Power Rangers: Haim Saban As a refugee growing up in Tel Aviv, Haim Saban remembers not having enough money to eat. As an adult, he hustled his way into the entertainment business, writing theme songs for classic cartoons like Inspector Gadget and Heathcliff. But producing the mega-hit Mighty Morphin Power Rangers put him on track to becoming a billionaire media titan. PLUS in our postscript "How You Built That," we check back with Chris Waters who created Constructed Adventures, elaborate scavenger hunts for all occasions. (Original broadcast date: March 27, 2017.)
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Power Rangers: Haim Saban

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Power Rangers: Haim Saban

Power Rangers: Haim Saban

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

Hey, it's Guy here. So you know how I usually get to ask our guest the question, how'd you get to where you got? Was it luck or skill or hard work or what? Well, with Hiam Saban, I actually never got around to asking that. But in this episode, you will still hear a lot about luck, a lot about hard work and a ton about Hiam's special skill, which is knowing a really good idea when he sees one. This episode first ran in March of last year, and I hope you enjoy it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

HAIM SABAN: I have to tell you that the biggest hits that I had in my life and in music and in television and in business have been always as a result of significant rejections and repeated rejections. So every time I have an idea that people tell me no, don't do that, I say, oops, I'm on to something.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: From NPR, it's HOW I BUILT THIS, a show about innovators, entrepreneurs, idealists and the stories behind the movements they built.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: I'm Guy Raz. And on today's show, how a group of spandex-wearing teenage superheroes called the Power Rangers helped turn Haim Saban into one of the richest men on Earth.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: If you asked Haim Saban what he does...

SABAN: I used to describe myself as a cartoon schlepper.

RAZ: Cartoon schlepper?

SABAN: Yeah. What I did for years is I went and knocked on doors and tried to sell cartoons all over the world. That's what a schlepper does.

RAZ: And he schlepped some of the biggest cartoons of the '80s and '90s - "Inspector Gadget," "X-Men" and of course his biggest hit, the "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers," which has just been revived as a blockbuster Hollywood feature.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "POWER RANGERS")

BECKY G: (As Trini) Me and four kids found a spaceship buried underground. I'm pretty sure I'm a superhero.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Cool.

RAZ: But we're getting ahead of ourselves here because long before the Power Rangers, long before Haim Saban was flying around the world on his private jet or hanging at his Beverly Hills mansion with Bill Clinton, he was just a poor Jewish kid living on a dusty street in Alexandria, Egypt.

SABAN: We lived in a very narrow street. We were a kind of lower-class family. My father was a salesman in a toy store, and my mother was a seamstress. We had family friends who were Egyptian Muslims, Egyptian Christians, Greeks, Italians. It was a pretty cosmopolitan city, Alexandria.

RAZ: But in 1956, shortly after the Suez war, many Egyptian Jews were accused of being traitors. So Haim's family had to flee to Israel. Haim was 12 at the time. And no one in his family spoke any Hebrew. In fact, they didn't know anyone in Israel. And when they got there, they were housed in a tiny apartment in a rough part of Tel Aviv.

SABAN: It was one room in an apartment that had three rooms. And the other two rooms were occupied by another couple and by a hooker and her pimp. And it was the five of us. And my father basically had a job selling pencils and erasers door to door. And some days he would sell three pencils. And some days he would sell no pencils. So it was, to say the least, a very hard life, yes.

RAZ: And do you remember going to school right away?

SABAN: Well, I didn't want to go to school, but my father thought I should be a lawyer. I mean, I wanted to make money, you know, because living under these conditions was not a very exciting prospect. So we compromised that I would work during the day and study at night.

So I'd wake up at 6. I'd go to be a runner in a travel agency. 4:30 in the afternoon I'd go to school until 9:30. 9:30 I come home. I do my homework in the staircase because obviously I couldn't do it in the room where the family was and go to sleep. And then every day was the same routine.

RAZ: Were you a good student as a kid?

SABAN: I was a pretty bad student. And the principal called my father and said, your son most probably is going to make a lot of money one day, but a student in academics he ain't going to be. And he ain't going to be no lawyer, so take him out of school. So my father sat me down and said, I need you to finish high school and finish with high grades. And then you can do whatever you want. But you must finish high school.

