If Scooter Braun’s name sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve read that he’s Ariana Grande’s manager. Or that he represents pop stars gone viral, like Carly Rae Jepsen or Psy.
Or, you know, he’s the guy who discovered Justin Bieber.
Braun has no problem with this. He gets it, people are naturally curious. But he’d rather talk about his larger portfolio, which involves producing movies and investing in start-ups (Uber and Spotify, to name a few). And in recent months, it includes producing one of the few hits of the fall TV season, CBS’s “Scorpion.”
The drama series, a procedural about eccentric computer genius Walter O’Brien and his team of wacky misfit geniuses who help the government battle security threats, averages 14.5 million viewers a week and was recently renewed for next season. This weekend, the network scheduled a special “Scorpion” episode to air after the AFC Championship Game on Sunday night. With the New England Patriots versus the Indianapolis Colts, it’s possible that it will be the highest-rated TV night this year aside from the actual Super Bowl.
Braun sounds happy, if nonchalant, about the show’s success. Sure, this is the first TV show he’s ever pitched and it just happened to become a breakthrough hit. As he’s learned from his famous clients, the spotlight can be a tricky thing. We talked to Braun about the idea behind the show; why he wanted to branch out into TV; and the challenges of launching a new TV show — as opposed to a new pop star.
On how he got involved with “Scorpion”:
Scott Manson, an Alexandria native and chief operating officer of Braun’s SB Projects company, knew Braun was looking for life stories to delve into movies and television. He had heard about the real-life Walter O’Brien — whose Scorpion Computer Services is an actual company, “Scorpion” stemming from his hacker name — and suggested it as material.
Braun brought O’Brien to his house to kick around ideas for a movie based on his life — and they quickly realized it could be a pretty great TV show instead, with a new case solved every week. “We put together a dream team,” said Braun, including his buddy Justin Lin, director of multiple “Fast and the Furious” movies, to helm the pilot. CBS bought it, and things went from there. “I should quit now,” Braun joked. “Go out one for one.”
On the appeal of doing TV:
“It’s an amazing time for television,” Braun said. “I think that’s the best thing about TV now, it’s on the level of film.” As case in point, he notes that Lin, now “Scorpion’s” executive producer, directed a famous episode of the sitcom “Community” to the aesthetic standards of a real action movie.
On seemingly ripped-from-the-headlines stories about security and hacking:
Turns out, O’Brien just wanders into the writers’ room and starts dishing old stories. “We call them ‘Walter-isms,’” Braun said. So far, scenarios include the Scorpion team saving the day after a hacker accidentally reveals a CIA safe house location, and a bomber who threatens to literally blow up the Internet.
On his day-to-day role:
Though he was active in the show’s launch, “Now it’s more [that] I assist when needed,” he said. He gets the scripts and make notes every week, and tunes into the show’s regular time slot every Monday night. And occasionally he’ll get on the phone with a cast member who needs a pep talk. His lesson from his days in the music industry was to let the talented people do their job and stay out of the way.
Why the show connected with viewers:
“I think people will always like intelligent TV,” he said. “This is a show of learning new things, and that’s still intriguing.” But its core appeal is that it’s about outcasts who find a place to fit in. “Everyone out there wants to belong,” he said.
What’s harder — launching a new singer or launching a new TV show?:
“Are you asking me what’s harder, launching ‘Scorpion’ or Ariana Grande?” he asked. We didn’t phrase it that way exactly. But, sure. Go with that.
“I enjoy difficult tasks. What’s hard is finding the people to do them and finding a team to actually enjoy success,” he said. “That is the real challenge of success.” He ticked off his successes of late: Ariana Grande blowing up, Justin Bieber apparently coming back with new music this year, British pop band Rixton getting traction. He’s also excited that he’s been able to kickstart the careers for the cast of “Scorpion,” especially star Katherine McPhee, who had been a bit adrift after the demise of NBC’s “Smash.”
On what’s more challenging: Being an up-and-coming pop star or a TV star:
Braun acknowledged it’s hard for anyone to survive in the pressure cooker of showbiz today. “You’re no longer just judged on your work,” Braun said. “Every aspect of your life is judged. It’s a very, very challenging thing.” Especially for new acts: “The moment our youth succeed, we try to figure out how to tear them down.” (Several of his clients have obviously faced such challenges.) He’ll never lie to any aspiring star and tell them it’s going to be easy, he said: They’ll learn the opposite soon enough.