Pop Quiz, Monday with Jonathan Cane

The Pop Quiz, Monday is a fun little exam that we love to give to savvy business owners. The examination is not a surprise after all since the interviewee already knew about the questions in advance. However, we can always pretend and have fun with the scenario of a young entrepreneur sitting in class nervously biting on their pencil. They are ready to take a pop quiz on a chapter that they were supposed to read the night before. Instead, they played Metroid all night on their SNES (Oops, this was me in high school). The real purpose of the pop quiz is that this is a fun way to introduce business tips from real-world experiences that you can not learn in a classroom. We want to thank our entrepreneur for being a good sport and volunteering their time to answer a few questions to help our community grow from their knowledge.

I want to introduce you to our guest today who will be taking our Pop Quiz Monday.

Can you please tell everyone your name?
Jonathan Cane

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Photo credit: Jonathan Cane

What is your job role?
My job is split between my new venture as the co-founder & partner at Rogue Wave Media and my role as Head of Development for Back Roads Entertainment. I also teach, but that’s another conversation.

My role as a partner in a small and new venture like Rogue Wave Media is, as you’d expect, all-encompassing. From taking pitches to packaging co-production partners, sourcing and optioning IP to the nuts-and-bolts operations like IT and payroll, I have my hand in all of it. The creative is the most fun, followed by the “Hollywood” game of it, which can be a rollercoaster at times. If I didn’t have to do any logistics ever again, I’d be happy though!

As Head of Development, my role is much more defined. My role is to keep the pipeline of TV formats fresh and moving, from seed to market. I create, curate and develop shows, package them with talent, oversee the creation of pitch materials (decks, reels, etc…) and pitch them to colleagues at broadcasters, cable networks and the wide world of the digital “streamers.”

Tell us about your company?
Rogue Wave Media, my new start-up, was founded in 2018 by myself and my partners USCG Captain John W. Pruitt (ret.) and Sean U. Smith. It is a production company dedicated to telling compelling true-life stories of unsung and forgotten heroes. It is a collective of storytellers, filmmakers, and historians with a perpetual thirst for creating innovative, exciting, thought-provoking and deeply compelling content that touches the core of the human spirit, and asks who are we and where are we going? We are actively developing and producing both scripted and unscripted content.

As for Back Roads, we’re a traditional TV production house based in NY, Austin, and Los Angeles, with a principal focus on unscripted TV shows, and to get even more granular, we mainly focus on comedy and lifestyle formats. Recently, we delivered 24 episodes of the hit BET comedy/variety series 50 Central, featuring everyone’s favorite comedic rapper – 50 Cent.

What do you love most about your job?
Beyond the hyper-obvious (I get paid to dream up TV shows, events, and features!), I love stories, and my job is predicated on finding, creating and telling those stories. Even my favorite genre to develop in, game shows, which some could incorrectly argue is not storytelling, is all about isolating and experimenting with a character’s journey on a stage with immediate stakes. Each episode of a great game is a perfectly self-contained story of risk, hubris, and reward.

I also genuinely love working with my peers in the industry. Hollywood gets a lot of flack for being shallow, cutthroat, insipid – but I’ve found that to be completely false. My colleagues at studios, agencies, networks, and production companies all flocked to LA and this industry for the same reason – to tell stories. We do so in different ways, but the passion is almost universally shared.

What motivates you to get up every day and go to work?
Aside from the gift of concocting stories and shows and formats every day, what gets me going is, ironically the exact opposite; being a massive media consumer. I want to watch and read everything; again, I love stories. With each new show or movie I watch, I get inspired. Each clip informs the next move, the next option, the next genre to dissect.

How do your co-workers inspire you?
Media is deeply personal, so my colleagues inspire me by their specific passions. I’m often surprised to find they’re moved to watch every frame of X or Y, and as they dissect their passions, it informs the bigger picture. Their unique POVs on entertainment and pop culture informs and inspires me.

How do you have fun at work (team building, pranks, etc..)?
We make TV and movies for a living, and fun is endemic to the whole process. We play a ton of games, again, native to the job. Of course, we’re continually sharing media and links – from the funny to the gross to the OMG – all in the name of (TV) science, as any of it, could spark the next big thing.

What are some of the challenges of your job?
The market itself is the biggest challenge. For one, it is continually shifting, as the distributors and networks are always chasing an audience and ad dollar. Trends in TV pop up, burn bright and fade away at light speed. An unintended but real side effect of that is the never-ending executive shuffle. As such, staying on top of all the networks and platforms, hits and misses therein, and the ever-changing executive landscape is a full-time job itself. Beyond that, there are both a limited number of “buyers” and too many “sellers.”

Another big challenge is finding fresh IP. I happily take many pitches from newbies in the industry, as their unbiased outside POV could provide a genre-defining new concept. These are needles in haystacks though, and more often than not, I get pitched the same 50 shows over and over again – with the poor souls behind them not knowing their “groundbreaking idea” is old news. Breaking bad news is a challenge.

One more challenge is educating outsiders on how the industry runs. Most people hear the .01% success stories and assume by getting a pilot order or some other development commission they’ll be set for life. It’s much more of a blue-collar business than people assume.

What are some lessons learned from a past project that you can share with us?
I’ll give you two. I’m a big believer in avoiding the old Sunk Cost trap, so Lesson One is don’t chase bad money with good money. I recently optioned a show concept from a producer who had spent around 10k on a sizzle reel (a “proof of concept” tape, if you will). He’d gone to market with it, had some nibbles but no bites, which made sense as he’s not a trusted seller with a track record. Seeing his pitch materials, I found the issue could be fixed with our attachment and a simple reframing of the series, which necessitated a day or two of an editor. Call that a grand of our money in the project. We took the project out again – this time with the revised creative and the “power” of our company’s attachment. The show was close to a commission but didn’t sell. (It happens.) We cut bait because that was the reasonable thing to do, the show had been exposed twice now. Unconvinced, we gave the producer his IP back, and he dropped another 5-8k on the tape – more edit days, a color correction pass – pricey line items that didn’t affect the core creative. His thought was “I’m already in 10k, that money is gone unless I can wrestle out a commission somehow… it’s worth tossing in more cash to protect my initial investment.” Well, of course, the show didn’t sell on the third try. My guess is that he’ll keep throwing money at it. Again, nothing wrong with a misfire, but don’t chase misfires with more cash. Time and money are limited, move on!

Another lesson is patience. Development is slow and getting major media companies to shell out millions for series isn’t exactly easy. In my early years of development, if a show didn’t sell, I’d say it was “dead.” Now, I say “on ice.” Most ideas, those not tied to specific talent, can be thawed out years later. One example of this was for a show called Snap Judgement on GSN. Snap Judgement went into production a full seven years after the core IP was pitched. Yes, it took executive shifts and other things to fall into place to come to fruition, but it did. I was five years removed from the company I had worked for when I’d originally worked on the development and pitched it out. I learned of its resurrection when the show was announced in the trades. Seven years later! Crazy. The lesson is good ideas, and good IP will find their time to shine, be patient… and don’t keep throwing money at it! Just let the market do its thing.

What advice would you give to someone who is starting in your industry?
To be successful in this industry, the key to success is this; Relationships are everything. Ideas are important, and talent is critical – but without the relationships with the buyers, agents, lawyers, and other industry executives, the best idea will never become a TV show or movie. The advice I give is super simple – be kind to everyone, be precise with your words, and network like your career depends on it. It does.

Thank you for taking our pop quiz today. You get an A+ for effort. You can learn more about our interviewee and their business by visiting them on the web:


Author: Ricky Singh, MBA

Editor of The Startup Growth.

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