Thursday, April 10, 2008

No Funny, No Money: Talking Business with Tracey Ullman

No Funny, No Money: Talking Business with Tracey Ullman
By Shira Levine

"No funny, no money" is the Ullman family motto says comedienne Tracey Ullman. She knows a lot about investing in her sense of humor; she's been doing it for nearly thirty years and is worth an estimated $150 million thanks to the success of her U.S. career and her stake in The Simpsons franchise according to the UK comedy guide Chortle. Ullman along with her husband/business partner Allan McKeown are something of a mom and pop operation. They own the rights to her sitcom work which includes her latest series Tracey Ullman's State of the Union airing Sundays on Showtime.

"Desi Arnez was historically the first to own his own show and Oprah has Stedman to thank for syndicating the Oprah Show an not just doing it for a network," says Clifford Streit, the real life inspiration for the Sex and the City character Stanford Blatch and author of the upcoming book, Sex, Shoes and Stanford Blatch.

Owning in the funny business doesn't come cheap. Each of the five shows Ullman taped for her Showtime series fell under a strict budget. "That's all we could afford," says Ullman who boasts a wig collection she reuses in her sketches that exceeds 300 wigs. She's got guys she's worked with for years who do character teeth and braces, along with a makeup guy who does some of the far out jobs like 60 Minutes host Andy Rooney that she'll sport in episode four. "There are a few people that do things for me, but [also] there is only one cast member," point out Ullman. "I'm a bit of a control freak! I wish I could employ more actors. Maybe if I get a second season I will."

Ullman could have showed Sex and the City and Lipstick Jungle author Candace Bushnell about owning your work in Hollywood. "Candace was too weak when she did the deal for Sex and the City," says Streit. "She didn't stand up and make the right demands and Darren Star wouldn't share the "created by" credit with her so she didn't have a big payout." Creator is the most valuable credit says Streit and with the success of Sex and the City behind her, Bushnell negotiated part of the "created by" credit on her latest series Lipstick Jungle. That is where the real money comes says Streit.

"It's careful budgeting, careful scheduling, knowing that you aren't going to make anything up front, but if you own the show you can get distribution," says Ullman who had enough of a budget to make five shows that she filmed over ten days. "You've got to stay up with your finances [and] own your own self, own your own stuff, own your own opportunities," Ullman explains. (Ullman also noted that she held onto her Apple and Oracle stocks as well.) By owning her brand, Ullman and McKeown financed her HBO shows Tracey Takes On and the special "Tracey Ullman in the Trailer Tales." "I have 93 of them so I can sell them around the world," says Ullman. "We go to all those TV festivals and distribute them and sell them to all the other countries."

Guessing she leaves the funny at the door though come tax season.
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