2022 Innovator: Reality TV entrepreneur Montgomery’s The Village aims to make Stamford a melting pot for arts, business, culture, entertainment

Brent Montgomery made a name for himself bringing reality TV shows like “Pawn Stars,” “Queer Eye” and “Fixer Upper” to the small screen.

Now, he wants to make a name for Stamford — and build a different kind of media company, one with an unlikely home in a 133,000-square-foot former wire factory.

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“Smart people thought we were absolute lunatics,” Montgomery said of the early reaction to his vision for what is now The Village.

But after a $75 million investment and three years of construction, The Village opened in 2021 as a melting pot for arts, business, culture, entertainment and fine dining. It also is home to Wheelhouse, the TV production company founded by Montgomery and comedian and late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel.

“The idea is, simply, if you bring in great people from different industries, and you introduce them, basically people who wouldn’t meet otherwise, you see great things happen,” Montgomery said.

The career

Montgomery graduated in 1997 from Texas A&M University with a degree in journalism. But he quickly gravitated toward a then-novel form of nonfiction: reality television.

After moving to Brooklyn in 1998, he found work on the sets of “The Bachelor,” “Wife Swap” and “Blind Date.” To make ends meet, he also filmed weddings and bat mitzvahs.

In 2002, he started his own production company, Leftfield, to develop concepts he could pitch to TV networks. A baseball-card collector and former high school baseball player, Montgomery favors names that connote America’s pastime.

He was at a bachelor party in Las Vegas when he came across the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, which rocketed to fame as the subject of “Pawn Stars.”

Montgomery realized he had produced more than a hit TV show. He had helped fuel spectacular growth at a small business simply by training a camera on it.

Before “Pawn Stars” began airing on the History Channel, the shop attracted about 75 people per day, Montgomery said. Afterward, it was drawing 5,000 people who stood in line in the Las Vegas heat.

Other reality TV subjects, such as Chip and Joanna Gaines of “Fixer Upper,” followed similar trajectories — small-screen fame followed by big-time business opportunities.

Another example he points to — one not produced by Montgomery — is “Drive to Survive,” a Netflix series that follows Formula 1 drivers, a cast of characters who had been largely unknown to U.S. audiences.

“That has changed Formula 1 in America forever,” Montgomery said.

Traditional media companies, however, are not set up to take advantage of their subjects’ success, Montgomery said. Wheelhouse is designed to be that company. It launched in early 2018 after British media giant ITV bought Leftfield for $360 million.

Instead of simply producing reality TV shows, Wheelhouse invests in the people and companies that are the shows’ focal points.

“Being able to pull that off is a lot harder than it sounds but that’s the thesis,” Montgomery said.

One test of that thesis involves Goldin Auctions, a New Jersey-based company that is riding the boom in sports cards, collectibles and other memorabilia. How big is the boom? A Mickey Mantle rookie baseball card from 1952 sold for a record $12.6 million in August.

In addition to producing a show on Goldin — and selling it to Netflix — Montgomery and Wheelhouse have invested in his company. Co-investors include basketball star Kevin Durant, baseball star Alex Rodriguez, hedge fund titan Steven Cohen and others, Montgomery said.

Wheelhouse hopes to find and tell similar stories in Connecticut. It has sold a show based in Bridgeport to the History Channel, Montgomery said, declining to divulge details. The company also is developing a concept around a mother-daughter interior design team in Connecticut.

He hopes the ability to produce shows here could keep stars in the state. Montgomery cited the example of Charli D’Amelio, a dancer and Norwalk native who has become one of the biggest draws on TikTok. She and her family moved to Los Angeles in 2020.

“We want to make sure that the next one of those folks feels like there is enough action here to not leave,” Montgomery said.

Wheelhouse has also invested in companies that are not necessarily destined for reality TV. They include Stamford-based Rhone, which makes men’s clothing, and Stratford-based Athletic Brewing Co., which brews nonalcoholic beer.

Coming home

Before they started a company and tackled a major construction project in Connecticut, Brent and his wife, Courtney Montgomery, decided to become homeowners in the state.

Courtney grew up in Trumbull. But Brent, a self-described military brat, never lived in one place for more than three years. While he values the lessons he learned about being adaptable, he did not want the same experience for his children.

So the Montgomerys, who met at MTV in 2005 and married in 2008, purchased a home in Old Greenwich in 2014. They now have three children: two daughters, 9 and 4; and a son, 7.

