'THIS IS REALLY THE JOB OF THE CENTURY'
When Bob Bejan was 13, he wanted to swim the Catalina Channel. His coach said he'd never make it. Bejan knew better. For a year, he slept without covers and took cold showers--preparing for the chilly Pacific. At 14, he became the youngest person to swim solo across the 26-mile stretch from Los Angeles to the resort island. ``Some call that obsessive,'' he says. ``Some people call it driven.''
After seven months at Microsoft Corp., ``now I call it fitting in,'' says 36-year-old Bejan. As the new executive producer of Microsoft Network, he's the force behind its novel approach to online programming. Once more, he's navigating choppy waters and trying for a record-breaking outcome. ``He has the vision,'' says Bill Miller, a Microsoft general manager who has worked on both the old and new MSN.
ON STAGE. That vision comes from 14 years in the entertainment business, starting as a Broadway dancer in A Chorus Line. Bejan went on to co-produce and compose the music for a live show starring the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In 1992, he co-founded Interfilm Inc., an interactive film studio, before becoming vice-president of creative development at Warner Bros. Online. Bejan believes Internet content should be like theater--fresh for each performance and dependent on audience reaction.
Today, that concept is all over MSN, starting with the ``OnStage'' opening screen. On MSN, software used to be beta-tested for bugs; now, it's ``previewed.'' Producers ``choreograph'' the online experience so the audience is never left wondering what to do. ``For the first time, it's like everything I've done makes sense,'' says Bejan.
Good thing. When Bejan joined the MSN team last March, things were in disarray. The first thing he did was to stop all production. ``There was no galvanizing emotion,'' he says. ``They needed a script.'' Bejan told his vision to his staff and gave them two weeks to cook up ideas for new programs that fit.
Expecting maybe a dozen ideas, Bejan got 64. ``It was a madhouse,'' he recalls. To narrow the field, he asked producers to pitch their concepts in an 8-page memo, with technological requirements and a narrative on what the Web surfer would experience. Bejan greenlighted 12 ideas and over the next few weeks added more. It was a mad dash: 20 shows to develop in 22 weeks. If one flops, it will be replaced with one of the 30 shows now in development. ``Bob's brought a little bit of Hollywood into the process,'' says Dewey Reid, MSN's creative director.
GRUELING PACE. Now, on the eve of MSN's revival, Bejan is already working on the second season. Speaking in his cluttered office, he is amped. His glasses, shoved on top of his head, keep slamming down on his nose. Oblivious, Bejan goes on about how he needs to tap into creative types outside Microsoft, much the way a Hollywood studio hires production teams. His goal: to reduce production from 85% in-house to 50%, by using Microsoft Multimedia Productions, also known as M3P. With offices in New York and Hollywood, M3P will scour independent production shops for MSN programming. Each month, Bejan and a team of four senior producers will visit the two offices to hear pitches.
That won't relieve Bejan's grueling pace--at work by 5:30 a.m. and never home before 8 p.m. But he's loving it. ``This really is the job of the century,'' Bejan says. There's just one problem: A triathlete who normally swims, runs, bikes, or weight-lifts every day, Bejan hasn't had time to train in five months. ``I'm so out of shape,'' he groans. Maybe so. But nicely toned for MSN.
By Kathy Rebello in Redmond, Wash.
Updated June 14, 1997 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1996, Bloomberg L.P.