Make It Reality: Create Your Opportunity, Own Your Success by Cris AbregoMake It Reality: Create Your Opportunity, Own Your Success by Cris Abrego

Make It Reality: Create Your Opportunity, Own Your Success

byCris Abrego

Hardcover | May 3, 2016

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The creator and producer of several mega-hit television series, including The Surreal Life, Flavor of Love, Rock of Love, and Charm School, shares his incredible journey of making it to the top—and how you can too.
“No one paves the road for you. You have to create your own path. If you believe in your dreams, embrace what makes you different, and bet on yourself, the destination will be greater than you ever imagined.”—Cris Abrego

From carrying camera gear on the sets of MTV’s Road Rules, to pioneering the celebreality genre by creating such breakout hits as The Surreal Life and The Flavor of Love, and now as one of today’s most prominent figures in the television industry—Cris Abrego’s career has been nothing short of extraordinary.
As a young boy growing up in L.A., Abrego spent his formative years glued to his family’s TV set, forging his dream of one day working in television.  With unrelenting drive, he overcame countless obstacles to build his own reality TV production company in his garage, which, by his mid-thirties, he sold to one of the world’s largest television production companies, before being tapped as their co-CEO. 
In Make It Reality, Abrego provides practical and motivating lessons collected from almost twenty years on the frontlines of television, including: how to visualize and your goals and work tirelessly to attain them; when to take risks and push boundaries; and how to continually raise the bar for yourself and realize there are no limits on what can be achieved.
Success isn’t about your pedigree or your connections: it’s about vision, leadership, and courage. Abrego’s story is unforgettable, full of heart, and inspiring to anyone seeking to transcend all obstacles and achieve true success.

Foreword by Pitbull
Cris Abrego is one of the leading creators and producers of reality television. The former founder and chief of 51 Minds Entertainment and the current chairman and CEO of Endemol Shine North America, Abrego is recognized globally for pioneering a new genre of unscripted programming with the breakout celeb-reality series, The Surreal Li...
Title:Make It Reality: Create Your Opportunity, Own Your SuccessFormat:HardcoverDimensions:304 pages, 9.3 × 6.3 × 1.1 inPublished:May 3, 2016Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1101990368

ISBN - 13:9781101990360

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Read from the Book

    Make it Reality    , Cris Abrego        Foreword by Pitbull        Dale!     If you know anything about me and my approach to dreams, goals, and success, you probably know that’s the word I use to power up, to get you hyped to go    for it, to do it, to live it, and to do it now! There’s no exact translation but I promise once you’ve read Make It Reality, that’s what you’ll be    ready to do.    It was late 2007 when I first met Cris Abrego—one night in Miami after being introduced by a mutual friend. As “Mr. 305” back in those days, I was learninga lot about making dreams happen. My career was definitely going places and Cris—co-creator and executive producer of hit shows like    Flavor of Love—was fast becoming the name to know in television. He was somebody, I had heard, who was in the business of turning his own and    other people’s dreams into reality. In fact, the friend who introduced us was Miami’s own Josh Gallander/aka Whiteboy—who had been a local pawnshop owner    when Cris discovered him and made him a huge star on the hysterical reality series I Love New York.    So Whiteboy and Cris come walking into the club and head over to the corner of the bar—where I’m sitting with some friends. Whiteboy says, “You two should    meet.” His point was that Cris and I had both overcome obstacles and had found early success by turning the negative into positive.    From the moment Cris and I started to talk, we clicked. Not only did we have similar stories and come from similar backgrounds—one of us Cuban-American    from Miami and the other Mexican-American from Los Angeles—but also as two young, hungry guys, we were on a similar path working tirelessly to take our    game to the next level.    Cris was so positive and supportive, telling me, “Hey, man, good luck. I’ll be watching.” And I told him the same.    Even though our paths didn’t cross again for almost seven years, I always remembered that conversation and how that night at the bar Cris Abrego predicted    that I had a brand that could lead to global business success—beyond music. His belief in me and what was possible was that real, and I never forgot it.    And well, you know how it goes—timing can be everything. By early 2014, when we did reconnect in the hopes of finding a way to work together on some    projects, the timing was perfect. I was proudly representing my hometown of Miami as Mr. Worldwide and Cris, still that same down-to-earth guy from El    Monte, was Mr. International himself as co-CEO of Endemol Shine North America, a division of the global TV giant.    We met for hours to kick around some ideas, and as the night got later and later, I decided to drive Cris to the airport for a five a.m. flight back to    L.A. It must have been about three in the morning when I took him on a driving tour of Miami’s Bayfront Park—a favorite waterfront destination with shops    and restaurants near American Airlines Stadium, where the Heat play. As we drove, I found myself telling Cris the story of how, as a kid, I used to come to    Bayfront every New Year’s Eve to watch the fi reworks and how I dreamed of one day hosting my own show on New Year’s—in my hometown.    That’s where we left it. And true to form as an enterprising doer, Cris came back to me just weeks later and made it a reality. He sold the show to FOX,    and that very next year we started airing Pitbull’s New Year’s Revolution live from Bayfront Park. It’s been everything I could have    asked for and more.    It’s also an amazing experience to watch Cris work. We speak the same language and heartily embrace the truth that sometimes we have to make something out    of nothing. So there is never a limit on what’s possible. There is never a “no” where there is intention, belief, and vision. His ability to inspire others    is at a level I’ve rarely seen in my life. He is a reminder to all that your past or your background doesn’t have to hold you back from creating your    reality. His philosophy echoes my own—that as you look at the world, you can choose to believe that there is nothing you can’t do, so go after your    dream and truly own that success.Don’t just take it from me. Read this book to be inspired by Cris’s story of victory and hard-won success, and learn how to write your own.    