The Producer

Ready, willing and humble, Peter Lenkov is a master of entertaining art.

The fireball of electric energy that is Peter M. Lenkov starts his day like any other happily married family man with one exception: he is gearing up for a day of photos and interviews as the sought-after producer of CBS television’s “Hawaii Five-0”. Viewed from the road, the Lenkovs’ quietly elegant estate, nestled in an oak- and eucalyptus-lined California arroyo, belies its warm and stylish interior, designed by Lenkov’s wife, model/actress Audie England. Peter himself answers the door with a warm greeting, sweeping his guests inside, offering fruit, coffee and pastries as the day gets underway. Playing quietly on speakers throughout the house and grounds is Rickie Lee Jones, and then, coincidentally, Hawai‘i’s own Jack Johnson, setting the tone for the day’s groove. Two healthy goldfish swim happily in a bowl on the kitchen counter, adding to the mellow tempo of the morning. One of Lenkov’s four children—a twin—is present, daughter Courtney, who at various times during the day will play the role of hostess, grip, model and muse. His pair of Bouvier dogs watches the action through the French doors from the expansive shaded patio.


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Lenkov with his 1972 Chevy Cheyenne pickup, just one of many unique pieces in his vintage car and motorcycle collection. Photo by Mark Arbeit

One must be agile and quick to keep up with Lenkov, as he deftly moves among photographer requests, interview questions and his role as host. Posing on his lot in a leather Johnson Motors jacket while sitting on a red 1941 Servi-Lite motorbike next to a 1927 Westcraft travel-trailer-as- art (two samples of his vintage car and motorcycle collections), he spills out stories about his life and work. The interview and shoot continues inside, as Lenkov reclines in his theatre/library with a book on his favorite rock storyteller and early influence, Bruce Springsteen.

His father was a lighting manufacturer, his mother a homemaker, living a comfortable existence in the cosmopolitan city of Montreal and raising four children. Lenkov was the oldest son. The little house on 101st Street where he grew up was a far cry from balmy Honolulu, the city of his boyhood dreams as he and his father watched together the original “Hawaii Five-0” from their modest living room. Always the storyteller and a lover of the written word, Lenkov only imagined that he would someday be an integral part of the “reboot” of the series, re-introducing it to Hawai‘i and the world.

His father encouraged Lenkov and his siblings to follow their passions; when his brothers entered law school at McGill University, Lenkov followed suit. After a while, though, Lenkov’s creative nature took over, so he enrolled in Concordia Film School, where his rebel side began to emerge. A talented student but a poor follower, he marched to his own beat. Instructed to create an art film, he produced a music video, even providing popcorn to his audience to “round out the viewing experience.” A teacher labeled his work “entertainment” versus art. He disagreed; to him, those two were not mutually exclusive. Lenkov, the creator of entertaining art was born.

“By that time, I was 20 with only a grand to my name,” Lenkov explains. “And I left Concordia for California.” He enrolled in an eight-class Advanced Screenwriting course at UCLA; he got it in four. Soon, he was interning for a movie producer, doing mostly menial office tasks. Bored, he announced to the producer that he was a writer and had a script to show her. After reading it, she declared he had no talent for screenwriting,

The tenacious Lenkov took that as his cue to move on. With a dwindling bank account and eight scripts under his belt, “I used to pretend I was making a script delivery onto Paramount’s lot,” he confides. “Once I was there, I’d find ways to get my work noticed and knock on doors, leave notes on cars, maybe even leave a copy of one of my scripts, which were as varied as Woody Allen-type ‘guy turning 40’ pieces to cop dramas to science fiction.”

In those days, he drove a rusted-out 1964.5 Mustang around L.A. “It was a mess, and the interior reeked of spray paint from my misguided effort to spruce it up,” he chuckles. During his drives around town as he peddled his wares, he pondered his next move as he fought the urge to leave Hollywood. “I only had a broken boombox in my car for music, and it was chained to the back-seat so it wouldn’t get stolen,” Lenkov explains. “And it would only play one song from The Police, my only cassette.”

The repetitious score spawned a major revelation for him, and planted the seed for his first commercially successful script. He took his idea and his last hundred bucks and headed to Florida to visit his parents. There he researched heavily his idea and, in two weeks, wrote the script for the 1993 movie, “Demolition Man”, starring Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes. Lenkov says, “Writers should only write about what they know, but I was 20, and I knew everything. Luckily, I had an innate knowledge of cops and science fiction. And I had the belief that I could do it.”

This resulted in a bidding war for his unusual screenplay, ultimately picked up by Silver Pictures who had initially rejected the premise. Lenkov was on his way.

Hawai’i has been a draw for Lenkov since he was a boy, and producing the new “Hawaii Five-0” was his childhood dream come true. Peter had spent many years visiting the islands, but not Waikiki. “The first time I really spent any time in Waikiki was when we were shooting the pilot. I loved it right away and now I stay there when I’m in town,” he shares. To him, the islands have everything: country and city, and “the people are genuinely kind. The aloha spirit is a real thing,” he says. “Working in Hawai’i is a welcome experience for me. I work with happy, professional people, we produce a great show, and I get an almost daily chance to recalibrate and decompress. It’s not really in my nature to relax like this, yet here I do. And I’m still productive.”

The show is coming up on its 100th episode in January. “I’m so excited about this episode. Every day I ask myself, ‘How can I tell a better story’ So, we are going to present a ‘what if ‘ storyline with the characters,” he gushes. “I get to play with the storytelling, challenge the cast, challenge myself. It’s so satisfying for me, knowing the viewers are going to love it, and, with social media, I’ll be able to interact instantly with them.”

“I have no big regrets on how my life and career have evolved,” Lenkov says. “I feel extremely lucky to do this job.” Always the “do-it-now guy,” he says, “In my experience, you either go with the program, or, if you don’t like it, you change the program.” At the end of each “Hawaii Five-0” episode, the audience sees that little house in Montreal and a snowplow driving past. It’s an analogy for Lenkov of something that, early on, fuels his tenacity. “My father would always say, even though we plow and clear the driveway, be ready. There’s always another snowstorm coming right behind it.” Even in Hawai’i.

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