They quickly fell in love with the community, a feeling that grew during the COVID-19 pandemic, Brent said. “For a lot of my colleagues who live in Los Angeles or New York, it was such a darker time.”

When he first moved to Connecticut, Brent was working for ITV, a British free-to-air broadcast television network. But he quickly grew tired of the daily commute to Manhattan.

“Every day was a grind,” he said.

Along with his wife, he began exploring ways to bring his business interests closer to home. The vision for The Village began to come together in 2017 when the Montgomerys purchased the former factory in Stamford.

Unlikely destination

The industrial South End of Stamford was not an obvious choice as the launching pad for a media empire. But the state as a whole has had some success luring media companies since enacting its tax incentive program in 2007. Some — such as NBC Sports and World Wrestling Entertainment — have found homes in the city.

State officials had shown the former Stamford factory to other entertainment companies, including studios and sound-stage operators, said George Norfleet, executive director of the state’s Office of Film, TV and Digital Media. But they ultimately decided to go in other directions.

“We were hopeful that Brent would see the life there, and he did,” Norfleet said.

Enticed by the entertainment tax credit and the potential he saw in Stamford, Montgomery agreed to move Wheelhouse there.

Before becoming a destination, the two-story factory itself took some work. It was littered with the remains of its industrial past, as well as the occasional used mattress, and required extensive remediation, Montgomery said. The building is now certified under LEED standards for its environmentally-friendly features and finishes.

The COVID-19 pandemic did not present many obstacles to construction, Montgomery said. In fact, it allowed him and his partners to pour their energy into the project, since the TV business was effectively closed.

“We like to joke that while the world shut down, we built The Village,” he said.

Other tenants now include private equity firm Avesi Partners; staffing firm Insight Global; ITV America; executive recruiting company Kindred Partners; and a design collective called MillerKnoll. There’s also a restaurant called The Wheel and a space housing an outpost of Cisco Brewers, a craft brewery based in Nantucket.

“It was a win-win situation on all sorts of different sides to have Brent bring Wheelhouse to Stamford,” Norfleet said, noting The Village has become part of the “connective tissue” of the city.

The Montgomerys worked with Mike Geller of Stamford-based food company Mike’s Organics, for example, to install a garden on the The Village’s roof. In addition to providing fresh-grown ingredients for The Wheel, it has become a resource for students at Waterside School, which educates at-risk children in Stamford, who visit the garden to learn about horticulture.

Brent Montgomery with comedian, late-night host and business partner Jimmy Kimmel.

Wheelhouse also has invested in Geller’s business, a farm-to-home delivery service.

“This guy’s an incredible local entrepreneur who’s building an incredible brand,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery has never second-guessed his choice of Stamford. But he does acknowledge concerns about safety while planning The Village.

“Now you go there and people are walking their dogs late at night, early in the morning. It feels like the safest spot in the state,” he said.

Montgomery drew confidence from his experience in Brooklyn. The New York borough has experienced an influx of residential and commercial development in the years since he landed there in the late 1990s. Stamford also has attracted an influx of high-end condos in recent years.

The story of Silicon Valley’s rise as a technology capital was yet another source of inspiration. Montgomery’s friend, Matt Breitfelder, relayed the story during an early visit to the Stamford factory.

“It was about cheap land, and then it was about getting similar, like-minded people who wanted to change the world in the same place,” Montgomery said.

If it can make the right connections with the world outside its borders, Stamford can make a similar splash, Montgomery said. So far, the work of selling Stamford, Wheelhouse and The Village has not been all that different from his experience in reality TV.

“For me, it is telling a story and that is what my entire career has been,” he said. “We have been able to tell a good story … and we were able to get like-minded people to be part of the story.”

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Factory Entertainment Announces Men In Black Prop Replicas – Retail News Today

Factory Entertainment Announces Men In Black Prop Replicas – Retail News Today – EIN Presswire

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MGA Entertainment Embraces Playing with Your Food with Its New MGA’s Miniverse™ Make It Mini Food™ Line, its Next Billion-Dollar Ball Brand – Retail News Today

MGA Entertainment Embraces Playing with Your Food with Its New MGA’s Miniverse™ Make It Mini Food™ Line, its Next Billion-Dollar Ball Brand – Retail News Today – EIN Presswire

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How convention toys are lighting up demand

After three years of canceled and scaled-back events, fan conventions are returning in full force, drawing crowds of more than 100,000 back to San Diego and New York for their Comic-Cons. And fueling the hype are toyco catalogues filled with convention-exclusive products that are both badges of honor and event souvenirs—an irresistible combo for superfans of all ages.