Make It Reality should be required reading for everyone who is preparing to go into unchartered waters in their careers and their lives, for    everyone who wants to shake up the status quo or who wants to empower and lift up others.    So why dream when you can wake up and live it? Now go make it reality! Dale!                                                                                                                                                                                                    Chapter 9        Every Day I’m Hustling: The Art and Business of Storytelling         Stories constitute the single most powerful weapon in a leader’s arsenal.    —Dr. Howard Gardner,    author, professor, Harvard University    Whenever I’m asked about how to survive in a tumultuous arena like the entertainment industry, the answer goes back to how I grew up and learned to    outhustle and outwork the competition.Even as the head of my own company or running a division of a global corporation, I still know that in order for us to be trailblazers—living the    principle that you have to create your own rules in order to conquer your turf—hustle is still the name of the game. You don’t stop    hustling because you’ve reached a certain level of success. You do raise the stakes for yourself so that you remain relevant.    In my business, I do that by continuing to be an avid consumer of stories—listening, reading, watching, and paying attention to what’s out there. Stories    in all forms are an endless source of fascination to me. In fact, as much as I love working in the field of television, what I love most is being a    practitioner in both the art and commerce of storytelling.    Here in the twenty-first century, at a time when ideas are considered the number one currency of the marketplace, I believe that everyone—no matter what    your hustle—can benefit from understanding how ideas are communicated through stories.    THE STORYTELLER IN YOU    Even if you don’t work in a field like the entertainment industry that relies on storytelling as its main offering, everyone needs to command the basics of    marketing—which is nothing more than storytelling.    So, whether you’re marketing yourself, your business, a project, an event, or a cause, honing your storytelling skills will be to your advantage. Consider    the points made by Hollywood producer    Peter Guber in HR Magazine in 2008:            The ability to articulate your story or that of your company is crucial to almost every phase of enterprise management. A great salesperson knows how        to tell a story in which the product is the hero. An eff ective                CEO uses an emotional narrative about the company’s mission to attract investors and partners, to set lofty goals, and to inspire employees. Sometimes        a well-crafted story can even transform a seemingly hopeless situation into an unexpected triumph.            I believe there is a natural storyteller in each of us. Storytelling is in our human DNA. Think about the cavemen creating stories by drawings on a wall.    Think about ancient religions and the stories employed to explain the universe. Think about the Bible. For as long as the human race has been on this    planet, we’ve been figuring out different ways to tell stories. We tell stories to connect to one another and to our ancestors, even though the modes of    storytelling have evolved dramatically over time.    As a lifelong learner—not to mention as the son of two educators—I am an ongoing student of how stories are shaped and how they shape the public’s    imagination. From the basics of how to develop story structure with beginnings, middles, and ends, to the nuances of story archetypes, I’ve observed    storytelling in everything. It’s in our memories, in advertising, in books, movies, music, pictures, cartoons, YouTube videos, blogs, politics, publicspeaking, and standup comedy. We look at art and our brains immediately ask—What story does it tell? We meet someone and ask—    what’s your story?    Some people are naturally great storytellers. They understand timing, surprise, suspense, and how to read a roomThey know how to hook you and not let you    go. They know when to be understated, when to be intense, and when to be over-the-top. The best jokes are stories. The best sales pitches are stories. If    you listen to the best salespeople, you don’t even know they are selling you. They’re just telling you a story. Often, whenever you sell anything, you’re    really selling yourself. So the story you tell about yourself may be the difference between making the sale or not.    Let’s take the classic job-interview setting. In seeking an entry level-job or looking to change career paths, what story you tell about yourself will no    doubt vary depending on who is doing the hiring and what that person is looking for. Even though your résumé should tell a story about your career    experience, I will let you know that only 5 percent of interviewees I’ve met get hired based on the résumé. The other 95 percent who get hired are those    who can answer the questions that tell me who you are—with examples and story illustrations.    When I conduct an interview, the three storytelling skills I like to see are enthusiasm, engagement, and focus. Enthusiasm as a    storyteller and communicator reveals your interests and your passion. If you’re just making small talk, that’s not as compelling as if you’re talking about    how much you learned from a tough challenge or why you love coming from a small town. Enthusiasm—or passion—gives you an aura of confi dence and presence.    Always start with enthusiasm. Engagement can be twofold. It’s how you listen and adapt to questions being asked of you and how you respond with your own    level of curiosity. Engagement also shows your authentic point of you. Focus as a storyteller helps you stay concise while sticking to a theme or message.    What you choose to focus on when you talk about yourself also tells a story about your internal motivator—what drives you. Are you more interested in the    money, perks and hours, or the opportunity to continue on a path that you care deeply about?    Of course, if you want to know what kind of storytelling I like to hear from candidates for employment in my business, you can always grab my interest when    you let me know how you consume stories regularly. How much TV do you watch? What shows do you like? Why? Why do you think they work or not? The best    stories tell me about where you grew up, about your background, even about influential storytellers in your upbringing and education. What’s your    connection to culture? I’m looking to find out what are the things you believe or don’t believe in terms of the future of television as an art form.    