acts that would air annually at Sirius XM with each act covering about 5 years of Howard’s career. It turned out to be the best decision, and gave us some great end of year programming to push towards and promote throughout the year. Of course, that meant I would be working on the series for the better part of 12 months each year, but it was an amazing experience. To date, “The History of Howard Stern” is over 160 hours of programming. It doesn’t get more long-form than that!
NYF: “SNL on Stern,” the five-part original series hosted by Howard Stern offered an uncensored backstage history of Saturday Night Live as told by the show’s cast, guest hosts and writers from three decades of appearances on the The Howard Stern Show. What was the inspiration for the series?
JL: That’s an easy one. I’ve been watching SNL since I was 12 years old and listening to Howard since I was 15 – that was my inspiration, just being a huge fan of both. The idea came to me while doing the research for “The History of Howard Stern” series. In going through the Stern Show tape logs, I kept coming across all these interviews Howard did with different SNL cast members. The first one was with Gilda Radner back in 1983 when Howard was on WNBC radio. There were also a couple of early interviews with Eddie Murphy and some really obscure ones with Charles Rocket and Gail Matthius – I just kept finding more and more and being such a fan of SNL, I wanted to hear them all. I knew it was too specific a group to include them in the “History” series, so I came up with the plan to do a separate SNL-themed show. I was confident the interviews would be full of great backstage stories and they absolutely were. I listened to everything we had in the archive and pulled the best stories out. I felt this was going to be a great special, very unique.
NYF: “SNL on Stern” features interviews with nearly fifty former and current SNL stars including Chris Rock, Bill Murray, David Spade, Chevy Chase, Tina Fey, Jimmy Fallon, Dan Aykroyd, Jim Belushi, Jim Breuer, Dana Carvey, Billy Crystal, Robert Downey Jr., Julia Louis Dreyfus, Jimmy Fallon, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Al Franken, Gilbert Gottfried, Darrell Hammond, Phil Hartman, Victoria Jackson, Chris Kattan, Colin Quinn, Jon Lovitz,
Ben Stiller, Norm MacDonald and Lorne Michaels, SNL’s creator and executive producer. What creative challenges did you encounter in telling this chapter of Howard Stern’s history?
JL: Finding all the great stories from Howard’s interview was the easy part, what we wanted in addition to that was new interview commentary to package them with. Since there was no solid due date for the special, we decided to take our time at first and just grab time with cast members as they came in to do Howard’s show at Sirius XM. The first interview was with Rob Schneider in 2009 and then one by one, we started collecting new commentary from various cast members. We got Jim Breuer, Norm MacDonald, Sarah Silverman and Kenan Thompson that way. After about a year of the “catch-em-as-we-can” approach, we had 8 interviews done but needed more and topping our wish list was SNL executive producer, Lorne Michaels. I really didn’t think he would do it since he rarely gives interviews but we were persistent and finally in late 2010, we found ourselves in Lorne’s office at 30 Rock talking to him for nearly an hour about Howard Stern and SNL. That was quite a memorable day. Once we got Lorne, we were able to land a few more big interviews including one with Jimmy Fallon only a month before our air date in 2011. To be honest, it was such a dream project I can’t remember any major creative challenges. We took our time with it, had more than enough material for it…Come to think of it, the only real challenge was probably at home with my wife and trying to explain to her why I spent my nights watching SNL episodes on Netflix for weeks on end. “It’s research, honey!”
NYF: What new Howard Stern specials can radio audiences look forward to in 2013?
JL: That is a heavily guarded secret and I can’t reveal that information…But seriously, we’re very excited about this year’s slate of specials. We have the whole year mapped out already and we’re working hard on them as we speak. With our weekly series, “This Date in Howard History” we are digging really deep into the tape archive and finding some great moments. Recently, we found a great before-they-were-stars moment with Sheryl Crow back in 1988 when she was a backup singer for Michael Jackson and another one with Sofia Vergara several years before “Modern Family”. I love finding that stuff.
NYF: You’ve worked as a Writer/Producer for 6 years with Howard Stern Productions, to what do you attribute the longevity and success of the series? Did the NYF Medals your programs earned have an impact on the team? The biggest reason for our success is the fact that everyone on the team is as much a fan of The Howard Stern Show as the listeners at home. When we are laughing at work, we know the listeners will be laughing at home hearing the same piece on the air. The other factor is that there is SO much great material that we have access to. We’re finding great stuff literally every week, some of it hasn’t aired on radio in decades, so the challenge is to come up with the best ways to present it and make it feel fresh. The NYF Medals were such a huge honor and continue to have an impact on eveyone. We worked so hard as a team on the “History” series, it was validation that we were doing something right! To actually win a gold award for “SNL on Stern” really blew me away. We proudly have our statuettes on display in our offices!
NYF: Is there a particular program that you produced that was a defining moment for you?
JL: Certainly “The History of Howard Stern – Act I” back in 2007 was a huge moment for all of us. We were working together as a team for the first time, experimenting with new ideas and making it up as we went along. It was my longest long-form special I’d ever worked on, so I was nervous about it. Howard and many others here were really counting on that special to be something big and thankfully we were able to deliver. It set the template for every special we’ve done since.
NYF: And any advice for young producers starting out in the business?
JL: Find a good system to keep yourself organized. Look for talented people to collaborate with. Don’t take shortcuts just because it might be the “easy” way to do it. Take pride in your work.
Save the Date! New York Festivals, honoring the World’s Best Radio Programs™, will host its 2013 awards ceremony on Monday evening, June 17, 2013, in New York City. Join us as we salute the winners! We will be returning to Manhattan Penthouse for the celebration including a cocktail reception and seated dinner awards presentation. Click here for tickets.