RAZ: And did you finish with high grades?

SABAN: Yes.

RAZ: Did you feel in any way being a Jew from an Arab country in Israel at that time that - I know you were sort of seen as sort of a lower or, like, a second-class citizen by Jews from European countries.

SABAN: Yes. I had a girlfriend whose parents were from Poland. And her mother said to her, if you bring that (speaking Hebrew), that black animal to the house, I'm going to jump off the balcony and kill myself.

RAZ: Wow.

SABAN: Yeah. So we would make out in the garden.

RAZ: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SABAN: Then I joined the army. I was in the infantry.

RAZ: And were you actually in combat, or did you have a different kind of job?

SABAN: It was at the beginning in combat unit. And then they realized that I would be much more efficient at organizing entertainment for the soldiers. So that's what they put me to do.

RAZ: Yeah.

SABAN: So my job was to put together bands and go from one post to the other. For example, I remember right after the Six Day War, we went down to the Sinai and drove from one position to the other with entertainers and entertained the soldiers in each position. That's what we did.

RAZ: I mean, obviously that foretold what you would do with your life. You would become a person in the entertainment industry. But was that your first exposure to being in an entertainment environment, to actually organizing those things?

SABAN: Yes. Well, that's the job they gave me.

RAZ: Yeah.

SABAN: You know, I don't know why they gave me that job. I had no background in it other than the fact that I played guitar a little bit. But that's the job they assigned me to, so I did the job I was assigned to.

RAZ: And was that what led you to kind of think, well, maybe I should pursue this after the army?

SABAN: No. What led me to join a band after I left the army was simply the necessity to make some money and get out of that room and support my family, you know, so that my father didn't have to go door to door selling pencils.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SABAN: At the time, there was no television in Israel. There was radio. And they used to play, you know, Beatles songs. And in our band, the lead singer sounded exactly like McCartney. So we were pretty successful even though I was a pretty lousy bass player.

RAZ: I've read that you actually were so bad that you would turn down the amp so people wouldn't hear your bass playing.

SABAN: Well, just at the beginning.

RAZ: Yeah. So did you eventually get good at it?

SABAN: No.

RAZ: No. OK.

SABAN: I was never good enough, which is why one day the two brothers that were kind of the basis of the band - the lead singer, and his brother was the solo guitarist - came up to me and said, why don't you be our manager and - because you're holding us back musically?

RAZ: (Laughter).

SABAN: And I couldn't be happier. So one of the happiest days of my life was the day I put down my guitar at my last gig. And I became a manager. And then you manage one band, then you manage two bands. And then you build a business around that.

RAZ: So at some point you left Israel. You moved out, right?

SABAN: Well, first I became a tour promoter in Israel. And I brought many artists to Israel from Ray Charles to Jose Feliciano, Blood Sweat and Tears and many others.

RAZ: But how were you doing this as a 20-something-year-old kid? You were just hustling? You were just convincing people that you were the guy to make this happen?

SABAN: Mark Zuckerberg at 24 has built Facebook, so at 24 I was able to bring Jose Feliciano to Israel. What the heck?

RAZ: Yeah, fair enough.

SABAN: You're supposed to be doing stuff. You know, you're not supposed to be sitting and counting on your parents.

RAZ: OK. So at some point you moved to - I guess to Paris. When did you decide to do that and why?

SABAN: Well, I moved to Paris simply because Israel was really from a business standpoint too small on me. And despite my "success," quote, unquote, I was in debt of $600,000.

RAZ: Wait. You were - you had $600,000 in debt in Israel? How old were you?

SABAN: By the time that happened, I was 29.

RAZ: How did you accrue all that debt, by the way?

SABAN: Well, I had a big group of harpists from Japan in October of 1973 ready to tour the country. And the Yom Kippur War took us all by surprise. So obviously there were no concerts. There was no shows. There was no way for them to even leave 'cause the airport was closed. I had to return the money I had paid them in advance.

And I had a couple of other bumps in the road again that had nothing to do with me, which is the devaluation of the Israeli pound. Which meant that we had big shows lined up where all of the expenses were in dollars and the revenues were in Israeli pounds. With the devaluation of the pounds, we played to full houses and were losing money every night. So these two things compounded got me to $600,000 in debt.

