With 50 years in the media and entertainment fields, Robin Leach isn’t slowing down. Many will recall Leach from his over ten years hosting Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Today, Robin is based out of the entertainment capital of the world Las Vegas where he does reporting for http://www.vegasdeluxe.com.
In an over 20 minute interview, Leach talks about his life today, the state of television, Michael Jackson’s death and many other topics. You can read and listen to the entire interview below.
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Chris Yandek: What’s new in your life today and what should people know?
Robin Leach: “Well, you know, these days I’m headquartered out of Las Vegas, which is what I consider and the world considers to be the entertainment capital of the globe. It’s been interesting because I’ve seen the rise of Vegas and in recent years I’ve seen the fall of Vegas. It’s now interesting to take a look at it as it begins its bounce back again. So interesting days. I do all of the Internet shows business here in Vegas. This morning we were busy breaking the story of the second Michael Jackson Cirque Soleil show that comes to town in 2013. I also have a mobile television studio facility here. We do all of the fiber optic linkings for every live show that’s transmitted anywhere in the world from Las Vegas.”
CY: You still seem to be making appearances everywhere in many media forms, different television shows and everything else like that. How have you been able to stay relevant all these years you think?
RL: “How have I stayed relevant? (Laughs)”
CY: What’s your key to success? Yeah.
RL: “I don’t know the answer to that question because sometimes it baffles me. I think it goes back to the fact that Lifestyles [of the Rich and Famous] was such an iconic brand of television and it ran for 14 years and it became like the good housekeeping seal of approval is for anything to do with money on television. You have to remember that, Lifestyles was also right on the heels of Entertainment Tonight, which I was involved with from the pilot onwards. In a sense, Lifestyles was what we would term now the first nice reality show because we use to go into people’s homes and we use to talk about money and their possessions and their reasons for success.
Then of course reality shows took a turn, a wrong term in my opinion and got down and dirty. But I think it’s because nobody else ever knocked us off. Yes, there was Cribs, there were other reality shows that dealt with the same subject material that we did on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, but we certainly owned the brand as it were. We owned the market and it never, it’s never faded even after all these years of not being on the air.”
CY: Building off of what you just said, I wonder what you feel like the state of television has become and do you feel like television in general maybe in some ways has become a bunch of mindless and dumbing down content?
RL: “Television has certainly become a wasteland of quality programming. It horrified me last night to see Bravo’s Top Chef Masters dealing with some of the very chefs that I know resorting down to cooking insects. You have to think of it that sort of doesn’t belong in Top Chef Masters. We’re talking about a show with fine dining chefs and being made to look like idiots cooking rubbish. So we keep coming to the conclusion that everything in television is dumbing down even further and it won’t stop until somebody dies. There’s a story around that there was a network that turned down Man Fights Shark to Death because the shark was gonna die and not the man. You have to sort of scratch your head at that and say, ‘What the heck is going on here?’
CY: As you were talking about, you did help launch Entertainment Tonight. I wondering looking back at today are you disappointed at the direction of the entertainment reporting culture? We’ve always had sensational publications, but today, it would seem a good amount of entertainment outlets print gossip or rumors and they’re portrayed as facts and it would seem some of them have used rock bottom, lowest common denominator methods and exploitation to get attention. Does that disappoint you?
RL: “I’m disappointed in two things about television. I’m disappointed first of all in the audience that will not let stories be told in longer form.”
CY: I agree.
RL: “One of the things that I enjoyed doing in Lifestyles and at Entertainment Tonight for that matter, was doing long form interviews for television. I think if the content is good and the content is interesting, the at home viewer will watch it for as long as the story is interesting thus the responsibility for making the story interesting falls on the shoulders of the reporter or the producer. Then I’m disappointed that producers have felt that television can only be told in 59 second story bursts because we’ve become, it’s become journalism based on MTV, video electronic editing and cutting.”
CY: Maybe the ADD culture, that they think that we have?
RL: “Yeah, but I don’t think that we do have an ADD culture.”
CY: But that’s what they think.