For Jeremy Padawer, chief brand officer at Jazwares, the objective when developing these exclusive products is not margin or profit, but enhancing the company’s portfolio of brands by directly engaging with its dedicated fanbase.

“The business of toys today is about serving multiple groups of people,” Padawer tells Kidscreen. “I’m a believer that if you service [collectors] and you do that in a good, meaningful way, they tend to be much more completionist than any other consumer. They’re willing to dive deeper and help grow the brand.”

Padawer says the collector market’s members are as young as 13 years old and account for 25% to 35% of a toy line’s consumer base, depending on the strength of the brand. In Jazwares’ case, this means developing exclusive products with wide collector appeal—such as All Elite Wrestling and Halo action figures, Squishmallows and Pokémon plush lines, and a fleet of Star Wars Galaxy Squadron vehicles.

One strategy the LA-based toyco hones in on when constructing its fan expo products is balancing scarcity and value for consumers. “If you’re going to a convention, don’t be a manufacturer that’s trying to squeeze every dollar out of your consumer,” advises Padawer. “You should be giving them a value and a benefit because they are willing to stand in line for you. If you make 10,000 pieces of something, don’t expect them to be all that excited about it if there’s only an audience of 6,000.”

While Jazwares focused on producing five convention-exclusive products this year for San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC), Mattel unveiled 12 new collectibles for the show during its 12 Days of Fandom campaign in July.

The LA-based toyco’s strategy is to honor its iconic properties (such as Jurassic World, WWE and Masters of the Universe) by developing exclusives that celebrate events in their pop culture, says PJ Lewis, VP of global marketing and portfolio leader.

“We want to do what we can to deliver great experiences for fans around our IPs and deliver joy to the widest audience possible,” says Lewis. “In the case of a brand like WWE, it’s really an IP that reflects pop culture. You don’t need to be a wrestling fan to buy the No Holds Barred two-pack or the Slim Jim Randy Savage because these [toys represent] iconic moments.”

Other pop-culture exclusives Mattel developed for this year’s SDCC include the Jurassic World Outhouse Chaos set, which recreates the T-Rex’s vicious attack on unsuspecting attorney Donald Gennaro from the original Jurassic Park film; and the Masters of the Universe 40th Anniversary two-pack, which pits He-Man against his archrival Skeletor in Mattel’s new seven-inch Masterverse action figure line.

Mattel’s Masters of the Universe hits high nostalgia notes but also has new fans, thanks to the IP’s Netflix revival

Unlike Jazwares, which focuses on scarcity to add value to its products, Mattel is increasing the quotas of certain releases based on what the toyco is hearing from its community, says Lewis.  “We don’t look at scarcity as a strategy. We look at trying to size what we did last year and determine how many more products we need to build,” he says. “We want as many fans to participate as possible, while making sure we’re not in a position of overbuilding an item or getting stuck with some inventory.”

While Lewis sees SDCC as one of Mattel’s pillars on the convention circuit, the company has begun to evolve its collector-targeted toy business by participating in new shows and developing exclusive online products through its e-commerce platform, Mattel Creations.

“I think what we do at Comic-Con and for fans now is a 365-day proposition,” says Lewis. “We’ve built this [direct-to-consumer] arm in Mattel Creations, which is not just helping to shape our exclusives at Comic-Con, but also allowing us to collaborate with various writers, artists and brands to support IPs that may not necessarily strike you as collector brands.”

Since launching in 2020, Mattel Creations has released several new collectible toy lines based on Mattel’s portfolio of IPs, including the Hot Wheels Collectors series, the Monster High Haunt Couture fashion doll collection and exclusive MEGA Collectors building sets.

Meanwhile, National Entertainment Collectibles Association (NECA) has embraced e-commerce for several years at conventions, establishing a six-week pre-order window on its online store to allow both show attendees and regular customers the opportunity to purchase exclusives.

“For customers who can’t go to the show, certainly there’s been a number of challenges in the last few years,” says NECA senior director Randy Falk. “It’s hard to get tickets for these shows. It’s expensive to travel, and San Diego generally sells out a year in advance. We’ve tried to make our system as fair as we can.”

The pre-order window has also been a helpful tool for helping NECA gauge supply and demand for exclusive products, adds Falk. By announcing its SDCC lineup by the end of May, the New Jersey-based toyco can quickly determine which items are selling the fastest, and adjust its production strategy accordingly.