RAZ: Were you freaking out, I mean, thinking, how am I ever going to pay this back?

SABAN: No, I don't think I was freaking out. I was in a total state of panic, though.

RAZ: (Laughter).

SABAN: You know, freaking out assumes you still have some control. But when you're having a massive panic attack, you have no control.

RAZ: So what did you do?

SABAN: So I moved to France. And so I signed this 9-year-old who sounded like an adult. And he was a fantastic singer, a 9-year-old singer in Israel.

RAZ: You thought he was going to help you pay off this debt.

SABAN: Well, I got very lucky. I got very lucky.

RAZ: How did you get lucky? What happened?

SABAN: Oh, you know what being lucky means? It means having the skill to grab the luck when it's presented to you.

RAZ: And what was the luck that was presented?

SABAN: Well, this first record that I produced went platinum.

RAZ: With this 9-year-old Israeli?

SABAN: With this 9-year-old.

RAZ: What was his name?

SABAN: Noam. N-O-A-M.

RAZ: How did the song go? Do you remember?

SABAN: (Singing in French).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIFFICILE DE CHOISIR")

NOAM: (Singing in French).

RAZ: So you basically strike gold with this - or platinum I guess - with this record. And you've got a career I guess in France. Like, at this point, do you - what did you do? Did you start a production company in France, in Paris?

SABAN: I started a production company. Then I set up my own label. And I sold over a period of eight years that I lived there on my own label more than 18 million records.

RAZ: Wow. How did you even know how to cut deals in Paris? Like, I mean, you get there as an Israeli. Obviously you spoke some French from your childhood, or you spoke pretty good French. But how did you even know how to wheel and deal and, you know, get a studio together and find distributors?

SABAN: I have no idea.

RAZ: (Laughter) You just started knocking on doors?

SABAN: Oh, yeah. Knocking on doors is what we do, right? I mean, you know, all businesspeople knock on doors. All salesmen knock on doors. But I learned it on the job I guess. You know, I don't know. I never produced a record in my life when I produced that first record.

RAZ: Yeah. So why did you decide to move to the U.S. I guess in the early '80s?

SABAN: Well, I bought a house here in 1978, and I moved here in 1983.

RAZ: Yeah. And what did you intend to do in LA?

SABAN: I was planning to basically continue doing the same thing, which is creating, producing and distributing music. And therefore, I built a studio in Studio City. And we started creating music for cartoons.

RAZ: Why cartoons? How did you even get into that world at all?

SABAN: Well, I studied how music is paid for in America by ASCAP and BMI.

RAZ: These are the publishing agencies, right?

SABAN: These are the publishing agencies. That's right. They are as representatives - collection agencies is what they are.

RAZ: They pay royalties and things like that.

SABAN: And they pay royalties, right.

RAZ: OK. Yeah.

SABAN: So when I realized how much money there is in this, I thought, oh, that would be a good idea.

RAZ: And was it because there were - it was music in cartoons or just any music?

SABAN: It's any music. But music - cartoons' music - it can be very profitable. And here's the reason why.

RAZ: Yeah.

SABAN: If you look at a sitcom, there are musical stings. So they have cumulatively maybe two minutes of music, maybe three. But on a cartoon, you have wall to wall music. And because these collection agencies pay based on the number of unit minutes that air, you would make a lot more money from the music on, you know, a little-known cartoon than you would make on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" or "The Cosby Show" - a lot more money on a cartoon.

RAZ: How did you figure that out?

SABAN: I called ASCAP and I said, can you explain to me please the hockety-pockety-mockety (ph)? And I called BMI, can you please explain to me mickety-bookety-bokety (ph)? And then I sat down and I calculated, and I concluded that being a member of BMI is the right way to go. And I went for it.

RAZ: And how did you create cartoon music? What did you do?

SABAN: Well, I went and I knocked on door of different cartoon producers. And I made them an offer they couldn't refuse.

RAZ: What was the offer?