Through the course of the interview I’ll look for the value you might bring to our company in terms of reading, writing, and storytelling. And key to your    story is to let me know where you look for your dream to take you. What is your ambition? What’s your long game in this business?    The interviews that fall short for me are the sort of shotgun conversations where you come in and are all over the place. In the entertainment industry,    shotgun storytelling might go something like this: “My goals? Well, I like directing. I’m good at it. But I’ve written some things, nothing that you’ve    probably heard of, although writing is a strength. So is producing. At my last job, I worked closely with a producer, and I would consider producing.”    That person has just come in and named all the jobs in the entertainment business. I’ve also had candidates say things, in order to qualify for a job, that    weren’t true about their interests and experience. First of all, the truth usually has a way of rising to the surface. Second, the truth makes for a    winning story.    If you are interviewing for a job in research, say, but your dream is to produce documentary features, it’s refreshing for you to be up front about your    vision going forward. If you can get excited about doing the job being offered as a means to your future goals, it’s a win/win. Ambition is    golden—especially with a work ethic to back it up. When I meet with job candidates who entertain and inspire me with stories about where they come from,    where they are today, and where they envision themselves going forward, I can’t help but want to be part of that journey.    Storytelling is powerful not only in selling or communicating to others but also in how you inspire and motivate yourself. The story you tell yourself    about the results of your hard work—good or bad—is the one that determines whether you ultimately own your own success. If you blame others or your    industry for not giving you a break, that is not ownership. By the same token, if you are successful at something, you can claim it and also be willing to    acknowledge the contributions of others.    Storytelling gives you the power to make sense of your struggles and your failures. After all, the road to success is littered with stories of icons who    failed miserably early in their journeys, only to roar back to life in incredibly successful incarnations. Oprah was once told she was unfit for TV. Steve    Jobs got fi red from his own company. We all know how those stories wound up.    Individuals who own their success, no matter where they are in their journey, are among the fi rst to share the ups and the downs with others.    They’re willing to share some of the credit for their success with others and share guidance with others so they too can learn how it might be done. And    one of the most powerful ways to share success is to be willing to share your story—to say, Hey, I can do this.    Here’s how I did it and how you can be successful too.    Not everyone gets this. In listening to accounts from some of my successful peers, I sometimes hear that they don’t really own their success. In the world    of reality television, for example, there are producers and executives who are among the first to downplay and disparage the very shows that made them the    richest—by apologizing for selling the stories that gave them their success. You can’t do that. You can’t be in the hustle and then look down at the hustle    at the same time.    Let me encourage you to own all parts of your story. As you embrace your inner storyteller, you own your success, in part, by putting perceived failures    into the context of lessons learned for overcoming the odds. Instead of telling the story of how you took a risk that didn’t pan out, you can follow the    story line that shows how you learned what you needed to know for the next go-around. The story of your success will be all the more rewarding if you    choose to own the mistakes, disappointments and losses that you overcame.    My suggestion is that when you employ vision to see where you’re going, why not ask yourself what success story you’d like to tell others once you get    there? The only limits are those of your imagination.        SO YOU THINK YOU CAN PITCH    Every sales and marketing person should know the fundamentals of pitching. Every entrepreneur should be able to pitch—no, not necessarily at TV-show    pitching level, but at least enough to tell a succinct story of what you’re building. Even if your area of interest doesn’t require you to pitch, you would    still do well to learn some of the tricks of the trade. If you’re good at pitching, you can always get better. In fact, those of us who pitch stories for a    living are always upping our game.    In the everyday hustle of pitching stories for what I do, there is no reason to separate the art from the business. A good story sells itself. To make sure    I’ve got a good story before I even develop the pitch, I like to study the storytelling that has worked in classic television episodes or in hit movies.    Those archetypes jump out at you. They begin with a premise or a promise, a question or a quest that keeps you on the edge of your seat as you wait to find    out what’s going to happen next and how it’s going to all turn out in the end. My challenge then is to translate those elements into a reality television    context.    The story you pitch has to have a beginning, middle, and an end. You need to have a hook that makes the story unique; it doesn’t duplicate or copy    something that’s already out there. You need to develop details to make your story inviting. A common mistake is to try to pitch a thought about a kind of    show you’d like to see or a backdrop for a show. A thought is not even an idea. You can have a thought about a show that’s set on a deserted tropical    island. But that’s not a story. However, when you add the details of asking what happens when sixteen fi t, attractive individuals get stranded on this    island and have to survive, then you have the start of a story. When you add the hook that the sixteen people will be separated into two groups—let’s call    them “tribes”—and that they have to depend on each other, at first, as they compete in challenges with the other tribe to earn the rewards of food and    housing, but then, when they lose a challenge they have to get rid of one of their own tribe members, ultimately competing against each other everyone for    himself or herself , you have a story like none other. When you add the ending to this story by borrowing from a classic like Lord of the Flies so    that only one person is left standing at the end, you have a hit show called Survivor.    