Entertainment A-List 2009

Entertainment A-List No. 10: Tyler Perry

How 'Madea' Creator's House of Hits Was Built

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- When Tyler Perry unveiled his new studio last fall, it was a historic moment for Hollywood: the 200,000-square-foot facility that sits on 30 acres in Atlanta and boasts five sound stages is the first major studio owned by an African-American.

Tyler Perry
Tyler Perry
The opening of Tyler Perry Studios was also a milestone for Mr. Perry -- a New Orleans native who a decade ago was popular on the urban theatre circuit but little-known anywhere else -- and a sign that he'd rightfully earned his throne atop a multimedia empire that he, as a writer, actor, director and producer, can claim was built by hand.

His hit movie "Madea Goes to Jail" has raked in over $90 million, putting it in the top 10 grossing films in the U.S. this year, edging out the "Hannah Montana" movie and grossing more than four times as much as the much-hyped "Jonas Brothers 3-D" concert, according to Box Office Mojo. Mr. Perry's first film, 2005's "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," had domestic box-office receipts over $50 million, about 10 times the film's $5.5 million budget.

His nine plays have grossed millions playing to sold-out audiences. His first book debuted at No. 1 on The New York Times hardcover nonfiction bestseller list. Since making his film debut with Lionsgate in 2005, his average flick grosses nearly $50 million. And the combined net sales of his DVDs total more than 25 million units -- more than 10 million of which, remarkably, are DVD versions of his plays.

So it should come as no surprise that he's more valuable than your average star. Mr. Perry has a 120% ROI, according to a BusinessWeek study that estimated that for every dollar Lionsgate Entertainment paid in marketing and production costs for his two films, Mr. Perry returned $2.20, or a $1.20 benefit to his backers. That's probably why his first sitcom, "Tyler Perry's House of Payne," bowed in 2007 with an unprecedented initial order of 100 episodes from a unique window combining Turner Broadcasting and a Fox station group-led syndication, and why TBS quickly invested in a second syndicated series, "Meet the Browns."

Unorthodox approach
Those who know him say Mr. Perry's success is largely a product of a commitment to doing things his own way, even if that means putting on a dress and gray wig.

"Madea Goes to Jail" worldwide gross
Perry's ROI for Lionsgate
Initial episode order for "House of Payne"
"There's nothing normal about Tyler ... there's nothing traditional or ordinary about the way he approaches his business," said Steve Koonin, president of Turner Entertainment Networks, whose TBS is home to Mr. Perry's two hit sitcoms. "He doesn't believe in the traditional sets of wisdom ... and that's why he wins."

His other secret weapon is that he is laser-focused when it comes to marketing.

"He understands who he is trying to make laugh, said Mr. Koonin. "He doesn't try to please other constituents. That clarity is the reason he is so successful; he is not trying to be all things to all people. He is incredibly strategic. ... I've never had the privilege to work with somebody who understands who their brand and who their audience is more than Tyler does."

Regardless of attempts to broaden his repertoire, such as his bit role in the new "Star Trek" movie, people who know him say he'll always stay true to the fans who built his franchise.

"He has a deep commitment to his audience, and they in turn have followed him as he has expanded from stage to film to DVDs, television and print," said Mike Paseornek, Lionsgate's president of motion-picture production. "You can bet his fans will continue to follow him and grow in number over the coming years."

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