Seinfeld's Producer: Listen to Your Gut, Then Fight For What it Tells You
Warren W. Littlefield is an American former television executive. A protégé of Brandon Tartikoff, Littlefield developed Cheers, The Cosby Show, and The Golden Girls as senior and executive vice president of NBC Entertainment under Tartikoff. During his time as president of NBC, Littlefield created hit shows for the network throughout the 1990s such as Seinfeld, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Wings, Blossom, Law & Order, Mad About You, Sisters, Frasier, Friends, ER, Homicide: Life on the Street, Caroline in the City, NewsRadio, 3rd Rock from the Sun, Suddenly Susan, Just Shoot Me!, Will & Grace and The West Wing.
Warren Littlefield: What I would say to graduates today is find your passion. It’s tough out there. It’s far more difficult than when I tried to get into the entertainment business and I had to navigate. I don't know if I could get hired at NBC today, and I spent 20 years there. But find your passion. Find the thing that gets you excited, that makes you stay up at night and says, “This is what I want to do,” and then go for it. You must be the squeaky wheel, break a sweat and fight for what you believe in. Finding that passion may take a lot of trial and error, and I’m not naïve about what that's like, but when it gets you excited, when you feel the blood flow in your body, you know it.
You know, when I used to listen to pitches, I would imagine that a scalpel had just been sliced down through my core and I was just open and visceral. And if the idea made me want to just shutdown and pull back, I felt, you know, that's not where I want to be. That's not the idea of the world I want to play in. But when I felt my body going "yes" and wanting more and leaning forward, I had to listen to that. And more often than not, that was a good message.
When we developed the Seinfeld show, we took a bet on Jerry Seinfeld, who was not a household name. But Jerry had a voice. And we read the script, and it was without the normal story drive of most comedies. It meandered and yet it was funny. And we thought, we’ve got to give it a shot. And it screened well. When we screened that pilot, we said, "Hey, we might be on to something here." Then the research came in. . . . a disaster. Absolute, unmitigated disaster. You know, a number of people knew Jerry Seinfeld, they just didn't like the show. They thought if we did anything, keep going with Jerry just doing stand-up. That research report was so negative that it scared us, and we asked ourselves, "Should we let this get away?"
So we ordered a grand total of four half-hours of Seinfeld, and Jerry and Larry went to work. We did give them one note: add a girl. And Julia Louis-Dreyfus was added to the show. There was something about those episodes, as crazy as they were, “The Chinese Restaurant, “Parking Garage,” not a lot happened, but you kind of loved those characters, and they were funny.
We started to think about, what were the things that we wanted to watch? We stopped thinking that the audience was some alien robotic someone out there and we were guessing how to make them happy and said, “How do we make ourselves happy? That was the key to our success. We listened to our gut, we ignored the research and then a vision, in this case Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, where they were going, no one had ever gone before. And yet, rather than say no, we took a deep breath and said, “I don't know if it’ll work, but if this is what you believe in, go ahead and take a shot.”
So what I say is, listen. Listen to what your body is telling you. Go in the directions that you’re being pulled, and caffeinate because it’s a really competitive environment. But you cannot say no, and talent and good ideas time and again win out.
Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd
Warren Littlefield, former NBC president, advises young people entering any field to trust in their instincts even when they run counter to common sense in the industry, then to fight passionately for the projects and ideas they believe in.
"I was so moved when I saw the cells stir," said 90-year-old study co-author Akira Iritani. "I'd been hoping for this for 20 years."
- The team managed to stimulate nucleus-like structures to perform some biological processes, but not cell division.
- Unless better technology and DNA samples emerge in the future, it's unlikely that scientists will be able to clone a woolly mammoth.
- Still, studying the DNA of woolly mammoths provides valuable insights into the genetic adaptations that allowed them to survive in unique environments.
Tracking project establishes northern Argentina is wintering ground of Swainson's hawks
- Watch these six dots move across the map and be moved yourself: this is a story about coming of age, discovery, hardship, death and survival.
- Each dot is a tag attached to the talon of a Swainson's Hawk. We follow them on their very first migration, from northern California all the way down to Argentina.
- After one year, only one is still alive.
Discovered: destination Argentina
Young Swainson's hawks were found to migrate to northern Argentina
The Buteo swainsoni is a slim, graceful hawk that nests from the Great Plains all the way to northern California.
It feeds mainly on insects, but will also prey on rodents, snakes and birds when raising their young. These learn to fly about 45 days after hatching but may remain with their parents until fall migration, building up flying skills and fat reserves.
A common sight in summer over the Prairies and the West, Swainson's hawks disappear every autumn. While it was assumed they migrated south, it was long unclear precisely where they went.
A group of researchers that has been studying raptors in northern California for over 40 years has now established exactly where young Swainson's hawks go in winter. The story of their odyssey, summarized in a 30-second clip (scroll down), is both amazing and shocking.
Harnessing the hawks
A Swainson's hawk, with tracking device.
The team harnessed six Swainson's hawks in July, as they were six weeks old and just learning to fly. The clip covers 14 months, until next August – so basically, the first year of flight.