When it comes to pitching preferences, I’m the first to say that you need to be concise, speak clearly and not too fast (yeah, I still work on that), and    make lots of eye contact. You don’t need to be in the room for an hour. Thirty minutes is plenty of time to break the ice, perhaps with a personal anecdote    that cues up your pitch, tell the main points of the story, present any visuals you’ve brought along, and then open up for questions. Eye contact helps you    read the room and make sure your audience is with you. That’s why brevity is important. Busy executives always appreciate brevity. The saying that “less is    more” is one to remember for your pitch. The best part of the pitch is often when you allow your audience to ask questions. Instead of taking a question as    an objection, use it as a sign that the executive or listener is becoming invested in your story.    When you prepare to pitch your idea, rather than creating a script that you have to follow, create an outline for your presentation that you can even jot    down on an index card. By all means develop some good lines for yourself that might get a laugh or two or get everyone’s attention. Build your pitch around    the questions of why your idea is needed or perhaps what problem or void it will address. What makes it different from similar efforts that haven’t done    well? What makes it like something else that has been successful but maybe even better? What makes you the best person to execute the idea?    Sometimes I think of a pitch as being both the opening and closing arguments of a lawyer to a jury—with a break in the middle to show evidence, i.e., a    sizzle reel or PowerPoint. In my approach, that means starting broad and narrowing to make my close. We recently sold a format from the United Kingdom to    CBS that built on the broad statement about stories dominating the news—detectives hunting down fugitives and people trying to disappear from the    authorities. At a time when we’re all on the grid and able to be tracked more easily than ever before, here’s the question: Could you truly disappear from    the authorities in this day and age? With all the social media, closed-circuit television, cell phone tracking devices, and GPS systems built into your car    and all your electronics, can you truly go off grid?    Everyone wants to know: Could you disappear? And for how long? Those are the questions our show was going to answer. We would identify twelve people,    regular, everyday Americans, fed up with Big Brother and fed up with being spied on, who think they can genuinely disappear. We would put a team together    of renowned experts—ex-CIA agents and ex–Homeland Security agents—who would search for these twelve people. We’ll call them the fugitives. We’ll call the    team that’s out to track them down the hunters. We’ll give the fugitives twenty-eight days to see if they can hide from our hunters. And we’ll call the    show Hunted.    When you pitch your story or idea, whether it’s a TV series, a product, or yourself, the response you get will often come down to the value that your    unique commodity brings to the buyer and also to the value that you add as the person who is going to execute the idea you’ve just pitched. Just because    you pitch a great story or a fantastic idea doesn’t mean you are the best person to develop it—unless you have a proven track record.    In my business, that happens a lot, even with professionals whose agents have set up a meeting for them to pitch a story that they don’t own or a project    that they don’t have any experience or expertise to offer for getting it made. A common mistake, for example, would be to pitch a series that followed the    daughters of President Obama as they go about their lives, escorted by the Secret Service, going to school and doing homework and having to get help from    their dad on things like math that he can’t answer. A great premise with lots of storytelling potential, right?    But did they know President Obama? Did they have access to the Secret Service detail? Had they made a show like that? No, not all. Just pitching the idea    doesn’t prove your value to getting the show made—which would not be easy in the least even for someone with a track record. Now, if you pitch a scavenger    hunt around the world and you’ve been a producer of a show like Amazing Race, you add value to helping bring your idea to life. If you don’t have    that experience, my advice for a newcomer is to develop the hell out of a masterful presentation, maybe create your own pilot, and then pitch it, showing    the value you bring as the storyteller. Another approach is to attain a degree of ownership in your idea or story before you pitch it to others. Someone    might come in and say, “I have secured the exclusive rights from the US Navy to develop a reality competition with them. I’m not sure what the idea is, but    I’ve got their full consent and cooperation.” That gives me an incentive to say, “You have the rights. We’ll figure out the format. Let’s make a deal.”    That’s my point. The bottom line we all learn when we are in the hustle of both pitching and buying stories is that sometimes the make-or-break piece of    the equation is finding the right collaborator. If you talk someone into buying into your idea and they don’t work with you on it, you will face an uphill    battle. On the flip side, when you tell a story that someone else can see and help shape, you can then choose to join forces and achieve results that will    only improve the odds of success for all.    FINDING YOUR BRAND    In a storytelling industry like the entertainment business, there’s a popular saying, first coined by Viacom’s Chairman of the Board Sumner Redstone, that    content is king. It’s a truth worth considering for every business. In 1996 Bill Gates also put the saying into usage in the tech world by predicting that    in the coming years, he expected content to drive most of the money made on the Internet. When you think of everything that’s come into being in digital    world, it’s all content driven—from the picture, posts, and videos we share, to the social networks, blogs, and search engines designed to sift through    data to find that content.    We can all agree that content really is king. Even though the platform of how and where we watch may change, the importance of the story content doesn’t.    We can’t predict how far the new platforms will take us and whether, as some say, TV will be a relic of the past or what mode of delivery will gain the    most traction—from subscription-based television to Netflix-type streaming to Hulu and YouTube to connecting online or through your video game systems.    