Mike Hopkins thought he had landed his dream job. It was in sales for a medical supply company, which would not only pay him more than his current job selling direct-mail advertising for a weekly shopper, but he’d also get a car as part of the deal.
It was a green Ford Taurus.
“With a tan interior. It was great,” Hopkins said, laughing at the memory. Hopkins drove that green car for 10 months selling medical supplies to various hospitals before moving on.
Hopkins now drives a Tesla, a car he can pay for himself as chairman of Sony Pictures Television, his latest stop on a career that has seen him rise from door-to-door sales after graduating from Long Beach State to directing television programming for one of the world’s biggest studios.
Hopkins started at Sony last December after a successful run at Hulu and still was learning the ins and outs at Sony, including the number of television shows his new company produces, such as “The Good Doctor,” “The Outlander” and “S.W.A.T.”
“I have a stack of power points I have to go through as well,” he said. “But ultimately I think it [the job] will be creating content and selling shows to everyone. We have 26 production entities globally.”
Hopkins also watches a lot of TV. Catch him in his office at lunchtime and you’re apt to find him sitting on one the sofas in there with his eyes glued to the 70-inch flat screen on his wall.
“I love TV. I love movies. I never thought I would be doing any of this,” he said.
The boyish Hopkins doesn’t look the part of a movie studio exec. He wears his graying hair cropped, his jeans in either blue or black, and open-collared shirts that only recently have been tucked in on request from his suit-and-tie boss.
And you will find that his sleeves are always rolled up, both literally and figuratively. It’s been a trademark of his since college.
Hopkins’ rise in Hollywood started in a business class at Long Beach State, not in front of bright lights in a theater. In fact, he wanted to be a professional baseball player and his idols wore uniforms, not costumes. But he saw his athletic dreams evaporate at Long Beach State after two seasons.
A relief pitcher, Hopkins said he wasn’t “that good” and was cut from the team when then-head coach Dave Snow took over in the late 1980s. That’s when he decided to focus on his business degree, graduating in 1990.
Trouble was, the country was in the midst of one of its longest recessions when he graduated and jobs were scarce, presenting recent grads with unexpected barriers. Undeterred by dwindling job numbers and the economy, though, Hopkins found a job selling ads for the now-defunct Pennysaver. He spent the next five years visiting yogurt shops, pizza parlors and car dealerships in pursuit of ads and commission checks.
Hopkins had made the switch to medical supply delivery when a former Dirtbags player, catcher Eric Shirley, told him about a sales job with the Weather Channel, part of the expanding FX Network. Hopkins said he didn’t know what the Weather Channel was at the time, but he jumped at the chance even if it meant giving up the car.
Selling ads for the Weather Channel was a challenge. Many cable systems were small-time operators, “so you literally had to drive around with a sales kits trying to convince them as to why they needed the Weather Channel in Southern California, where it’s always 72 and sunny.”
Hopkins wasn’t deterred, though, and simply continued to roll up his sleeves. His work ethic gained the attention of executives at Fox, where he stayed for 18 years.
“I had just got really fortunate at that time because it was the beginning of Rupert Murdoch’s quest to build a big cable business,” Hopkins said. “Every year, there was another channel to launch or we would buy a channel. It was a very small team that grew over time. But I was able to get more responsibility.”
For the last seven years at Fox, Hopkins was in charge of the distribution department, the studio’s largest revenue driver. He helped build the highly successful sports channels and others, such as National Geographic, and oversaw the way TV stations charged cable and satellite companies re-transmission fees.
From there, he tackled the world of digital streaming programming. Hopkins moved to Hulu, taking over the chief executive officer job in 2013. Hulu had made inroads in the streaming business by largely showing reruns of popular programs on a subscription basis. But that wasn’t good enough for Hopkins.
Not content with previously viewed programming, Hopkins began looking at original content and helped develop “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which became the first show by a streaming network to pick up best drama at the Emmy Awards – a major milestone in Hulu’s success story.
“It was an exciting day,” Hopkins said of hearing the Emmy nominations. “We were in a leadership meeting and kept checking our phones for about 25 minutes, as they were reading out names.”
Hopkins and his wife were in the audience at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles as “The Handmaid’s Tale” won a total of six Emmys, the most that evening.
“The team did a great job with the marketing initiative in getting the buzz out during that period,” he said, deflecting the praise. “When we won, it was great. My wife and I cried.”
In addition to Emmys, Hopkins guided the company’s move into pay TV, which offers live news, entertainment and sports, eventually tripling Hulu’s market valuation and his stature among the Hollywood set.
Taking over as chairman of one of the biggest studios is still new to Hopkins, but he already has big plans for Sony. He said his job will be to explore new opportunities and extend the brand into new markets and new technologies.
“The world is changing so fast,” he said.