July 20--Since Litton Entertainment planted its roots in Mount Pleasant more than a decade ago, the television production company has grown from an office with a dozen employees to a multi- city operation that produces 626 television programs each year.
Founder and Chief Executive Officer Dave "Buddy" Morgan established Litton Entertainment in 1988 in Baltimore, and moved the company in 1993 to Charleston to raise his family and enjoy the Lowcountry lifestyle.
"I had to fly to New York and Los Angeles all the time to create this business, and what better place to come home to than Charleston?" he said.
Morgan grew up in Baltimore and went to Frostburg State University, a small state school in Western Maryland. He was led to the television industry through a series of jobs in the advertising side of radio and broadcasting, where he learned that the media business is all about good salesmanship.
"Fundamentally, my talent is that I'm creative and I'm very good at selling things. The combination pretty much makes up 90 percent of the disciplines in the television industry," Morgan said.
Eventually, he went from selling ads to television companies to selling them programming, which is when he established his own company.
"The hard part was, I had to get to know people who had content that needed to be sold," he said. "That's how I started the syndication part of our business, which is still very vibrant here."
After buying and selling TV programs for a few years, Morgan found that Litton could make more money if it produced its own shows as well.
In 1990, Litton partnered with Jack Hanna, a prominent zoologist and frequent Southeastern Wildlife Expo participant, to produce his first educational TV series, "Jack Hanna's Animal Adventures."
The show, although it has gone by various titles over the years, has been a staple production for Litton, and it helped the company establish its niche as a "pro-social" content company, as Morgan describes it, because its programs are aimed at families with children of all ages.
"Now that we produce over 23 series, and over 600 hours of television a year, we always look back as Jack Hanna being like our 'Mickey Mouse' show that launched Disney," Morgan said.
Also, when the Federal Communications Commission enacted the Children's Television Act in 1990, Litton Entertainment was in an ideal position to help major networks fulfill the new requirement to air at least three hours per week of educational programs for children.
"We're an entertainment company, we just happen to be in time slots that allow our vendors to bill our shows as educational," Morgan said.
Litton produces a three-hour block of educational children's shows for ABC and CBS on Saturday mornings. This fall, they will launch five hours of children's programs on Saturday mornings on the CW, a network partnership between CBS and Warner Brothers.
One of the shows that airs on ABC, "Ocean Mysteries With Jeff Corwin," recently won two Daytime Emmy Awards in the "Outstanding Travel Program" category and for "Outstanding Directing in a Lifestyle/Culinary/Travel Program."
"So from a business standpoint, Litton is the gold standard for a broadcaster to protect its license and comply with the FCC for the Children's Television Act," Morgan said.
Sold on South Carolina
Until now, its television shows have been produced in Burbank, Calif., in studios outside of Los Angeles. To meet all the recent demand for its programs, Litton is now in the process of doubling its film production operation, which will bring a major chunk of productions to South Carolina.
The company has leased a 30,000-square-foot studio in North Charleston for the first expansion phase. The second phase will involve building a multistage studio in the Palmetto State, but Morgan said they haven't picked out a location yet.
By the end of the year, Litton will begin filming "The Inspectors," a new show for CBS' Saturday morning program in its new studio in North Charleston. Aimed at teenagers, it tells the story of a computer-savvy teen who helps his mom investigate crime by hacking Internet criminal activity and sending her anonymous tips.
The production will provide 215 cast and crew jobs, and 740 roles for extras. South Carolinians will fill most of those positions, Morgan said.
Tapping local talent
Les Franck, a former member of the "Army Wives" production team in Charleston, has been hired as a managing producer at Litton who will guide production of "The Inspectors" and many other locally produced programs.
Franck said they will eventually be partnering with Trident Technical College on an internship program for film production students.
"We're going to be like an incubator. We're going to bring a lot of needed (film industry) infrastructure to Charleston," Franck said.
Morgan said that's one of the most exciting aspects of Litton's expanded footprint in the Charleston area.
"The training of a production workforce here is really important to us. We want to utilize the resources of people that are here because of 'Army Wives' or here because of 'Reckless,' or movies, and they never left," Morgan said. "Or using Trident and what they've invested, as well as the other universities in the state to be able to bring in people of all kinds, whether they're artists, production people or photographers."
In addition to running Litton Entertainment, Morgan teaches a course titled Business of Television at the College of Charleston to equip young people with the business skills it takes to succeed in the highly competitive industry.
Several of his students have been hired at Litton in the past few years, and Morgan said he's eager to expand those job opportunities to hundreds of other people in the Charleston area and throughout the state.
"Talent does not have a ZIP code. There is talent everywhere. It's not all coming out of New York and L.A.," he said. "There's so much talent to be discovered in Charleston."
Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail
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