Those are just different ways to distribute content.    Whether it played on an iPhone or in the back of a taxicab or on a screen in the men’s room urinal, I’m confident that content will continue to matter.    Fortunately, because my hustle is always going to be involved in different phases of developing, selling, and making content, I’m confi dent in my job    security. Not only because I have expertise in content but also because of something else that is as important in my view, and that is culture.    After all, how does your content become significant? How do you move the needle so that your content registers on the public radar? Culture. Content and    culture are good bedfellows. Not long ago, I had this conversation with Pitbull, who observed that when music is culturally connected, whatever the genre,    the content can then push the needle in terms of influencing social consumption and attitudes. Reality TV pushed the needle when Mary-Ellis Bunim and    Jonathan Murray put it on MTV. Celebreality pushed the needle that mattered in popular culture. Content that reflects culture is compelling if you’ve grown    up in that culture and never been represented in entertainment before.    What my creative partnership with Mark Cronin did was to honor that underrepresented culture. And we gave our viewers content that told their stories, and    in turn made VH1 the number one cable channel—with an audience that arrived in droves and is mostly still hanging out.    In the process, we naturally developed the secret sauce of our storytelling brand. That’s a topic I hear entrepreneurs asking all the time—how do I find my    brand? The answer is to spend time developing the story you’re using to tell the world who you are, what you do, and how you do it. Your brand should also    reflect your understanding of culture and your market.    As I think back to the insane amount of successful content that 51 Minds had in production in the years between 2004 and 2008, I know we upped the ante by    taking our cues from culture—and from our loyal audience. We became the most prolific purveyor of unscripted content on cable television. The pace was    unbelievable. I ran two sets at the same time. Sleep was optional.    We had become such essential earners for VH1 that we gained the reputation for being able to take just about any crazy idea, develop it with the same    comedy styling that had become our mainstay, and cast it with must-see characters—celebrities who were already famous in some way or real people turned    reality stars—and then come out with another winner.    We were like mad scientists in our laboratory, pushing the limits of celebreality, our brand, into old and new forms. Since Fear was a format I’d    produced and clearly knew very well, that became the model for a show we developed called Celebrity Paranormal Project. Instead of casting kids to    investigate haunted locations, we cast a mix of actors, comedians, models, athletes, and reality stars to go in and monitor paranormal activity in    condemned sanatoriums across America that were known to be “severely haunted.”    One of our most memorable celebrities on that show was Gary Busey, the Oscar-nominated movie actor who had been in a terrible motorcycle accident and had    his whole brain rebuilt after that. Gary alleged that he had died on the operating table and had come back after dying. So he told us from the start that    he was highly attuned to the presence of spirits and ghosts.    Though I had shot at several supposedly haunted locations, I feel safe to say that aside from some creepy moments, no ghosts showed up. Well, when we    walked into that abandoned sanatorium in Kentucky where we had been informed that many deaths took place because of tuberculosis, Gary Busey’s paranormal    sensors suddenly went haywire, and he had us all convinced the entire place was freaking filled with tortured ghosts!    The rest of the cast was terrified. Busey wasn’t just telling us what had happened in this place; he was hearing voices, having conversations with the    dead, and sounding both insane but knowledgeable. In fact, he was so immersed in his reality that those of us in production were looking at one another and    whispering, “What’s going on? Is this real? Not real?”    Whatever the answer, Gary Busey really believed he was there to monitor the paranormal activity. He genuinely believed that he had been to the other side    once because of his motorcycle accident and that experience therefore gave him the power to see dead people. And there was no doubt in his mind that he was    seeing ghosts in this sanitarium.    The show did well enough for a first season but didn’t have the staying power of our comedy blockbusters. Surreal Life was the gift that kept on    giving. In addition to its own seasons, we finally did a competition format called Surreal Life: Fame Games. It was kind of a no-brainer; webrought back the biggest personalities from our different casts and pitted them against one another in various challenge competitions. Our dating shows,    Flavor of Love and Rock of Love, also had characters and story lines that bred shows. After Tiff any Pollard (nickname “New York”) becamea hit on Flavor of Love, we went on to do three seasons with her—I Love New York, New York Goes to Hollywood, and    New York Goes to Work. Similarly, Daisy of Love was a dating show spin-off for a runner-up from Rock of Love.    To an extent, we nearly fell victim to our own success, because we could never successfully veer from our raucous brand of comedy, which had put us on the    map. Plus, going against our brand would not have been smart, especially with the advent of Dancing with the Stars. After that show    premiered in 2005, celebreality became a staple of network television, a mainstream phenomenon. We knew that to stay alive we had to protect our niche in    comedy and continue to be different from the rest of the pack.    Highbrow we weren’t. Then again, satiric storytelling often works on two levels—one is totally basement-humor foolishness, and the other is so smart and    witty that it hits your brain in that flash as you get the joke. Did we poke fun at others? Hell, yeah. We were on cable. The more scathing, the better.    Nobody was spared.    I remember how nasty the media critics were about America’s Most Smartest Model. And that was one of my favorite shows. Just in the titleitself. Doing some of his best work ever, Mark Cronin ran with the funny premise from Ben Stiller’s Zoolander that already spoofed    high-fashion models, then played havoc with elements from America’s Next Top Model. Amping up the stereotypes that models aren’t super    smart and that the better looking they are, the dumber they might also be, we set out to prove that theory and have fun with thepossibilities. The humor even bordered on highbrow—you have to be arch to get that the joke was in the title—and the show was one of    the wittiest on our production slate. As President of MTV Networks at the time, Brian Graden called it his favorite show.    