RL: “They think that.”
CY: Yeah. They think that.
RL: “Because they keep going for these younger and younger demographics where by kids don’t have patience to sit down and to listen to an intelligent, entertaining, informative story. They want, it’s like Twitter. You want it told in 140 characters. I don’t know that this is a good thing.”
CY: I don’t think it is.
RL: “But addressing the point that you raised where gossip becomes factual news and we talk about shows on the oak of TMZ vs. the old form of television that I use to do and love doing, it hurts to see that everything is based on pillaring people. Nobody’s sort of given the opportunity to be nice anymore. I think that is somewhat reflective of tragically the society that we live in today where we want to know people off their pedestal or we want to hurt, we want to harm instead of boosting and following by example. It’s always about the crud of society, the black sheep of society that producers seem to think the public wants rather than my old theory of the cream rising to the top.”
CY: Of all the people you’ve worked with over the years and there are hundreds if not thousands, is there any one moment or experience that stands out for you?
RL: “It’s a question with respect that I get asked an awful lot, even by ordinary people.”
CY: But hard to answer.
RL: “Well, it is hard to answer because it’s like dividing between 13 years of children. There are many, many happy standout memories and some wonderful friendships that have developed with people. But in terms of choosing one over the other, it’s too difficult. I always remember from Lifestyles that I thought the most fascinating story that we ever did was the then richest man in the world who was a man called Adnan Khashoggi. We spent an hour, which was unheard of in television. But we had the access and we had the visuals and we had the interview tracks to back everything up that I made the decision to go a one man, one hour, the richest man in the world.
We did fairly similar with a very, half hour piece, when we were the first TV crew that was ever allowed to film the treasures of the Vatican with the Pope. Those to me were great standout memories and even though you spend three months with the richest man in the world, you never ever really wind up knowing fully who that person is. You get a pretty good glimpse into the way their minds think and how they live their lives, but when cameras roll, people are guarded. So they don’t explode in public, they don’t fire off, they don’t scream, they don’t lose their temper. I would love to be sometimes a fly on the wall after we’d left the shoot, which might then better answer your question.”
CY: Interesting. Very interesting stuff. Maybe you can tell me about if this is true or not, I read somewhere online you feared the shows Michael Jackson was supposed to perform at the O2 Arena before his death, you believed those shows could contribute to him being killed. Is there any truth to this and if so, how did you come to that conclusion? Is that true or not?
RL: “Nah. Look, this whole thing is so whacko with the way everybody’s you know, wanting to get their piece of the action. Look, Kenny Ortega, who was the director, choreographer of that show will tell you unequivocally that Michael was ready to do the O2 Arena shows. I think that off the record, a lot of people will tell you that were very close to Michael at that time, that he was extremely frightened by the ambitious nature of what I call a long term residency run.
It’s a known fact that he needed what I will call ready cash rather than money tied up in bad investments. So the O2 Arena shows definitely would have been a financial life saver for him. He needed to do them for economic reasons. He also wanted to do the show and the show was in really incredible shape and everybody was really happy with it all the way down. But you know, when you haven’t performed for two, three, four years and when you worry about the minutia and micromanage something of this magnitude, this causes you sleepless nights. It causes you anxiety. It causes you worry way beyond the norm that would be understood by ordinary people, the pressures of carrying a show on your shoulders of that size, incredible.
So unfortunately as you know what happens in show business, that people turn to the wrong kinds of medication to ease the worries of anxiety, lack of sleep. It’s pretty well known that Michael unfortunately was a hypochondriac on top of the fact that he was taking from an army of people who are those enablers in Hollywood who would provide prescriptions or drugs or narcotics or pharmaceuticals at the drop of a hat to him.
I think that what you had is what’s called the perfect storm of where you had an acquiescing doctor who desperately needed the job and the money he thought he was going to get paid with a patient who needed large supplies of prescribed drugs to solve the problems he was emotionally dealing with. You know, when you have all that and it all comes together whether it be negligence or be it in overindulgence, you create the very situation that led tragically to his death.”
