Television Producer Eli Holzman ’92 Delivers the Keynote Commencement Address at Bronx Science’s 94th Commencement Ceremony

A prolific figure in the television industry, Holzman is most known for creating the hit reality series ‘Project Runway’ and producing ‘Undercover Boss.’


James Carroll

Eli Holzman ’92, the Founder and CEO of The Intellectual Property Corporation and the President of Sony Pictures Television Nonfiction, will deliver the Keynote Commencement Address at Bronx Science’s 94th Commencement Ceremony.

In his first year at SUNY Binghamton, Eli Holzman ’92 sat drawing a Valentine’s Day card next to his roommate. Holzman knew him as a prodigious accountant, the best student in their shared finance class. As they each worked with their colored pencils, however, Holzman looked over at his friend, and realized that his card was terrible. 

“I suddenly realized the reason his card sucks is because he’s an accountant, and I’m not. In a bolt out of the blue, I was like ‘I’m in the wrong place,’” Holzman said.

Holzman had decided to study finance because he believed he needed to make money before becoming a film producer, but after this incident, he realized that the place he most needed to be was not on Wall Street, but instead in the entertainment industry. Four Emmys, a handful of internationally famous television shows, and countless hundred-hour weeks later, he still remembers this as one of his first moments of clarity about his artistic inclinations and career.

Holzman delivered the Keynote Commencement Address to Bronx Science’s graduating Class of 2022 on June 23rd, 2022. As a former Number 4 train rider and Bronx Science student from the Class of 1992, the school has always held a special place in his heart. It was at Bronx Science, he says, that he met his best friends, including the one who first attracted him to the idea of being a producer. 

Although Holzman and his friend’s high school dream of becoming a screenwriter-producer duo did not manifest itself, they each individually pursued their goal of working in the entertainment industry. Soon after dropping the idea of working in finance, Holzman was hired as an intern at Miramax. 

“I always knew I needed to work hard to distinguish myself,” Holzman said of the experience. “So they said ‘Come in three days a week’ – I showed up five days a week. They said ‘You can work from 11 to 5’ – I made sure I was the first one there in the morning and the last to leave. I always kept myself busy.”

Within a month, Miramax offered him a job. Holzman began working hundred-hour weeks, and he was eventually charged with creating and heading the company’s television wing. 

It was at Miramax Television that Holzman created Project Runway. Originally, his higher-up at the company wanted him to produce a show about models, but after being turned down by several networks, Holzman thought to shift the show’s focus to designers. He was sent to meet with Heidi Klum and Naomi Campbell, and once Klum came on board, Bravo decided to buy the show. 

Holzman was largely responsible for devising the format of Project Runway. It was his idea that there should be ten designers and that each be paired with a model and have to work with a particular material and twist. He drew the original logo, with Project Runway displayed in a runway-reminiscent block, and picked the name, which is inspired by Project Greenlight, another project of his.

One of Holzman’s favorite aspects of Project Runway is that it was the first show to depict people with creative skills going head-to-head in a real way. The second is what he saw at the end of many episodes. 

“I’m imagining, final assignment, clock’s ticking down, they’re running out of time, frantically trying to get the last stitches in, they’re going to now betray each other,” he said. “But when that moment actually came, and people were under the wire, the designers started helping each other. I thought that was a really beautiful thing to put on television.”

After leaving Miramax, Holzman worked as a top executive at Katalyst, Ashton Kutcher’s production company, and then as an independent producer. In 2008, he co-founded Studio Lambert USA, which eventually merged with other production companies to become All3Media America.

At All3Media America, Holzman launched and produced Undercover Boss. The show centers on chief executives who pretend to be entry-level employees in order to discover issues within their company. Beyond entertainment, it was a tool for strengthening the companies it depicted and highlighting the work of everyday employees. 

To Holzman, reality television is a mirror, reflecting not only the lives of people whom society deems to be interesting, but also offering lessons that viewers can use to make the world a better place. Undercover Boss is one example of this, as are projects like We’re Here, which follows a trio of drag queens as they provide mentorship to LGBTQ+ teens in small town America. Holzman’s goal is not to make programming that reveals, in his words, “people throwing chardonnay at each other,” but rather to call attention to subjects worth listening to.

“If people are consuming what we create, then we have a duty about what we put into the world, and the ideas that we put in the world should encourage better behavior,” he told me. “I hope that’s in all of the shows that I make.”

Considering the prominence of his position in the entertainment industry, Eli Holzman is surprisingly humble. He referred to his career as an “accident” multiple times.      

“I think of Bronx Science as a very special, elite place. I am proud to tell anyone that I went to that school,” he said. “The idea that I would be an alumnus deemed worthy of giving the Commencement Address is more special to me than any of the professional accolades I’ve ever received.”

Holzman said the most important message he wanted to impart to the graduating class with his Keynote Commencement Address is to “choose wisely.” It is certain that throughout Holzman’s career, he has made good on following his own advice.  Click HERE to watch the Class of 2022 graduation video, including Holzman’s Keynote Commencement Address, which begins at the 34 minute, 29 second mark (34:29).

“I think of Bronx Science as a very special, elite place. I am proud to tell anyone that I went to that school,” said Eli Holzman ’92. “The idea that I would be an alumnus deemed worthy of giving the Commencement Address is more special to me than any of the professional accolades I’ve ever received,” he said.