Ultimately, even though Mark and I both gave it our all in trying to make the show a hit, the format didn’t work and the show lasted only one season.    However, I learned an interesting lesson from the process. Sometimes you have to let even your best ideas and stories go, even though they might develop    into full-fledged hits if given the time and proper enrichment. There is a myth in the industry of storytelling that you may only have one big earth-moving    idea. Too often people think they will live or die based on the success of their one idea. They pour all their energies into that one project, and when it    doesn’t go or isn’t well received, they fall apart. You have to get past that. Your ideas can’t be so precious that your well-being depends on getting    praise and winning awards for them.    That was a lesson I learned from the criticism we got for Flavor of Love. We got killed for casting women who, according to the press, were too “ghetto.” That was when the new president of VH1, Michael Hirschorn, gave us the idea for Favor of Love: Charm School. It would    be great, he suggested, to counter all the flak by giving our Flavor of Love contestants a chance to develop social graces, etiquette,    and manners and show they really did have class. Mo’Nique was the perfect host, and we built another hilarious challenge format. One of    the highlights was a visit to none other than my alma matter, Cal State    Fullerton, where Charm School teams had to learn the principles of debate from the college debaters and then compete in debates against one    another. In another episode, our cast members competed on teams to raise the most money for a charity drive. The show itself charmed the hell out of thecritics and was a smash. Guess what. After Rock of Love took off, we built a show for those contestants and called it    Rock of Love: Charm School.    For the most part, I let criticism roll off my back. But as our shows became more popular and more pervasive in pop culture, I was attuned to their impact.    In fact, I’ll never forget a truly eye-opening response I received after previewing the first episode of Flavor of Love for a close friend and    colleague of mine. Will Griffi n—Ivy League educated with law and business degrees from Harvard, African- American, and one of the smartest guys I know in    the entertainment business—was running the television division for Russell Simmons when we met. In later years, after he had moved on from that position to    start his own consulting business, I would hire him as a consultant to help advise me on the expansion of my operations at the time. Will is a real    champion and someone whose opinions I deeply respect.    But I wasn’t sure how to react when he called me up and got to the point. “Cris,” he said, “you are going to set the black race back twenty years with this    show.” He took a breath, and before I could say anything, he added, “But I’m going to tell you right now that this is some of the best and funniest    television I have ever seen.”    Wow. Was he serious?    Oh yeah. Will went on. “I have now watched it twice, and I laughed even harder the second time. You have a major hit on your hands.”    After we hung up, I had to really search my soul. Flavor Flav was always a cartoon character to me who made fun of himself and by extension made fun of the    bigots who created the stereotypes in the first place. If you look at the same kind of humor on display in, say, South Park, you could accuse that    show of setting back everyone in the human race. So, on one hand, I had no problem owning the entertainment value of a show that used comedy to make people    laugh and perhaps to feel uncomfortable enough to get mad. On the other hand, I didn’t want to only tell those kinds of stories.    The situation was not uncommon for anyone in a creative or entrepreneurial role when you have an identifiable brand that has performed well. Some might    even say—Hey, why change? If it ain’t broke . . . Not surprisingly, whenever Mark and I would meet with the executives from MTV/VH1,    Brian Graden and Jeff Olde, they were keenly interested in us delivering more of the same that was our stock-in-trade. Putting myself in their shoes, I    understood. But that didn’t mean I was feeling fulfilled as a storyteller.    My solution was to go back to the basics of story hustling—by adding projects to my plate that wouldn’t take away from the commitments that were working    but would give me a change of pace and allow me to diversify and grow. Whenever you need to change up your game, you shouldn’t be constrained by the brand    or reputation you’ve established for yourself. Don’t forget where you’ve come from and the lessons you’ve learned, but bank on your instincts to take you    to new heights. By embracing an idea or project that’s new and challenging, you get back in the learning curve that fuels your passion. And it’s one more    way that you get to the write the rules of your own success story.    WHERE YOU FIND GREAT STORIES    When you’re ready for a challenge or a change and looking for your next inspiration, you will discover that the greatest stories or ideas often turn up in    the least likely places or are staring at you right in the face. They are really all around you. When you find them, they might look like nothing, and only    you can see what they can be become and only you can be the one to polish them so that later on everyone will say they were diamonds in the rough.    Sometimes you focus on the kind of story you’d like to uncover, and sure enough it pops into view. That’s sort of what happened for me when I decided that    I wanted to work on some stories of transformation. As it so happened, I learned from my agents at CAA that Jamie Foxx, an Oscar-winning fi lm star, wanted    to get his foot into reality television and had a show he was trying to develop along those lines. Not unlike the premise of Charm School for    ladies, Jamie had an idea of a finishing school for gangsters—that would explore the possibility of taking a group of thugs, basically, and attempt to turn    them into gentlemen. Jamie had already sold the idea to MTV, calling it From Gs to Gents, and now he was meeting with various production companies    to choose one to help flesh the idea out, build the format, and make the show.    