SABAN: And I said to them, I'll give you the music for free if you let me keep both the publisher's share as well as the composer's share. And people said, well, that's not a bad deal. We normally pay all these composers for that. And you'll do it for free? Yeah, I'll do it for free. I'll just keep the royalties.

RAZ: So what cartoons did you make music for?

SABAN: (Singing) Da-ba-da-ba-da (ph) "Inspector Gadget."

RAZ: Yeah.

SABAN: There you go, amongst many others. We worked for Hanna-Barbera and Ruby-Spears and DiC, Filmation, "He-Man," just, you know, tons and tons of cartoons. At one point, my music partner and I were the top writers at BMI.

RAZ: Do you remember the "Heathcliff" one?

SABAN: (Singing) Heathcliff, Heathcliff, you're the one.

RAZ: No, no, no, no. (Singing) Heathcliff, Heathcliff, no one should terrorize the neighborhood.

SABAN: Are you a fan of my music?

RAZ: Yeah, huge fan.

SABAN: OK. This is good.

(SOUNDBITE OF "HEATHCLIFF" THEME)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) But Heathcliff just won't be undone. You should realize he can win it with you.

RAZ: So, I mean, how are you getting all of this music composed?

SABAN: Well, at a given point we had so much work, there was no way that one or two composers can satisfy, you know, the hundreds of episodes that we were scoring.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SABAN: So we at one point had 12 studios.

RAZ: Twelve studios just making music for cartoons.

SABAN: Twelve studios making music for cartoons. When people ask me, what do you do, I say I make music for cartoons. I could see the compassion in their eyes.

RAZ: Because they thought that...

SABAN: I got to tell you, there was no room for compassion. I was making money hand over fist.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: All right, so a huge of course turning point in your life I guess happens when you discover this Japanese live-action show which of course became the "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers." But tell me; how did you come across this whole concept? What happened?

SABAN: Well, in 1984, I was in Japan and, you know, stretching on my bed and the TV on. There were only three channels, two of them showing game shows or some other reality-based that I didn't understand a word. And third channel had these kids in spandex kicking monsters' butts. And I thought, hey, this looks like fun.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SABAN: It all of a sudden dawned on me that once they turn into superheroes - meaning into Power Rangers - and they have their masks on and they're kicking monster butts, it could be anywhere. So all of the action scenes, which is what costs the most money, were basically accounted for.

So I thought, well, if I shoot an American segment with American kids in an American environment and I tie this up into the action sequence, I can create a show for very little money because all the action scenes I would purchase. And that sounded to me like a great idea, never mind the fact that I truly enjoyed the show.

RAZ: It's funny. I remember 'cause I was - when I was a child, we lived in Japan from 1979 to 1982. And I remember when I saw "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" on television in America, I recognized it immediately as a show that I watched as a kid in Japan. What was the show called in Japanese, by the way?

SABAN: "Zyuranger," meaning "10 Rangers" in Japanese.

RAZ: So you bought this in I guess 1986, around then.

SABAN: No, I bought it in '84. And I schlepped it - remember; cartoon schlepper, schlepper. Yeah. And I schlepped it for eight years.

RAZ: What do you mean? You tried to - you went around trying to pitch people on the show for eight years?

SABAN: Yes.

RAZ: And why did you think it would work?

SABAN: Well, I just loved it. And I thought that it's got so many elements that we at the time didn't see on American TV. And then I said to myself, my goodness, it's been on for, like, 20 years or something in Japan with such success. Why in the world wouldn't it work here?

I know that some people look at it as a campy, cheesy - I don't know, I heard all kinds of definitions. To me, it's a lot of fun show. And every time I'd look at the pilot over and over again that I was using to pitch the show, I just couldn't figure out why people don't see it.

RAZ: And what did they say when you showed it to them?

SABAN: They said, why do you embarrass yourself?

RAZ: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: Haim Saban, creator of the "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" - in a moment, we're going to find out how he not only found a home for his show but figured out how to buy his very own kids' TV channel on someone else's dime. I'm Guy Raz, and you're listening to HOW I BUILT THIS from NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: Hey, welcome back to HOW I BUILT THIS from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. So it's 1992, and Haim Saban has been trying to sell his idea for the "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" to anyone who would listen. And pretty much no one is interested - that is, until he gets a meeting with an executive at Fox named Margaret Loesch. And unlike everyone before her, Margaret actually likes it.