Each harness contains a solar-powered tracker and weighs 20 grams, which represents just 3% of the bird's body weight. To minimize the burden, only females were harnessed: as with most raptors, Swainson's hawk females generally are bigger than males.
The first shock occurs just one month (or about 2.4 seconds) from the start of the clip: the first dot disappears. The first casualty. A fledgling no more than two months old, who never made it further than 20 miles from its nest.
By that time, the remaining five are well on their way, clustering around the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas. Swainson's hawks usually travel at around 40 mph (65 km/h) but can almost double that speed when they're stooping (i.e. dive down, especially when attacking prey).
There's a strong genetic component to migration. As usual, the Germans have nice single word to summarize this complex concept: Zugunruhe ('tsook-n-roowa'), literally: 'migration unrest' (1). It denotes the seasonal urge of migratory animals – especially birds – to get on their way. Zugunruhe exhibits especially as restless behavior around nightfall. The number of nights on which it occurs is apparently higher if the distance to be traveled is longer.
The birds may have the urge to go south, but genetics doesn't tell them the exact route. They have to find that out by trial and error. Hence the circling about by the specimens in this clip: they're getting a sense of where to find food and which direction to go. Their migratory paths will be refined by experience – if they're lucky enough to survive that long.
Each bird flies solo: their paths often strongly diverge, and if they seem to meet up occasionally, that's just an illusion: even when the dots are close together, they can still be dozens if not hundreds of miles apart.
Panama snack stop
The Central American isthmus is a major bird migration corridor
They generally follow the same route as it is the path of least resistance: follow mountain ranges, stay over land. Like most raptors, Swainson's hawks migration paths are land-based: not just so they can roost at night, but mainly to benefit from the thermals and updrafts to keep them aloft. That reduces the need to flap wings, and thus their energy spend – even though the trip will take longer that way.
As this clip demonstrates, the land-migration imperative means the Central American isthmus is a hotspot for bird migration. Indeed, Panama and Costa Rica are favorite destinations for bird watchers, when the season's right. A bit to the north, Veracruz in Mexico is another bird migration hotspot.
It's thought most hawks don't eat at all on migration. This clip shows an exception to that rule: on the way back, one bird takes an extended stopover of a couple of weeks in Panama, probably spending its time there foraging for food.
So, when they finally arrive in northern Argentina, after 6 to 8 weeks' migration, the hawks are pretty famished. Until a few decades ago, they fed on locusts. For their own reasons, local farmers have been getting rid of those. The hawks now concentrate on grasshoppers, and basically anything else that's edible.
For first-time visitors, finding what they need is not easy. Three of the five dots go dark. These birds probably died from starvation. But two birds thrive: they roam the region until winter rears its head in South America, and it's time to head back north again, where summer is getting under way.
Both dots make it back across the border, but unfortunately, right at the end of the clip, one of the surviving two birds expires.
Harsh, but not unusual
This old lady is 27 years old, but still nesting.
While a one-in-six survival rate may seem alarmingly harsh, it's not that unusual. First-year mortality for Swainson's Hawks is between 50% and 80%. Disease, starvation, predators and power lines – to name just a few common causes of death - take out a big number.
Only 10% to 15% of the young 'uns make it past their third or fourth year into adulthood, but from then on, annual survival rates are much better: around 90%. Adult Swainson's Hawks can expect to live into their low teens. There's one documented example of a female Swainson's Hawk in the wild who was at least 27 years old (and still nesting!)
The Californian population of Swainson's Hawks plummeted by about 90% at the end of last century but is now again increasing well. The monitoring project that produced this clip has been going for about four decades but is seeing its funding dry up. Check them out and consider supporting them (see details below).
Migration trajectory of B95, the 'Moonbird'.
Not all migrating birds shun the ocean. Here's an incredible map of an incredible migration path that's even longer than that of the Swainson's hawks.
In February 1995, a red knot (Calidris canutus rufa) in Tierra del Fuego (southern Argentina) was banded with the tag B95. That particular bird, likely born in 1993, was recaptured at least three times and resighted as recently as May 2014, in the Canadian Arctic.
B95 is more commonly known as 'Moonbird', because the length of its annual migration (app. 20,000 miles; 32,000 km) combined with its extreme longevity (if still alive, it's 25-26 years old now) means its total lifetime flight exceeds the distance from the Earth to the Moon.
As many other shorebirds do, the red knot takes the Atlantic Flyway hugging the coastline and crossing to South America via the ocean.
B95 has become the poster bird of conservationists in both North and South America. A book titled Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 (2012) received numerous awards, B95 has a statue in Mispillion Harbor on Delaware Bay and the City of Rio Grande on Tierra del Fuego has proclaimed B95 its natural ambassador.
Perhaps one day the nameless Swainson's Hawks in this clip, fallen in service of their ancestral instincts – against the odds of human increasing interference – will receive a similar honor.
Strange Maps #965
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(1) 'Zug' is a wonderfully polyvalent German word. It can mean: a train, a chess move, a characteristic, a stroke, a draft (of a plan), a gulp (of air), a drag (from a cigarette), a swig (from a bottle), and more.
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