As we sat down to meet, Jamie described who these cast members might be. He explained, “I want to take the guys that come from single homes, who might have    been in juvie, who didn’t have many options. I want to take the guys who didn’t have a dad to tell them how to tie a tie, you know?”    “I do,” I answered. I told him that he was talking about many of the guys from the neighborhood where I’d grown up.    He told me more about how he grew up, the positives and the obstacles that had shaped his dreams. Then I talked about El Monte and how the memories of    where I came from were always a part of the storytelling I was most passionate about.    When he decided he wanted me to develop the show, I know that the kinds of stories I’d been doing on VH1 weren’t the main selling point. Certainly, he    could see that I had a track record and could execute and deliver. But I think what made him choose to work with me was in getting to know my story, even    from one meeting. After that, I went to work. Aside from the title, there was nothing—not a host or a setting or a semblance of format. For the host, we    cast Farnsworth Bentley, an actor/rapper/dancer, not to mention a producer and author on subject matter of interest to the modern-day gentleman. The show    was authentic, entertaining, and also emotional. We told stories that touched a cultural nerve and yielded a big hit for MTV—for three seasons.    The other project that really let me stretch as a storyteller came about after I read an article in Source magazine, the insider’s guide to    hip-hop, which is a music and culture that has always spoken to me. Again, staying in tune and reading as much as I can are parts of my job. The moment I    saw the cover of the magazine with its picture of a producer named Irv Gotti draped in an American flag, I was captivated and had to read Irv’s story—from    starting a rap label called Murder Inc., home to artists like DMX, Ja Rule, and Ashanti, and also helping discover Jay Z, to suddenly having the federal    government come after him out of the blue one day. The feds raided his business—because, they said, he was alleged to have ties to a really dangerous    gangster who was already in prison for life—and accused Irv of numerous criminal activities that included money laundering, racketeering, selling drugs,    and a list of other offenses. With no evidence to support the allegations, the government fi led charges against him, his brother, and the label.    It’s widely known that when a case like this goes to trial, the government has a 98 percent conviction rate. That’s why innocent defendants are often    talked into cutting a deal. But Irv fought the charges every step of the way. It took him a year and put him out of business and cost him every penny to    his name to defend himself. After a year, he was found not guilty on all counts. But now he had to start over.    This was a phenomenal story that made me want to follow the journey of how he would be able to build his life and dream back after being forced to start    over again. The first person I contacted to help introduce me to Irv was Russell Simmons, cofounder of Def Jam and known as the most important businessman    in the history rap and hip-hop. Russell and I had shot a pilot together with rapper Trick    Daddy and had some other ideas we’d been discussing.    After Russell made the introduction, I set up a meeting at my office in Hollywood. Irv Gotti, in town from the East Coast on other business, shows up in    old-school g style, with about eight people in tow. A true hip-hop posse. He walks in, a light-skinned African-American with a shaved head and a disarming    almost baby face when he smiles that can become dead serious in an instant, tied together by his megasized persona. He comes into my office, full swag, the    big boss, the whole thing.    Irv sits down and says, “Now, what the fuck is it you want from me?” I’m starting to answer when he says, “Man, I’m gonna be honest with you, Cris. I took    this meeting for one reason—’cause Russell asked me to and . . .” I think he’s about to say because of Flavor of Love, which is a monster    hit. But no. On the contrary, Irv says he isn’t going to work with me because, in his view, our shows “clowned” black people. That’s about the end of it    until he adds, “I’ll tell you what you can do for me. You can get me Hoopz’s phone number.”    Hoopz was the nickname given by Flav to one of the girls on the show. So apparently Irv loves the show and watches it but thinks I’m reinforcing a negativestereotype. I listen to all this bravado and look around at his guys in their white T-shirts: big guys, textbook thugs. I’m thinking—Oh, my God,    this is a disaster. But I say, “All right, um, listen, man. Let me tell you what I think is interesting.” And I start telling him about his story,    as I see it and why he should do a project and what I’d do.    He gets quiet. He leans forward. By the end of the meeting, he shrugs and says, “OK, I’m interested.” He’s about to go back on tour while getting Murder    Inc. back together, and he’s going out briefly with Ja Rule and DMX in a tour bus. “You know what, Cris? You’re right. R is would make a great TV show.    We’re gonna get on that bus. And let me tell you, man, when we tour, it’s fucking crazy. We party like fucking gods.” He goes on and describes what he    meant. This isn’t what I had in mind. I just tell him, “Yeah, that’s not going to be a show man.”    “Nah, it’s gonna be great! It’s gonna be good TV.” After further discussion he backs off, saying, “I don’t think I’m going to do reality TV. Murder Inc. is    coming back together.”    With that, he grabs his posse and leaves. The next thing I did was to sit down immediately and send him an e-mail about what he’d been through—all the    injustices and everything that could be part of a show that would speak on behalf of others and the injustices they had suffered and how I believed it    would be a shame if in the next chapter of his life he didn’t take advantage of telling that story and show how he was going to get his life back.    Five minutes after I sent the e-mail, he called to say, “All right, listen, man. I’m in. I’m game to explore this.”    From there, I was able to go and meet him in New York and then went up to Connecticut to meet his wife, Debbie, and his kids. The two were in the process    of getting divorced but were a team as parents and in what they had been through together. The story was even more phenomenal than I had known. After that,    I met his brother and his parents. There was no question in my mind that this family story—an American story—was the show.    