NECA produced four convention exclusives this year: two four-packs for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; Dungeons & Dragons Lost Wave action figures; Wedding Greta from Gremlins 2; and a 40th-anniversary The Thing figure. The pre-orders are then fulfilled at either the on-site booth at the convention or shipped out two weeks later so consumers are getting the products at around the same time.

An emerging trend Falk has begun noticing is that, due to supply chain issues, some companies didn’t physically have their exclusives at the convention. “At the booths, it was a pre-order and fulfillment-later system, or QR codes that you could scan—but you’re still not getting the figure for several months,” he explains. “I usually come out with two gigantic tote bags or another full suitcase of stuff every year. This was the first time I left Comic-Con empty-handed.”

Despite some companies no longer fulfilling orders on the show floor, exclusive products are definitely here to stay, and they have become an important part of most modern conventions, Falk says. “Having these exclusives serves two main purposes: The marketing helps create awareness for different toy lines, and it helps offset the huge expense of doing these types of shows and events.”

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SOLUM exhibits Newton 4 & 7-Color ESL at EHI Connect 2022 – Retail News Today

SOLUM exhibits Newton 4 & 7-Color ESL at EHI Connect 2022 – Retail News Today – EIN Presswire

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Collectibles: All Quiet on the Western Front

I used to collect World War I Imperial German and U.S. arms and militaria. I’ve watched and read many books on the fighting that took place and studied the material culture. Over the past year or so I have been hearing about an upcoming film adaptation of the 1929 book All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, a German veteran of World War I. Seeing some of the trailers recently on social media, it looked like it was going to be pretty good, and I couldn’t wait for its release. It had been made into a film in 1930 and I’ve watched it numerous times over the years. I can see why it won five Academy Awards when it came out and to me it still stands the test of time today. 

Over the weekend I sat down to watch the much-anticipated new adaptation on Netflix. I tried to go into it with an open mind and then compile my thoughts after I watched it. A hard thing to do as many of you know who study martial material culture. But I did it the best I could.

So overall I enjoyed it as entertainment and there are a lot of historically accurate things. I thought the uniforms and equipment were correct for the most part. The scenes where they show the uniforms being taken off the dead and wounded, washed, mended, and reissued was thought provoking. As someone who really likes the Mauser Gewehr 98 infantry rifle, I noticed none of them had a cleaning rod, especially in the scene where they discussed keeping their G98s clean. A minor detail but a simple one to fix. The battle scenes were well done and gave you a sense of the brutal and horrific combat, but you could notice some of the CGI. As mentioned, I liked it as an entertaining movie.

But as far as a comparison to the book, it seemed off. While they added some things that I think enhanced the story, a lot of important things were missing, and it just didn’t have the same vibe as the book that the 1930 adaptation seemed to capture very well. The book really pushed the indoctrination of the young students before they went off to war, but the film didn’t give as much of an emphasis on that. They even changed the ending and how the main character dies. You could see what point the movie makers were trying to make, however again, it was a major alteration.

Anyway, I would recommend that those who have an interest watch the film and enjoy it for what it is. But if you haven’t read the book or watched the 1930 version, do that also. I think you will notice the differences and might even agree that it could have been better if they followed the book a little closer. Just my two pfennigs.  

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Changi Airport and Jewel Changi Airport launch Avatar and marine entertainment installations

Changi Airport Group has launched a series of Avatar installations at Jewel Changi Airport and in the T3 Departure Hall of Changi Airport in Singapore.

The installations have been inspired by the movie Avatar: The Way of Water, which will be released in cinemas on December 15, 2022. The settings, alongside a range of themed activities, will run from November 11, 2022, to January 2, 2023.

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The Avatar installations include a large replica of the home of the Na’vi where passengers can explore and see replicas of the residents. An Avatar-themed Light & Sound show is also available at the HSBC Rain Vortex, alongside digital screens displaying marine life at Canopy Park. With a combination of sound and light choreography, the water display of the 40m indoor waterfall features Avatar: The Way of Water creatures such as the Ilu and Tulkun. It will be visible from various spots around Jewel.

The airport has also installed 30 carnival game booths, rides and go-kart racing at the T3 Underground Carnival. The T3 Departure Hall (near Check-In Row 11) also features archer games win giveaways. There is also a chance to craft Mangrove Jellyfish. As part of this Avatar initiative, the airport group has launched a retail pop-up and some Changi-exclusive Avatar: The Way of Water merchandise at S$9.90 (US$7.20), which passengers can obtain by redeeming their receipts after spending a minimum of S$50 in the airport.