SABAN: She's the only person who said, there's something there. There's something there. So she orders the show to air in 1993.

RAZ: Yeah.

SABAN: And we go and produce 40 episodes to be stripped on the Fox Kids Network, which at the time is the No. 1 outlet for kids.

RAZ: Yeah.

SABAN: I'm producing it, meaning I'm just there with every script, every outline, every frame, every daily, every sound effect, every piece of music, every casting. I'm not, you know, letting this thing go to anybody.

RAZ: Yeah.

SABAN: And basically, once we produce it, there's a mutiny at Fox from Rupert Murdoch on down and the group of affiliates who basically say, this is horrible; we're not going to air it.

RAZ: (Laughter) And so this executive, Margaret Loesch, she - I mean - what? - she goes to bat for you?

SABAN: So what she said - she said, look. I can't fight all my bosses, et cetera. I understand all of that. So I'm going to air it early in the morning in the summer. And I'm going to air it for eight weeks, right?

RAZ: Yeah. This is summer of '93.

SABAN: Correct.

RAZ: OK.

SABAN: And then I'm going to take it off, and we'll call it a day. I said, you know what? I'll take it. I'll take whatever you give me.

RAZ: Right. And did you - by the way, you owned the rights to the show. It was still...

SABAN: A hundred percent.

RAZ: OK. So you take this deal because you had no other choice. You had to take it, I guess.

SABAN: That's right.

RAZ: Yeah.

SABAN: And she believed in it. Well, her boss even told her that she's playing her career by putting this show on - just scrap it.

RAZ: Wow.

SABAN: But she believed in it. And she just put it on. And within less than a week, it beat every other show...

RAZ: Wow.

SABAN: ...Across it. It generated the highest rating of any show on Fox Kids. It beat - at the time you had "Looney Tunes" or "Tiny Toons" (ph). You had "Batman." You had all these shows that were the hit of Fox Kids. And it delivered double, triple the ratings of all these shows.

RAZ: So of course that eight weeks was renewed - right? - right away.

SABAN: Well, yeah. She moved it to the afternoon right away because it was such a monster hit for her.

RAZ: And, you know, I know I asked you this, but I'm still trying to figure it out. Like, how did you know this was going to be a hit?

SABAN: It's called in Yiddish kishka (ph), meaning in my gut. Gut is many times more important than brain. I have to tell you that the biggest hits that I had in my life and in music and in television and in business have been always as a result of significant rejections and repeated rejections. So every time I have an idea that people tell me no, don't do that, I say, oops, I'm on to something.

RAZ: And you - I mean, when that happened, when that show was a hit, did you go to other people, say, I told you this was going to work? Or were you just sort of...

SABAN: I didn't have time to go tell people or whatever. I got my own problems. What do you want from me?

RAZ: So OK. OK. So "Power Rangers" is doing great. And I guess at this point, you've got the production company. It's called Saban Entertainment.

SABAN: Yes.

RAZ: And then about a year later, I think it was, that Fox approaches you to buy your production company.

SABAN: Well, I'm approached by Rupert Murdoch himself at the time.

RAZ: This is when, around '94, '95?

SABAN: '94. And he has all kinds of concepts that he's putting on the table. And I was holding firm for no money would exchange hands. We would put our content into a joint venture, and he would put the network into that joint venture.

RAZ: You were basically saying yes, you - I'm not looking to sell my company to you. I'm looking to create a joint venture with you.

SABAN: Correct. I realized that it's really great to have a great piece of content that is a game changer for a network, but to own that network was the goal I have set for myself.

RAZ: All right, so let me get this clear. Fox Kids is coming to you and saying, we want to buy your production company and all your cartoons. And you're saying, I'm only going to let you have that if you give me half of Fox Kids. Is that right?

SABAN: Yes.

RAZ: OK, so I'm just trying to figure out why Rupert Murdoch would take that deal. I mean, couldn't he just do all of this without you?

SABAN: Well, he asked Margaret Loesch, who was running Fox Kids, to duplicate what Haim has done, including his international distribution and presence worldwide. How long will it take you? And she said, I can do it, but it might take me five years plus.

