Hollywood producer Sam Sokolow grew up in Manhattan, where his parents worked in the film and publishing worlds. Summers meant the Hamptons and playing in a celebrity-studded summer softball league on Long Island with literary lights whose names meant nothing to young Sam.
“To me they were just my parents’ friends who played softball,” Sokolow (COM’91) says with a laugh. “When I was 10 years old, they let me pitch in this game, and my catcher was Carl Bernstein. And we went into the dugout and I said to him, ‘Carl, what is it that you do?’ This was like five years after Watergate.”
Eventually, Sokolow moved to shortstop and began turning double plays with second baseman Walter Isaacson. That name didn’t mean any more than Bernstein’s, but Isaacson, now president and CEO of the nonpartisan Aspen Institute, was a veteran Time journalist who became a best-selling biographer (Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, Kissinger: A Biography). Decades later, Sokolow’s company, EUE/Sokolow Entertainment, coproduced a screen adaptation of Isaacson’s 2008 book, Einstein: His Life and Universe.
The result is Genius, the National Geographic TV channel’s first scripted series, which airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. Oscar, Emmy, and Tony winner Geoffrey Rush plays a decidedly flawed, human Einstein, with Emily Watson as Einstein’s first wife and Johnny Flynn as the younger Einstein. Ron Howard directed the first episode, and Howard’s Imagine Entertainment is one of the companies behind the series, which was filmed in Prague. (Imagine will produce future seasons about other geniuses.) Genius has garnered largely positive reviews. New York Times critic Neil Genzlinger calls it “a skillfully acted, richly detailed historical show.” And from The Guardian: “a sassy, robust ride: whiplash-smart and littered with imaginative visual connections.”
Before Genius, Sokolow’s career included stints in TV commercial production and the independent film world, game shows, and series development. He quit his last day job in 1997; Genius premiered exactly 20 years later.