It's All About Business
Former litigator Winograde keeps an eye on the bottom line at ABC
By Ben Grossman -- Broadcasting & Cable, 4/29/2007 8:00:00 PM
Heading up business affairs for a major network is a pinnacle for anyone who has always wanted to work in the television industry. But, for Jana Winograde, who holds that position at ABC, that was never the case.
“I grew up in Los Angeles as the only person who didn't want to be in the business,” she says. “Or maybe, because I grew up in Los Angeles, I didn't want to be in the business.”
Despite her reservations, the new head of business affairs for ABC Entertainment, ABC Daytime and SOAPnet ended up with a career that thrust her into some of the industry's most memorable situations, from the courtroom during the O.J. Simpson murder trial to the talks that led to the landmark ABC-Apple iTunes deal.
As she finished law school at the University of California at Berkeley, television wasn't remotely on her mind. Unable to find anything interesting to her in pre-Internet–boom Northern California, she took a job as a civil litigator for law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson.
But she didn't want to get bogged down there forever. “It's impossible to have life at a big law firm,” she says. “And the longer you are there, the harder it is to leave because the money can get so big—the old golden handcuffs.”
At the time, one of her clients was MCA Universal. And despite her youthful aversion to the entertainment business, she became more interested in the field.
When a friend at Fox turned her on to a job at ABC, she decided to make the move and became a litigator there in 1994.
In the new role, she worked in employment litigation for company media properties, including TV stations and newspapers west of the Mississippi River. One perk was the chance to be a part of one of the most memorable events on TV: the infamous Simpson trial. She attended the trial to represent the stations and make sure they had access.
“I have a tape of me sitting in the audience at the O.J. trial,” she says. “How fun is that?”
Just one year later, she got the opportunity to move into business affairs and became a general attorney.
Among her duties was to review television shows and magazine content prior to their release to head off any potential legal issues.
She enjoyed it but says it is completely thankless work. “When it runs, you sit and wait for the claim to come in,” she says. “But if no one complains, no one ever says, 'Great job.'”
After just one year, she was promoted to director of business affairs and contracts for ABC Entertainment, and her ascension had begun. She would climb the ladder to VP in 1998 and senior VP in 2000.
Trained to take over
It was also in the business affairs department that she began to grow a strong business relationship with Mark Pedowitz, who now heads up business affairs for the ABC Television Studio and, until December, did the same for the network.
“He is an amazing mentor and a great manager,” she says. “You could disagree with Mark. And when I couldn't convince him of what I thought, I usually realized, down the road, he was right.”
After she had been on the job a little over three years, Pedowitz showed his faith in Winograde by telling her she was his pick to run the department eventually.
“He said he was going to train me to take over one day,” she says. “He took it upon himself to include me in everything and mentor me to have this job.”
Among the dealings he involved her in was the landmark deal with iTunes that sparked the online-video craze gripping the industry today. “I asked her to be a part of that team,” he says, “because both her ideas and her demeanor and thoughtfulness were a great resource.”
In December, she took over for Pedowitz at the network, as he focuses on the studio side.
She says her biggest adjustment has been assimilating all the budgeting and planning, as well as the more global issues—”the stuff that gets in the way of doing my job,” she jokes.
Overseeing daytime, she is responsible for 1,000 hours of programming every year, including the increasingly high-maintenance talk show, The View, which is now shopping for a replacement for Rosie O'Donnell.
The primetime side of her job can mean everything from cutting intricate deals to acquiring reality programming to being in the loop every time a Grey's Anatomy cast member demands a big raise.
She reports to both Entertainment President Steve McPherson and Daytime President Brian Frons, neither of whom she says wants a “yes person” in her position.
Says McPherson, “You need somebody in that job who will give you guidance, a real opinion. With me being newer to the network, she can really give me the lay of land historically as well currently.”
The online piece
In addition to everything else, perhaps her biggest test is trying to figure out television's online piece, along with the rest of the industry. She spends about a quarter of her time dealing with acquiring rights from outside studios to put shows on ABC's online properties, a major initiative at the company.
Says Winograde, “I never cease to marvel at how much time I spend on things I didn't even think about three years ago.”
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