RAZ: And he wanted that network right away.

SABAN: He wanted a presence in that category.

RAZ: Yeah.

SABAN: And by doing this joint venture with me, he was instantly in the worldwide kids business.

RAZ: So he basically agreed to give you half of Fox Kids Network in exchange for your distribution network and the cartoons that you had. But then at that point, you owned half of the kids network.

SABAN: Yes.

RAZ: I mean, a pretty incredible gamble you took because you rejected his original offer.

SABAN: Yeah. I mean, I wasn't going to do anything else.

RAZ: Yeah.

SABAN: I wasn't going to bring in a partner in a company I owned a hundred percent of.

RAZ: Yeah. So what do you guys do at that point? What's your next move?

SABAN: Well, the next move is I called Chase Carey and Margaret Loesch one day.

RAZ: Chase Carey was also at Fox. He was a...

SABAN: Chase Carey was the chief operating officer at Fox. And I said, look. I got this idea. We should be in the 24/7 kids business.

RAZ: Yeah.

SABAN: And there's only one channel that is not part of the big conglomerate and that has full distribution that we can buy. And that's The Family Channel, owned by Pat Robertson.

RAZ: The televangelist.

SABAN: Correct.

RAZ: And basically you wanted Fox to help you convince Pat Robertson to sell it.

SABAN: Right. And they said to me, well, he would never sell. I said, well, how about we ask about that as a concept? So they meet with Pat Robertson. Pat Robertson - they call me afterwards and they say, Pat Robertson is not a seller, but Chase is going to meet with his son Tim.

RAZ: This is Tim Robertson, Pat Robertson's son.

SABAN: Correct. And maybe they'll try to find some kind of corporation. He meets with Tim a few days later. And I say, can I come? And he said no, no, no. We'll - I'll handle it. I said, OK, fine.

RAZ: They didn't want you there because they thought you were going to be a pain in the neck?

SABAN: Because maybe they were concerned that I would be too pushy or - I don't know. I don't know. The answer is I don't know. I just didn't care. All I cared about was the result. I didn't care. So he goes to the meeting with Tim.

RAZ: Yeah.

SABAN: He comes back and he says, nothing to do. I said, OK, you're done. They said, we're done. I said, OK, I want you to come to a dinner with Tim and myself.

RAZ: Wait. Wait. You said that you should be - you should have a dinner with Tim. And you said, let me have a shot at this; let me see if I can convince him.

SABAN: Right. And we sat, the three of us, at dinner. And I said what I said to Tim. We left the dinner with a deal in principle.

RAZ: What did you say to him that made him...

SABAN: I don't want to get into what I told him. I want to get into - I can tell you that Chase told me at the end of the dinner, you're crazy, man. What are you doing? I said, don't worry about it. We'll figure it out.

RAZ: You basically were hustling this deal.

SABAN: Hustling has a bit of a negative...

RAZ: No, it's - not at all, not anymore. Not true.

SABAN: You speak English better than I do. Hustling is not negative?

RAZ: Not negative anymore, no. Yeah.

SABAN: OK, so I was hustling. OK, good. I was hustling.

RAZ: OK. You were hustling. And Robertson then says, OK, we have a deal.

SABAN: Yeah. We had some sort of joint venture concept that we agreed upon that through the negotiations evolved into basically us buying the whole channel.

RAZ: And Fox paid for the whole thing.

SABAN: Yeah.

RAZ: And what'd they pay?

SABAN: 1.9 billion.

RAZ: Which - that sounds like a lot of money. What - was it a good deal?

SABAN: No. It was not a good deal. It was a fantastic deal.

RAZ: (Laughter) OK. So you have the deal. And you bought this - what was a Christian cable channel. And then you transition it into a kids' channel. Was that - was it hard to do that?

SABAN: No. Look. I mean, we converted the channel from a channel that targeted people 80-plus - 80 years old plus. It was a disaster zone, you know, from a demographic standpoint, so we struggled for a couple of years.

And then as we were turning the corner, I realized that we had built a company that was worth between five and $5 1/2 billion competing with companies that were worth 10 to 20 times that - the Disneys of this world and the Warner Brothers and so on. So I came to the conclusion that it's time to sell.

