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Matt Douglas, Founder and CEO of Punchbowl.com

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Don’t Judge a Bartender by His Cover

8d8e6-screenshot2011-11-21at3-45-05pmI spent last week on the road in Los Angeles. The first part of the week I spent in Huntington Beach (south of LA) at the Intel Capital Global Summit. The last part of the week, I used Priceline to find a hotel somewhere closer to the city. I ended up in Hollywood, right down the street from Hollywood Boulevard. Naturally, I wanted to walk the strip and look at the stars that adorn the sidewalk.

As I checked into the hotel earlier that evening, I had heard some other people talking about local sushi restaurants and it got me in the mood. So when I left the hotel later on, I asked the valet where I could find some good sushi on Hollywood Boulevard. He directed me down the street to a place called Katsuya.

About 10 minutes later, I walked into Katsuya, and the hostess offered me a seat at the bar or the sushi bar. I typically enjoy sitting at a bar and people-watching, so I said I would sit at the bar. As I made myself comfortable, I was greeted by the bartender — a warm hello even as he moved quickly between patrons.

I remember wondering about his story as I watched the bartender and waited for him to take my drink order. At first glance, he looked like the “typical” struggling actor. You know, the story of an aspiring actor who comes to Hollywood in search of fame and fortune only to find himself tending bar just to pay the rent. There’s nothing wrong with that story per se — and he seemed to fit the mold. He looked happy and comfortable in his environment. And by his interactions with the patrons and other bartender, he seemed to be well-liked.

The bartender’s hello turned more conversational when he took my sushi order. He quickly learned that I was traveling for business, and he asked where I lived. Within a few minutes, we learned that we had a lot in common: we’re both from Long Island, both Jewish, both lived in Waltham, MA at one time, and we’re both Jets fans. He told me that he went to law school at GW (same as my brother) and that he left the East Coast to pursue his dream of making it in the television business (see, I wasn’t that far off). However, even in our short interaction, I could see that this was no ordinary bartender. He was very smart and had an aire of quiet confidence about him.

So I probed a little to find out more about him. How long has he been in Hollywood? Was he an actor? Why did he decide to move west?

And that’s when he dropped the bomb on me. He said “I’m the EP of a show called Mobbed.” I did a double-take. “EP?” I asked. “Yes, I’m the creator and Executive Producer of a new show on Fox.” I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t believe it. Allow me to tell you why.

These days, between running a company, having a toddler, and trying to be a good husband, I don’t have much time for watching television. I pretty much only watch one show (American Idol) and I almost never watch new shows. But this past Spring, I was intrigued by the promos for a new show called “Mobbed.” When it debuted, I watched the entire show. I was BLOWN AWAY. I loved the concept, and the show was so well done. The night I debuted, I sat on my couch transfixed by the show. Not only did it have a great story-line, but I loved the staging and cut choices (worth noting: I’m a bit of a video editing geek after 5 years of managing Adobe Premiere). As soon as I was finished watching the show, I called to my wife upstairs and told her that she had to come downstairs and see it. So we sat down and I watched the show again with her. And then I called Sean (co-founder of Punchbowl) and told him he HAD to see this show. Keep in mind that this is atypical behavior for me as it relates to television. I can’t remember the last time that I’ve watched a show more than once, let alone told others they should watch it. But this was no ordinary show: Mobbed is an television spectacle, and I felt so fortunate that I got to come along for the ride. Days after the show aired, I told my friends, colleagues, and anyone else who would listen about the show.

Back in Hollywood, I feebly attempt to tell my new friend Howie about how much I love his new show (note to avoid confusion: my new friend is named Howie K., and the show is hosted by Howie Mandel). I try explaining to him how unusual it is for me to rave about a T.V. show, and just how brilliant I thought it was executed. Howie is very gracious, and he and I spend the next hour bantering back and forth about future episodes (note to self: don’t forget to send Howie your latest ideas). He tells me what it’s like to work with Howie Mandel, and tells me about his favorite episodes in the upcoming season (don’t miss the first show in January!). He introduces me to his other friends at the bar, and I end up having a fantastic night out with some really nice people. As they say, strangers are just people you haven’t met yet.

On the plane ride home, I get an email from Howie — and later a Facebook friend request. It’s nice to hear from him so soon after we met. And there’s something about our budding friendship that moves me. Perhaps it’s my awe at how he picked up his life and chased his dream in Hollywood, or perhaps it’s his unassuming demeanor even though he’s the Executive Producer of a show that’s about to be a huge hit. Howie probably doesn’t need to work at the sushi bar (or soon he won’t), but he chooses to be part of a community of people that provides him stability and comfort in a world of craziness and glamour. To me, Howie represents the proper intersection of life and work: boldly pursuing your dreams, demanding creative excellence, making practical decisions, and building a community around you along the way.

Upon reflection, there are a few things that my meeting Howie and this experience left me with:

1) When you travel for business, don’t hide in the hotel room. Get out, see the world. You never know who you might meet.

2) Stay humble, even if you have a hit show on TV (or a successful internet company)

3) Don’t judge a book by its cover: not all bartenders are just bartenders (especially in Hollywood)

4) In Los Angeles, the sushi bar at Katsuya is a great choice

Howie: it was a pleasure to meet you, and I hope we can share a few drinks next time I’m in L.A. And next time you’re in Boston, I’d love to buy you dinner.

KEY TAKEAWAY: An ordinary evening can turn extraordinary, depending on the company you keep. And one more thing: do you want to watch an amazing television show? Tune into Mobbed this Wednesday 9/8c on Fox. If the first episode was any indication, you won’t be disappointed.

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©2019 Matt Douglas