I wish someone told me to be more patient. When I started out I was very impatient. But I soon learned, through many mistakes, that unless you’re under some kind of deadline for writing or work, not everything in your life has to happen “right now.” You really do have to enjoy the journey, and not so much care about the destination. And I know that’s been said a million times before, but it’s true. So, just be patient and enjoy the ride…even the bumps on the road.
As a part of our series about creating a successful career in TV and Film, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Herbie J Pilato.
Born and raised in Rochester, New York, Herbie J Pilato is a Los Angeles-based writer, producer, director, actor, TV personality, and singer/songwriter. His eclectic list of critically-acclaimed pop-culture/media tie-in books includes Retro Active Television: An In-Depth Perspective on Classic TV’s Social Circuitry (Headline Books, 2023), The 12 Best Secrets of Christmas: A Treasure House of December Memories Revealed (Archway Publishing, 2022), Mary: The Mary Tyler Moore Story (Jacobs Brown Press, 2019)
Pilato has served as executive producer, director, and writer on 2023 Reelz Channel TV documentary about Bewitched and Elizabeth Montgomery, as a consultant and audio commentator for the Saturn-Award-nominated Blu-ray release of The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, and as a consultant and on-screen commentator for CNN’s hit eight-part series, History of the Sitcom. He also worked on various other Blu-ray and DVD releases including those for Bewitched, as well as broadcast, and cable TV documentaries such as Bravo’s 100 Greatest TV Characters, Bewitched: The True Hollywood Story, David Carradine: The E! True Hollywood Story, A&E’s Biography of Lee Majors, TLC’s Behind the Fame specials about The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show, L.A. Law and Hill Street Blues, the Syfy Channel’s Sciography series, and the TV Guide Channel’s hit five-part series, 100 Moments That Changed TV, among others. Pilato has written for the Television Academy at Emmys.com and Emmy Magazine and has contributed to several other media outlets, such as Closer Magazine, and TVWriter.com, for which he served as Contributing Editor Emeritus for over twenty-five years.
In 2010, Pilato established the Classic TV Preservation Society, a formal 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to the positive influence of classic television shows. In 2019, pioneered the classic TV talk show format, serving as a host and an executive producer (with Joel Eisenberg) on Then Again with Herbie J Pilato, which premiered on Amazon Prime, Amazon Prime UK, and Shout! Factory TV.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in the 1960s and ’70s in a big, wonderful Italian-American family in the inner-city of Rochester, New York. We didn’t have much money, but we sure as heck had a whole lot of love. Both my parents had several brothers and sisters, which led to countless cousins and relatives. And our house was not only the hub of the family, but it was the hub of the neighborhood, and the surrounding community. Needless to say, it was always somebody’s birthday to celebrate, and there was a party almost every night. And the holidays were nothing less than magical. My parents were beautiful people, and our home was always open for conversation, and to anyone. And we turned no one away who was hungry.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I had always loved to write. I remember many teachers, instructors and professors throughout my academic career commenting on how much I liked to write…or at least how much I wrote. Whether in grammar school or high school or in college, I was never that crazy about the “multiple questions” sections during tests. But I loved the “essay” parts. Even when I directed various plays in my senior year in college, my theatre professor remarked how I wrote more about the characters in the final book exam, more so, than focusing on the actual techniques of directing.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
That would be meeting actress Elizabeth Montgomery, star of the classic TV series Bewitched. I owe her my career, because every good thing that has happened in my career, happened because she granted me my first major celebrity interview. And that led to my two biographies about her, Twitch Upon a Star, and The Essential Eelizabeth Montgomery, and every other good thing that happened because of those books.
Additionally, Elizabeth inspired me as a human being. Her father was famed film and TV actor Robert Montgomery and her mother was Broadway actress Elizabeth Allen. And they were a very wealthy and prestigious family; so much so, that Elizabeth could have easily been raised in arrogance or to have some kind of superior attitude. But that was not the case at all. She was a lovely, down-to-earth person who utilized her celebrity for several charitable causes, none the least of which was helping the disabled community, and various minority groups. She also happened to be one of the first celebrities to advocate for those suffering from AIDS. And all of that fit with core message of bewitched, which is prejudice.