RAZ: So wait. This is about, like, five years in.

SABAN: Yes.

RAZ: And so you have this channel, Fox Family. And then you decide you want to sell it. I mean, you owned half of it. But then Fox owned half of it. So how did - like, how were you able to sell?

SABAN: So I had the right based on my contract with Fox to put my share to them, which I did. And we set to negotiate. They told me that they thought my share was worth half a billion. I told them that my share is worth 2 billion. Let's sit down and talk.

RAZ: Yeah. But half a billion dollars - that's a lot of money. I mean, wow.

SABAN: No, 2 billion is more.

RAZ: But you could have walked away at that point with half a billion dollars. And you would have been a very...

SABAN: I wasn't going to walk away with a half a billion dollars. There was not a shot in hell I was going to do that.

RAZ: OK.

SABAN: My stake in the company is worth 2 billion. That's what I thought.

RAZ: So what did you end up doing?

SABAN: So I didn't want to get into a pissing match with my partner. So I said, OK, well, you know, give me a proxy to sell it. If I can sell it for $4.5 billion, would you sell it with me, sell your share? They said yes. Then I ended up selling it for 5.3 billion.

RAZ: Wait. How did you do that?

SABAN: Well, there were two potential buyers.

RAZ: OK.

SABAN: One was CBS, and the other one was Disney. And Disney was really very interested in the assets. And they ended up putting up the right amount of money for the asset.

RAZ: I mean, that meant that you probably walked away with easily with more than a billion dollars.

SABAN: 1 1/2 billion.

RAZ: So you become a billionaire overnight.

SABAN: Yes.

RAZ: Why was it so important for you to get a billion and a half dollars rather than half a billion, right? I mean, was it the money that was that was important, or was it the principle, or was it something else?

SABAN: It's not about what was important to me. It was more about what is fair. I mean, that was the fair price for the asset.

RAZ: I mean, was money - was getting - becoming really rich - did that motivate you?

SABAN: You know, it wasn't only money, but it was also money. Money is a marker to success.

RAZ: Yeah. I mean, we could continue this conversation and talk about you bought Univision in 2006. And then, you know, you created an investment fund. Like that's - is it work? Is it getting to a higher number? Is it recognition? What is it that motivates you? Is it just the joy of working? Like, what is it that keeps you going every day?

SABAN: Look; I don't collect stamps, and I don't play golf.

RAZ: Yeah.

SABAN: You know, I don't have hobbies other than playing my guitar. This is my hobby, you know, getting deals done and making investments and so on. And look; it allows me to do things that I truly enjoy, which is give a lot of money back to this incredible country that has given me so much opportunity, the United States, and Israel, which took me in when I was a refugee. So there's a lot of gratification in that.

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RAZ: When you look in the mirror in the morning, do you see Haim Saban, the sort of billionaire mogul, or do you see that kid who was, you know, doing his homework in the stairwell of a, you know, modest apartment building in Tel Aviv with nothing?

SABAN: I see neither. I don't see myself as a mogul, nor do I see myself as a impoverished child. I just see a guy hurrying up to his next phone call or next meeting.

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RAZ: That's Haim Saban. Today he runs an investment firm called the Saban Capital Group. And last year, just weeks after this episode first ran, Hiam sold the rights to the "Power Rangers" franchise to Hasbro, the toy company. The deal was reportedly worth $522 million.

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RAZ: I'm glad that you remember the theme song to "Inspector Gadget."

SABAN: (Singing) Da-ba-da-ba-da, Inspector Gadget.

RAZ: (Singing) Inspector Gadget. Right? What a song.

SABAN: It is one of the best theme songs I think ever. It really is.

RAZ: Yeah.

SABAN: It's almost as good as (singing) go, go, Power Rangers.

RAZ: That's a power pop song though.

SABAN: You know, that's a classic. That's like, you know, "Moon River" or something, you know.

RAZ: (Laughter) Whoo.

SABAN: Yes. Yes, I thought that would cause you a whoo.

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UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Go go, Power Rangers. Go go, Power Rangers.

