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Never say never Featured

7:00pm EDT February 17, 2002
"How does that music work, Barry?" "Can we cut that and go right to Jimmy?" "We don't need to zigzag that."

In a small, airy room with only two small lights and the bluish glow of TV editing screens and computers, a woman on a mission to teach kids about business works with one of her many editing team members to reduce one episode by four minutes.

From hosting a TV show and writing pop-ups to holding children's interest to editing and worrying about music, camera angles and show themes, Cindy Iannarelli -- known as Dr. Cindy to her students and fans -- carefully oversees her brainchild, "The Buzz with Dr. Cindy," a new TV show syndicated to the Starz/Encore network.

Far from being an abstract concept, the first 13 episodes each feature a different problem, like how to best deal with crabby customers, cash flow, organizing or advertising. And through role-playing games, field segments that focus on family businesses and interviews with real entrepreneurs, kids learn the best solutions.

"Research shows that kids in grades four through eight want to be rich, so we weave that theme through all the shows -- be smart and you can make money," Iannarelli says. "The challenge was taking what we do in the classroom to a new medium."

What she has been doing in the classroom throughout the region for many years (when she isn't consulting with family businesses) is host summer day-camps, called Camp Business Cents, and other educational programs designed to teach children of all ages about starting and running their own businesses. For almost as many years, she has been pursuing turning her program into an educational television series for kids.

The basic purpose of "The Buzz" is to teach children business sense, make them think about being productive and creative, show them how to work as a team and teach them that business is global and can offer the chance to travel around the world.

"With the amount of problems Americans have with credit cards and the hardships that come with a lack of financial knowledge, these kids will be more empowered," Iannarelli says. "We're solving the mystery. Most kids don't get this knowledge at home or in school."

Slated to begin airing in November or December, "The Buzz" also will be shown through Cable in the Classroom in more than 80,000 schools. Iannarelli is hoping to obtain a video distributor by October so libraries and video stores can carry the show as well.

Although her idea seems like a natural winner with great popular potential, Iannarelli says the reality of creating and selling a new TV show idea, while ultimately worth it, proved much more difficult than she'd anticipated. Iannarelli shared her thoughts on this process with SBN Magazine.

SBN: How much time and money have you personally invested?

Dr. Cindy Iannarelli: My research started in 1981, and with every step, I was getting more encouraged. I personally have invested close to $1 million, essentially everything I've made since 1981. My husband thought I was crazy, but I felt this is my life mission. I may go down with the ship, but I'm going to do it.

I made my living as a family business consultant to wealthy families, and I'm very grateful to all those families who hired and encouraged me.

When and how did the TV show idea happen?

Family businesses are the most enterprising -- that's what I did my [doctoral] dissertation on. I documented a brother and sister and what they were doing at age 5 and 6, age 8 and 10 and so on.

I developed a summer camp, "Business Cents," to teach young kids. I think I have a method to teach any child, from the wealthiest to the most disadvantaged kids.

I was lecturing at the Wharton Business School and mentioned that I wanted a TV show to reach more kids quicker. One student said, 'My dad can help, our family's in the TV business.'

It took five years to get the contract with Starz/Encore. They were the first ones to make an offer, but I said, 'Let's get the show off the ground.' I wanted 18 months, and they gave us nine. I can't remember anything since February.

Between February and June, I had over 100 meetings about money, averaging six a week. We started actual production on June 15 during the Arts Festival. People were telling me, 'It can't be done,' but I didn't believe them. But for a few entrepreneurs and their donations, this wouldn't have happened. It takes an entrepreneurial mindset to take a risk.

Now, we're taking the show to the International Television Convention in Cannes to try to sell it to other countries.

Discuss one obstacle you encountered and how you overcame it.

The biggest hurdle was finding a producer. We went through two producers in May and June. I realized this wasn't doable in their minds. I had the idea to be intimately involved with every aspect.

It was a clash of cultures, the business culture clashing with the creative culture. The way business people do business vs. the way creative people do business is so different. I didn't expect a traditional business approach to be so disagreeable to creative people. I had 15 'I quit' e-mails.

The team we ended up with worked extremely well. We had 35 people at one time in the studio, and they had no rehearsals. It says a lot for both sides. We adapted.

What are your hopes and goals for the show?

My goal is to have a daily show that can make a huge difference in the next generation's skill level. With entrepreneur training [like this], they'll be more likely to open their own business, work more productively for someone else and feel better overall about themselves just knowing they can do it.

I'd like to see ["The Buzz"] be an evergreen program -- that shows being produced today could be shown 10 years from now. We'll try to get a national kid-friendly sponsor, but the market will decide if the show succeeds.

We believe from early reactions that the show is positioned to succeed. Barcelona wants to start business centers that go beyond the camps. The TV show is the door opener. Once it's established, we can do more.

I also hope we can help the regional image. One foundation said this couldn't be done in Pittsburgh. I look at 'no' as a delayed 'yes'. It's been about 10 years since we've done TV, and people have forgotten the power of TV.

Some say, 'Why use TV to teach kids business?' I say, 'Why wouldn't you?' How to reach: Dr. Cindy Iannarelli, www.drcindy.com

Amanda Lynch is a Pittsburgh-based free-lance writer.