CY: Any stories, experiences that you remember of Michael?
RL: “I remember right here in Vegas having dinner with him at the Wynn Hotel. It was a Chinese restaurant there that he was particularly fond of that he would be able to dive into almost totally unrecognized through the side entrances and he was there one night having dinner with Kenny Ortega and Nigel [Lythgoe] who ran 19 Entertainment in London. They were, that was one of the first dinners where they discussed the beginning of Michael’s comeback as it were to live touring or live stage presentation.
I was in the restaurant that night, totally by coincidence. But having been in this business for 50 odd years of doing what I do, I know all three of the people. I knew Michael. I knew Kenny. I’d met Nigel on a number of times. Remember, the company that I was a partner in was the company that created Star Search, which of course was the pre cursor of what everybody jumps up and down now to today is American Idol. So I was invited to join them for dinner and I did and Michael was in the best of spirits. He was anxious to go back to work. He was anxious to do a show. I’m certain that it was out of that night of conversation with Kenny Ortega and Nigel that he wound up eventually with the commitment to go with AEG to London’s O2 Arena.”
CY: Given the state of where the country is today, what is the future of luxury in America you think?
RL: “Well that’s a, (Laughs) that’s probably the best and toughest question that I’ve ever been asked. If we’re to do so, asking the question, could Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous work again today? The bizarre and strange answer is yes it could because people are living such miserable lives economically. They want the escape. They want the fantasy. They’d love the dream of being king for a day or queen for a day. It’s tragic what America has become because there is a great segment of society that now resents luxury and success and achievement by others.
Yet you know it’s the people who work hard and earn big that keep the machine tipping for everybody else. If everybody else was equal down the bottom rung of a ladder, nobody would be on the ladder at all because it would break and everybody would fall off backwards. So you need people at the top to help pull those people up from the bottom. You can’t take that and swing to the right. You can’t have everybody living in the same ordinary $60,000 house because you may as well live in Russia, Bulgaria or some other Eastern block Communist nation.
You have to have incentive. You have to have reward for hard work. I think that the spirit of America is still very much one of where people want to work hard and the majority of people want to work hard. They want to be entrepreneurs. But when you have that all taken away with government regulation or with government overbearance of taxation, you start to wonder whether if it’s even worthwhile because who are you really working for? Are you working for yourself, are you working for the government? In the end, this wealth distribution scheme that’s at the heart of the current political administration is an inherently wrong one.
It’s the reason why so many people left Britain like I did in the mid 60s because Britain was exactly the same then as America is today, getting ready to redistribute social wealth and it didn’t work. You’ve seen that in places like Greece, Portugal, Iceland, Ireland where the entire country’s business has collapsed, gone bankrupt. That’s where America is heading. Both Steve Wynn said this week on Fox Business and as Donald Trump has echoed in a couple of recent speeches, you know, the path that we are headed on economically in this country is one that leads to total ruination of the American system.
So it would be, I’m joking, but there would be no Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. It would be Lifestyles of the Broke and Boring. Going back to using television pilots, who on earth is going to be interested in that kind of a show? So people really don’t want to live like that. They want the fantasy. They want the escape and they want the incentive that comes from what we regard as a free system of capitalism and entrepreneurship.”
CY: Finally, what do you want to do with the rest of your life and when it’s all said and done, how do you want to be remembered?
RL: “You know, there’s no end goal. There’s always a moment. I don’t have an end in sight. I’m still able to work hard and I’m still able to play hard and I still enjoy doing both. I plan on continuing doing that for a long time. The great thing is these days I no longer have to work for a living and that all of the things that I’m able to do where money is paid as compensation for whatever it be, I’m able to donate all of that to charity. That’s a wonderful position to find yourself in at the latest stages of your life and I’m proud to have walked the path that I have and I’m proud to be able to continue working and to be able to give away what I earn to some very good causes here in the Southwest.”
Robin Leach reports news from Las Vegas at http://www.vegasdeluxe.com
Robin Leach’s Twitter is at http://twitter.com/#!/robin_leach