RAZ: And please do stick around because in just a moment, we're going to hear from you about the things you're building.

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RAZ: Hey, thanks for sticking around because it's time now for How You Built That. And today we're going to update a story we ran about a year ago. And back then, Chris Waters would wake up every morning and head to his job as an account manager at a software company.

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CHRIS WATERS: Yeah, it's a cubicle job. It's just desk, phone, usually talking to relatively unhappy people.

RAZ: Now, as you can imagine, Chris prefers to talk to relatively happy people, which explains how he started his side business a few years back. He was on the website Reddit, and Reddit has this thing around Christmastime where they'll connect you with a total stranger, and then you can send them a gift.

WATERS: And I got matched with this guy who lived 20 minutes away. And I was thinking about what to give him and what I could do with this great opportunity where he lived so close.

RAZ: And Chris was thinking way beyond the scope of this whole Secret Santa thing. You know, he didn't want to just send a boring gift card or a snack box. And fortunately...

WATERS: I was hosting a weekly poker game with my friends, and I had just happened to have won five weeks in a row. And so I had a lot of extra money.

RAZ: Like, almost $2,000 in extra money. And Chris thought, why not just pay it forward and put together this really elaborate and expensive Secret Santa gift?

WATERS: I like doing things for other people. I like creating something special and magical. And if you have the opportunity to do something truly spectacular for someone, including an Internet stranger, you should take that opportunity.

RAZ: OK, so it's important to mention here that Chris is really into scavenger hunts and buried treasure and planting clues - you know, stuff like that. So for his Secret Santa guy, Chris wound up planning this incredible, day-long adventure.

WATERS: At 8 a.m., a century-old suitcase filled with envelopes and a box with a chain wrapped around it was hand-delivered to his door.

RAZ: This was all happening around Scottsdale, Ariz., by the way.

WATERS: They got to a place where there was an envelope with two tickets to the zoo. And at the animal pens, there was kind of a cipher that you used to decode the message. And then it sent them to a restaurant where the server said, we've been expecting you.

RAZ: Anyway, Chris wound up spending something like $600 of his poker money on tickets and tchotchkes and clues, meals, all for this total stranger. And at the end of this incredible day, Chris actually met up with the guy at a local bar. His name is Blaine. And as you might guess, Blaine was pretty blown away.

WATERS: And a couple days later, Blaine posted to Reddit. And it just blew up.

RAZ: Blaine's post about his Secret Santa experience went to number one on Reddit's front page. And so Chris started to get inundated with messages.

WATERS: Just people commenting and privately messaging, saying, you need to do this in Vegas. You to do one here. I live in England. Can you come over here and do this? And then businesses saying, we would like to be a part of this.

RAZ: And that is how Chris started his business, Constructed Adventures. He puts together these personalized scavenger hunts and day-long excursions for people's birthdays and marriage proposals and stuff like that. And it's pretty good money.

WATERS: Minimum, it's probably going to cost them about $2,000 for the whole shebang.

RAZ: Anyway, just days before we ran Chris' story last year, he'd actually submitted his letter of resignation at that boring office job, and he started to do Constructive Adventures full time.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

WATERS: I honestly - I should be more nervous, and I should be scared. But if I can quit my job and spend my life doing that for other people, I'd say that's a pretty good life.

RAZ: Since we last spoke to Chris, he's planned 24 more adventures, and he's made around a hundred thousand dollars in revenue. And he's also been approached by a production company that wants to do a TV show about him and his business.

If you want to learn more about Constructed Adventures or hear previous episodes, head to our podcast page, howibuiltthis.npr.org. And of course if you want to tell us your story, go to build.npr.org. As always, we'd love to hear what you're up to. And thanks so much for listening to the show this week. You can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And while you're there, please do give us a review. You can also write us directly at hibt@npr.org. And if you want to send a tweet, it's @HowIBuiltThis.

Our show was produced this week by Ramtin Arablouei, who also composed the music. Thanks also to J.C. Howard, Nour Coudsi, Neva Grant, Sanaz Meshkinpour, and Jeff Rogers. Our intern is Mia Venkat (ph). I'm Guy Raz, and you've been listening to HOW I BUILT THIS from NPR.

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