Michael Jay Solomon has been recognized as one of two fathers of the L.A. Screenings (the other is the late Jack Singer), among other pioneering distribution achievements.
His professional TV career spans 60 years, and is still going strong with his own Truli Media Group. He started with UA in Panama, then moved to MCA studios, co-founded Telepictures and, later, headed Lorimar, ending his studio career at Warner Bros.
Stories about Solomon abound: set in the jungle of Central America, in Hollywood, in Italy or in Cannes. Just talking about him will put some people on fire and others will stand in awe. No middle ground here!
Solomon is definitely larger than life. He personifies show business: he did not simply sell programs, he sold Hollywood.
Solomon got his start in the television business in 1957, at age 18, loading films onto trucks for United Artists while taking classes at New York University at night.
Over the next 37 years, he moved up to president of Warner Bros. International Television, and in the process, managed to contribute to the creation of what is now the L.A. Screenings, in 1964.
He founded The Sam Spiegel Film & Television School in Jerusalem, and was founding chairman of The Jerusalem Foundation of the U.S. West Coast. He is also honorary chairman of the Actors Equity of China, the first American to hold that position.
During his career, Solomon created four international media companies and co-founded another four. He learned from his overseas experience, which began in 1960 when UA sent him to Panama to open the Central American territory to American films. He was later sent by UA to Bogota, Colombia for a year, before becoming manager of Bolivia and Peru. He lived in Lima for two years.
This is how he recalled those days: “The biggest challenge for me was opening the Central American countries in 1960 for UA when I was 21. I lived in Panama and traveled to Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Costa Rica. I hardly knew Spanish and didn’t know anyone in those countries. I totally pioneered this territory for American films as this was before television in those countries. It was a memorable time in my life and career.”
When Solomon emerged in the U.S. and international press in 1979 at Telepictures in New York City, there were two things he made sure were spelled correctly: “Michael” and his middle name, “Jay.” He would tolerate an abbreviated Jay as “J.,” but never a “Mike.”
And so his legend was born, which included traveling in the forests of Central America carrying reels of films and, he added, “a gun.”
In 1964, Solomon was hired by MCA (now NBCUniversal) to start up their Latin American television division, and moved to Mexico City and later to Brazil to open offices first in Rio de Janeiro and then São Paolo. Solomon returned to New York City, where, at the age of 30, he was handed wider international sales responsibilities with the title of VP of MCA TV.
After 14 years with MCA, Solomon started his own company in 1977, the first of many: Michael Jay Solomon Film International. He then went on to co-found Telepictures Corporation in 1978, taking on the role of chairman and CEO. Telepictures became one of the largest U.S. TV syndication companies and one of the largest international TV distributors. It owned and operated six TV stations in the U.S. (and one in Puerto Rico).
While running Telepictures’ international sales, Solomon’s marketing ability became legendary. During TV trade shows such as MIP-TV, he would schedule press luncheons in the middle of the market’s busiest day and would ask his assistant, to list all the trade paper editors in attendance. The trades that sent junior reporters (or none at all) were removed from Telepictures’ substantial advertising plans.
And, because Telepictures had a small library to distribute in those early years, their ads would often consist of birthday cakes with candles indicating the number of years in business.
Nonetheless, in eight years Solomon became the talk of any market, to the point that other distributors would wait to hear what Solomon had declared to the press before releasing their own program sales figures.
Solomon also enhanced his international visibility with his 1980 marriage to Luciana Paluzzi, a beautiful Italian movie star (and former Bond-girl in Thunderball). After marrying Solomon and making over 25 films, Paluzzi retired from the acting business and became a media consultant for such companies as Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset.
However, despite his good sense of humor and friendly manner, Solomon was a tough and demanding boss, often pitting three of his top young salespeople against each other and waiting to see who would emerge as the winner. In one case, it was Jeff Schlesinger, who eventually succeeded him as president of Warner Bros. International TV and is now president of Warner Bros. Worldwide Television Distribution.
Telepictures and Lorimar merged in 1986, forming Lorimar Telepictures Corp., and Solomon became president of the new company, serving on the Board of Directors and green-lighting productions that included Dallas, Alf, Falcon Crest and Knot’s Landing.
After four years, Lorimar Telepictures was acquired by Warner Bros., and Solomon changed hats again, becoming president of Warner Bros. International Television. At Warner Bros., Solomon became famous for his fabulous North Beverly Hills house parties given during the L.A. Screenings, which, after swelling to thousands of invitees, were moved to the studio lot, and thus started a tradition that continues today among the U.S. studios in the month of May.
In addition, Solomon co-founded HBO Ole (now HBO Latin America), a pay-TV service in the region. Among Solomon’s other credits include the co-founding of the first satellite-delivered station in Scandinavia (SF Succe), and co-owning Armitraj-Solomon (a TV and feature film production company in India).
When his five-year tenure at Warner Bros. came to a close in 1995, Solomon set out to establish his own television company, Solomon Entertainment Enterprises, which distributed independent television product to the international market. He established a partnership with Canal Plus in France and UFA in Germany to produce television movies. From 1995 to 1999, the operations were run by Belinda Menendez, who’s now president of International TV Distribution and Universal Networks International at NBCUniversal.
Solomon also formed El Camino Entertainment Group (now North American Midway) by consolidating six of the key family-run companies in the U.S. and Canada that provided county and state fairs with rides, games and food. The business was bought out by an investment fund, and then came a management buy-out.
Afterward, Solomon partnered with Shanghai Media Group Broadband and the Israeli company Ravy, which streamed Chinese-language broadcast networks live on the Internet across the globe (with the exception of China).
Nowadays, Solomon concentrates on Truli Media Group, where he is founder and chairman. Truli is a digital aggregator of content that focuses on family and faith, and the company has more than 10,000 videos in HD, including messages from more than 250 churches in English and Spanish. He’s also chairman of New York City-based VidaPrimo, a Latin music multiplatform.
By Dom Serafini
Audio Version (a DV Works service)