Peter Tortorici

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Peter Tortorici, president of WPP Group's MindShare Entertainment, changed the rules in Madison Ave.'s latest game.

The veteran TV executive joined MindShare last year and immediately launched a deal with Walt Disney Co.'s ABC network that elevated the art of branded entertainment from vanity proposition to real business transaction.

There were naysayers when the mega-media shop announced that Mr. Tortorici would lead an initiative in which their advertising accounts would pony up funds to develop sitcoms and dramas for ABC.

But Mr. Tortorici and MindShare had a new paradigm in mind.

"Our objective is to develop, create and produce successful prime-time series programming," says Marc Goldstein, president-CEO of MindShare North America, when the deal was announced. "If there are opportunities for brand integration, they will be secondary."

Mr. Tortorici then went through the scripts in ABC's overstuffed development bin and found "The Days," a "comedic drama" about a modern dysfunctional American family. MindShare accounts Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Unilever liked it so much they financed the production of a series without going to a pilot first. MindShare co-produced the show with Tollin/Robbins, creators of the WB's "Smallville," at Disney-aligned studio Touchstone Television.

The result was a hit. "The Days" pulled in strong numbers on its Sunday, July 18, premiere in its 10 p.m. (ET) slot, averaging 6.8 million viewers overall and a 3.1 rating in adults 18-49, according to Nielsen Media Research, making it the top-rated launch of a summer drama. During its six-week run, the show averaged a 2.3 rating in adults 18-49, putting it in second place in that demo and time slot behind NBC's "Crossing Jordan."

Mr. Tortorici's been in the TV business for 20 years. From 1990 to 1995, he was exec VP and then president of CBS Entertainment, where he had a hand in programming Emmy Award-winning series "Northern Exposure," "Picket Fences," "Murphy Brown," and "Chicago Hope." He also supervised CBS Productions, which turned out "Touched by an Angel," "Caroline in the City," "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" and "Walker, Texas Ranger." Later, he went on to executive-produce for Carsey-Werner and then was president-CEO of Telemundo Network from 1998-99.

According to Mr. Tortorici, he learned a lot from his stint in Hispanic broadcasting with Telemundo, an environment he calls "much more advertiser-friendly."

"Some of the shows are nothing but product integration," he says. "We did two one-hour drama series in Mexico and we integrated Dodge trucks, and did things that were really groundbreaking. It struck a chord."

MindShare Entertainment under Mr. Tortorici continues breaking ground. It's producing "Say When," a Christmas special that will air on CBS this year, funded by MindShare advertisers and co-produced by Sanitsky Co., based on the best-selling novel by Elizabeth Berg. And the agency also brought in Sears to participate in the condo-makeover show "The Complex: Malibu" on Fox, and is helping American Express Co. continue to mine its successful Jerry Seinfeld Webisode campaign.

"We've been working with Peter for several months now on a whole series of endeavors," says Nancy Smith, VP-global media and sponsorship at American Express. "We are getting into content creation and Peter is a tremendous team player. He's creative and business savvy. He's a great asset."

"Very few people in the television and creative business are as well-seasoned and well-liked as Peter," says Mitch Kanner, exec VP-managing director at The Firm. "There aren't many guys coming from that industry to the marketing industry who can kick-start the dialogue with Madison Ave. as it relates to television."

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