In any event, I went on to form the Classic TV Preservation Society, my formal 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, which celebrates the positive social influence of classic TV shows, because Elizabeth dedicated her life to charitable work and loving-kindness. Her inspiration to me is unending.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
My goodness, we all make mistakes; no one’s perfect, and we’re all flawed, and I certainly have more than a measure of flaws. But with regard to writing in particular, I used to try and edit as I went along, and I also used to write in “flowered” terms. Now, whether I’m writing a book or just an essay, I try to keep it simple; to “cut to the chase,” so to speak…and to just write my thoughts first. And then after I’ve completed the core of the essay…or a core chapter of a book, I will then go back to it and fix and edit. But I first try to just let the words or the thoughts flow and to complete those thoughts, and not worry about whether the sentences are complete or grammatically correct. I worry about that later.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Well, I am absolutely thrilled about my new book, RETRO ACTIVE TELEVISION: AN IN-DEPTH PERSPECTIVE ON CLASSIC TV’S SOCIAL CIRCUITRY. This book speaks directly to the heart of what I have made every effort to represent and celebrate my entire career with all of my books, as well as the various TV shows and documentaries that I have worked on. The book explores the positive social influence of classic TV shows; how certain doctors because interested in medicine because of TV shows like Marcus Welby, M.D., or E.R.; how certain attorneys became interested in law due to shows like Perry Mason or Law or Order; how families learned to communicate and respect each other because of The Waltons, The Brady Bunch and Father Knows Best. That is to say, mainstream popular shows that have been on for decades…have had such a profound effect on millions of TV viewers. And not in any direct way, but indirectly. People haven’t sat down and watched Star Trek because they were seeking to learn about how to respect others, despite their differences. But that’s ultimately what a show like Star Trek, and Bewitched, really does address in non-direct ways. In general, my feeling is that classic TV shows are untapped resources of education. And RETRO ACTIVE TELEVISION has granted me the ideal tool to share that thinking. Certainly, it expands on the Classic TV & Self-Esteem Seminars that I bring to schools, colleges, community, senior and business centers. People are so open to understanding just how much classic TV shows have inspired them or influenced them in some positive way. And sometimes, they are downright surprised at how much classic TV shows have affected them across the board. And that’s what RETRO ACTIVE TELEVISION is all about.
Meanwhile, I just completed biographies of Sean Connery, and Diana Rigg, and those will be published in the coming months. But I’m also excited about my book, THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS: A TREASURE HOUSE OF DECEMBER MEMORIES REVEALED, which was published this past Christmas. It’s all about growing up in Rochester during the holidays. I liken it to Everything I Know I Learned In Kindergarten, and Life’s Little Instruction Book…with a Christmas twist.
You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
Three words: Don’t give up. The way I look at it is this: if you have an idea that pops into your head…or is somehow whispered in your ear…sometimes literally…then you have to follow through with that idea. Especially if that idea is somehow going to bring a little love and kindness into the world. And if you don’t follow through with that idea…that instruction…that little whisper from the Universe…then you are not only doing yourself a great disservice by not fulfilling your destiny, but you’re doing a great disservice to those who would benefit from your idea…from your little portion of Light and Love that have been “instructed” to bring to the world.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Diversity is life. You can’t live fully in this world and ignore the vast array of cultures and various different peoples and thoughts and perspectives. For me it always comes back to Bewitched. Samantha and Darrin, loved each other despite their differences. She was a witch, and he was a mortal. But they ignored those differences and focused on what made them the same: their humanity. Yes, Samantha was witch…but she was a witch with humanity; compassion, understanding and respect for all. She also had a strong sense of priorities. As a witch, she could have had anyone or anything that she wanted. But she gave up the witch life to live as a mortal. And she didn’t care about money or material things or anything like that. She loved Darrin for who he was, and not for what he could buy her. Because whatever he could buy her, she could twitch or zap something up better. She loved Darrin for Darrin. And that message of respecting differences, and strong priorities can easily be applied to various cultural beliefs…and how it is so very important to stop the battles…and to BE the peace we all seek. I mean, we’re the only planet we’ve got. What good is it if we blow it up with hate and war?