Canopy Park, at the topmost level of Jewel, also features mystical plants, glow-in-the-dark corals and interactive sea creatures, such as the dolphin, seal and manta ray. The park will glow into an ocean-themed sea of blue, pink, purple and teal with bioluminescent light displays. A cave tunnel has been lined with ceiling lights and water effects projections for an immersive underwater-like experience. Alongside this, the company has launched a marine life game named Oceantopia accessible via the iChangi app. In the game, players can explore four aquatic zones and gather marine life collectibles to help rebuild the ocean, and stand to win prizes such as the iPhone 14. Passengers’ footprints leave glowing blue bioluminescent waves on the interactive floor screen at Petal Garden where there is also a 4m smoke bubble tree.

Jewel Changi Airport has also relaunched its 16m Christmas tree which is surrounded by snowfall at the Shiseido Forest Valley. The snowfall is making a comeback this year with hourly snowfalls around the park between 7:00pm and 10:30pm. Sponsored by insurance company Prudential Singapore, the tree takes on an underwater theme in 2022. Visitors to Jewel can enter Shiseido Forest Valley via an oceanic tunnel, complete with underwater visual projections and audio. It will also provide tips on mental wellness and a restful space and will offer an interactive mood tracker poll to enable passengers to select from a variety of emotions at the end of the tunnel experience. Visitors can also check-in using Prudential’s digital health and wellness app, Pulse by Prudential, and win Pulse points to redeem rewards.

Jayson Goh, managing director of airport operations management at Changi Airport Group, said, “With the return of air travel and the re-opening of terminals, 2022 has been an exciting and eventful year for Changi Airport. To continue on a high, the beloved Changi Festive Village is making a comeback for the third year running. This year, we have a myriad of exciting activities that will delight even the youngest of visitors, including a time-traveling carnival, the breathtaking Avatar: The Way of Water-inspired centerpiece, relaxing glamps, sustainability-themed camps, workshops, and more. We hope that many will join us at Changi Airport for the year-end festivities, to soak in the holiday mood and create fond memories.”

James Fong, CEO of Jewel Changi Airport Devt., said, “With the year-end festivities and holiday cheer drawing near, Jewel is excited to welcome back crowd favorite activities like the snowfall and Christmas Light & Sound shows. We are thrilled to reimagine and transform Canopy Park into a whimsical underwater world and showcase the specially composed Avatar: The Way of Water-inspired Light & Sound show. The uniquely designed Prudential Singapore Jewel Christmas Tree experience with the ocean tunnel reminds us all to take a breather and look after our mental well-being amid the festive rush. With our many curated activities, we look forward to welcoming you and your family to have a splashing and sparkling time at Jewel.”

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Olin Park glows for 34th holiday season | News

MADISON (WKOW) — Signs of the holiday season are beginning to surface all around us, including a light display that wows here in Southern Wisconsin.

Holiday Fantasy in Lights returned to Olin Park in Madison for its 34th year Saturday.

Those behind the beloved light display say donations make it possible.

“We put it all back into the displays,” Mike Killian, business manager at IBEW Local 159 said.

Killian said donations’ impact can be seen in new additions this holiday season. There is both a brand-new light tunnel and a brand-new cheese display.

“It’s just something that, you know, we’ve been doing for the community and, and hopefully continue to do,” Killian said.

This year, a contactless donation option is available for guests via PayPal. On top of donations, volunteers are also a huge part of the light display.

“The retirees start in July. They work until set up, where the apprentices do all the setup,” Jackie Statz, assistant chapter manager of the Wisconsin chapter of the National Entertainment Collectibles Association, said.

Holiday Fantasy in Lights is free for cars to drive through. It runs from dusk until dawn every day through January 1st. 

“It is a free event, but at the end if you so choose to, please leave a donation so that we can make it bigger and better for next year,” Statz said.

27 News’ Senior Chief Meteorologist — Bob Lindmeier had the honor of helping Santa flip the switch to turn the lights on this year.

WKOW is a proud sponsor of the event.

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HUMBL Launches Digital Collectibles Program with Samoa Rugby League Team – Retail News Today

HUMBL Launches Digital Collectibles Program with Samoa Rugby League Team – Retail News Today – EIN Presswire

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