It was about resilience and redemption. We would ask if this man could get beyond how his business and family had been destroyed, how he and his wife had    become estranged, and what the struggles were for his two young boys and his daughter, who loved their dad more than anything but had to watch him almost    go to prison and lose every penny. More important than putting his business back together, the question at the heart of the story was whether he could put    his family back together.    I made a convincing and emotional pitch but Irv wasn’t seeing it at first. Then I pitched it to VH1. They were wary. Instead of a green light, they gave me    $350,000 to shoot a pilot, not a lot of money for the scope of the show.    But the bigger problem about that was Irv wouldn’t sign his deal. He said, “You shoot that pilot. I’ll look at it. If I like it, I’ll do the show and then    I’ll sign your contract. If I don’t, I’m out.”    VH1 countered that they wouldn’t do it unless we could guarantee that Irv would do it and that he’d do it at the rate they were asking for, if the series    did get picked up. So I guaranteed VH1. Rather than have Irv sign the contract, I took a $350,000 gamble and proceeded to shoot the pilot. That was a    classic moment of me betting on myself and my ability to tell Irv’s story right. If I was wrong, I would be out a lot of money and time. But listening to    my passion and purpose, I felt this was what I had to do.    Everything came to a head one day after I had shot an interview with one of Irv’s sons who was around thirteen years old at the time. The conversation was    real, as in a documentary, and as the son asked his mom if she and Irv were going to get divorced and as he asked why she wouldn’t let his dad move back in    to the house, I filmed that moment. Instead of stopping, I kept pushing for this truthful question to come out because it was the elephant in the room that    nobody was addressing. That night Irv found out about the scene from a distraught Debbie and the next day showed up during filming and went ballistic,    telling me, “This shit is fucking done. It’s over. You crossed the line! You motherfucker . . .” He just went off. His point was that he wanted his kids    protected and their issues kept off the table. As I recall, he threatened to come after me with a baseball bat to my head.    I cleared the house. Irv calmed down, and I said, “I made you a promise that we were going to cover this as honestly as possible and I was going to tell    your story. And in the end, let me edit it. If you don’t like it, that scene is out. I’m not even telling the network about what I’ve shot so they can’t    hold us to it.”    When I finished the edit, Irv flew out to Los Angeles. I didn’t say anything ahead of time when we went to screen the pilot together, just the two of us,    except that I thought it conveyed a balanced message. When we came to the scene with his son, he tensed up and then just nodded but held back his emotions    until the end. Afterward, he started to cry as he said, “It’s beautiful. I love it.”    We then showed the pilot to VH1, and the show was green-lit on the spot. Gotti’s Way went on to be a great and meaningful series. We did three    seasons, and Debbie—who everyone was rooting for— became a huge star.    And Irv Gotti, who had reclaimed his family and his life and had rebuilt his business so that he could once again own his success, was about to give me the    most important advice on the most critical crossroads of my career.    The experience of telling a different kind of story fed my vision for the future. Today my passion is to tell more stories that tap the direction of    popular culture in ways that elevate communities and society in general. One of my newest passions is a show that tells the story of how veterans returning    from multiple tours of service overseas—who have had trouble finding work here at home—can now be leaders in helping our nation rebuild its crumbling    infrastructure, demonstrating their expertise on these massive projects that we always describe as “military operations.”Another story I can’t wait to tell is something on a very large scale. For years I’ve wanted to do my own version of Extreme Home    Makeover. Recently I had a brainstorm while listening to an artist talking about empty spaces in communities after apartment buildings have been    torn down or businesses shuttered. Instead of leaving gaping holes in neighborhoods, efforts have been made to leave walls for artists to create murals and    to plant community gardens that beautify and provide safe green spaces for growth and collaboration. Suddenly it hit me that I don’t need to remake houses.    I need to remake communities and create opportunities for those who are living there to be part of the new park and to thrive in the new businesses that we    can create. This is what’s happening in popular culture anyway, so why shouldn’t that story be told?    This is the best part of my reality. No matter how many challenges are on my plate, I still get to wake up every day and look forward to a new idea and a    new story to tell.    Why not ask yourself what you love best about your daily hustle? If you can’t quite answer that yet, open yourself to the ideas that are there right in    front of you, asking to be put to good use.

Editorial Reviews

Praise for Make It Reality   “In Make It Reality, Abrego delivers a master class in the power of passion. His moving story proves that it doesn’t matter where you come from or what limitations stand in your way. Starting where you are, his business principles will put you in a position to create opportunities so your own lane can open up—where the possibilities are endless. When it comes to Abrego’s expertise in such topics as storytelling, marketing, and the new media, we all should take notes!”—Chris Gardner, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author of The Pursuit of Happyness and Start Where You Are   “Whether you plan a career in television or film, or something else, Cris Abrego will teach you invaluable lessons in this book about how to achieve your goals. From starting as a tape logger on Road Rules to becoming chief executive of a global television company today—Abrego's story reminds us all that setting goals and giving it everything you’ve got, no matter how small the job, are essential to success. Wherever your ambitions lie, this must-read provides you with a roadmap to getting there.”—Jonathan Murray, Bunim/Murray Productions, co-creator of MTV’s The Real World and Road Rules   "Make It Reality is as inspiring as Cris himself. Through his passion, hard work, and innovative spirit, Cris has reached the highest levels of the entertainment industry.  His trailblazing approach and unique strategies ultimately helped him achieve his goals, and will surely help readers realize their own ambitions as he has always helped me realize mine."—Eva Longoria