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
1] I wish someone told me to be more patient. When I started out I was very impatient. But I soon learned, through many mistakes, that unless you’re under some kind of deadline for writing or work, not everything in your life has to happen “right now.” You really do have to enjoy the journey, and not so much care about the destination. And I know that’s been said a million times before, but it’s true. So, just be patient and enjoy the ride…even the bumps on the road.
2] I wish my teachers in school had taught more about the importance of kindness and generosity with regard to success in life. I learned about great people…great spiritual masters of all religions…but I was never taught how to BE like them in real life…or to at least REALLY try to be like them…as a living example. But I try to do that now. I still make mistakes…I still get angry…I still have my flaws…but I try to be as loving-kind and generous as I can. I try to do as much charity work as a I can. I try to wake up every day and say, “How can I make this world a better place?” That truly is my goal and objective…and being like that is a very important path to success. But I was never taught that…directly…I had to learn that…harshly…and through many struggles, sadly, with selfish behavior…ultimately learning that kind of behavior leads to a great deal of failure…in many ways.
3] I wish someone told me to be more understanding earlier in my life. I’ve always been a good person…or at least I think I’ve always been a good person. But in my youth…I was very self-involved. And I learned to stop being that, by asking others questions like, “So, how are you today?” Or by saying things like, “So, tell me about YOU and your goals and life perspectives.” When we open ourselves up to such conversations, my gosh…and I know this is going to sound corny…but that’s really when the world becomes a better place. It also starts with ourselves.
4] I wish someone told me to speak less, and listen more. What’s that other old saying, “There are those who listen to speak and then there are those who listen to listen.” So, enough said on that, right?
5] I wish someone told that it’s okay to make mistakes…because those mistakes sharpen your character…especially when you can forgive yourself and others for their mistakes. I definitely have learned to widen my margin for error…and to widen the margin for error in others. In all comes down to compassion and humility, really.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I tell this to everyone who asks in any profession, but especially the creative field: The best thing you can do for your career is to live your life…because in the living of your life, you gain experience…experience that you can incorporate into your writing…whether you write books, essays, teleplays, screenplays, whatever.
But it’s also important to live your life because you have to balance. The 24/7 work-week doesn’t work. And what good is your work going to do your life if you work yourself to death?
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’d call that movement THE MOVEMENT OF LOVING-KINDNESS AND FORGIVENESS AND MOVING GRACEFULLY THROUGH LIFE WITH COMPASSION AND UNDERSTANDING. That’s a big-title but it says it all.
People are always describing their talents as a writer, a singer, a dancer, a candlestick maker, or the like. But a person’s truest talents have to do with their compassion, their ability to forgive…to listen…to understand. Those are the real talents…that, many times, go unutilized. So, I would like to change that if I could…or least contribute to that change in some way. And the MOVEMENT that I explained I guess is a good place to start.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Oh, my gosh…countless many through my life. So, so many…my beautiful parents, Herbert Pompeii Pilato and Frances Turri Pilato…they gave me so much foundation for loving-kindness. My sister Pamela Mastrosimone who has been my Number One Cheerleader from birth. So many friends and colleagues who have helped me, who I have depended on in countless, numerous ways. If it’s one thing I’ve learned, no one makes it on their own in this world, and I certainly haven’t done it all by myself, that’s for sure. I am indebted to several individuals…and they all knew who they are…and I love each of them, dearly.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’ve give you two, and they were from my dad: “It’s all nice when it’s it new” and “Anything tastes good when you’re hungry.”
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Truly? Reba McEntire. That beautiful human being has so much talent in so many ways…that it just oozes out her. She’s got the singing…the acting…the music. The songs. The TV show, Reba, which to me, remains the last great family TV sitcom that was ever made. For that reason alone I would love to sit with her and to thank her for all the joy she has brought and continues to bring to the world…with her gifts. But more than anything, she seems already part of that MOVEMENT of kindness I mentioned. She knows that our truest talents belong under the umbrella of humanity.
How can our readers follow you online?
I’m all over social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn and the like. I have my “UpBeat! News with Herbie J Pilato” newsletter. And then there’s my main website, HerbieJPilato.com. Or just Google “Herbie J Pilato,” and something happy should pop-up!
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Blessings to you — and thank you!
Herbie J. Pilato On The 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career in TV and Film was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.