Interview with MSN honcho Bob Bejan
We talk to Bejan about his job smoking out new shows for MSN, the weirdest idea he's ever been pitched, and more
With his shaved head, wacky multicolored glasses, and perpetual childlike grin, Bob Bejan, 37, must stick out on the Microsoft campus like Dennis Rodman at an AV squad meeting. The chief of entertainment programming for the Microsoft Network — Bill Gates’ would-be AOL buster — started out as a hoofer in such Broadway musicals as A Chorus Line and recently helmed the Sony-backed Interfilm, a failed interactive-cinema gambit. But it must be pointed out that stolid network resumes haven’t exactly led people like ex-CBS president Howard Stringer to success in cyberland. Make or break, Bejan will undoubtedly go in style. Over the phone from his office in Redmond, Wash., the exiled New Yorker fielded questions from right and left field like the seasoned tap dancer he is.
What’s the weirdest idea you’ve been pitched for an MSN show? The weirdest phenomenon is that everybody pitches me a haunted house. I’m convinced that it’s the genre that everybody seizes on in the middle of the night when they start thinking about interactivity.
How do you refer to Bill Gates when he’s not there? Well, everybody’s called by his or her E-mail name, so he’s BillG everywhere.
MSN is to Godzilla as AOL is to…? Tokyo.
Do a lot of folks use the MSN Comic-Chat mode, which puts their words into comic strip-style panels inhabited by funny cartoon characters? I think everybody gives it a try, and then, for most adults, it’s a race to that embarrassing moment of self-awareness that you’re really talking in the voice of a beatnik. And then you turn it off.
How does your past in musical theater help or hinder you now? I really look at online stuff as the theater. If you think about the way communities collect in lobbies at intermission, and the way an audience interacts with a stage production — it runs pretty parallel. Also, the way you have to bring really disparate people together to create programming on the stage is very similar to online. And the first thing you learn in the theater is that the show always closes. You understand how to lay to rest your babies. And that’s a good thing to know in the multimedia business.