ABC's Sun King
Brian Frons controls ABC's daytime schedule, and so much more
By Anne Becker -- Broadcasting & Cable, 7/27/2008 8:00:00 PM
Lots of people in the television business work all day long, but Brian Frons is an executive whose work is the daytime itself. He's the busy president of daytime for the Disney-ABC Television Group, managing all things daytime-related for the company, including all of ABC's soaps and The View, the cable channel SOAPnet and the Buena Vista Productions studio, which produces originals for SOAPnet and other networks.
The multifaceted role, logical for a company built around synergy, is a good fit for Frons, who has devoted his entire career to making television, both in the U.S. and abroad. Backed by an early start in the business, as well as years launching TV channels around the world, the executive is eager to expand the boundaries of what “soap opera” connotes to people in America, and is doing so by maximizing interaction among all of his divisions.
“I want to continue evolving what the soap experience is,” he says. “I love learning and developing new things, and especially absorbing from other people and idea creation. I want to expand what daytime can be.”
Frons got bitten by the media bug in eighth grade as sports editor of his junior high school paper. He went on to the State University of New York at Fredonia at just 17, honing his broadcasting skills in newscasts and a game show for the college radio station. He was also a stringer for a local Buffalo TV station and worked as a DJ for a local radio station.
“In a lot of ways, all that journalism prepared me for what I do now,” he says. “It taught me how to quickly tell a story and form a character. And that works when you have to tell a story to a TV viewer.”
He went on to earn a master's degree in communication from Syracuse University, became a broadcasting teacher's assistant, and afterward landed one of three spots as a program management trainee for CBS Entertainment. Stints in development, specials, advertising and other departments gave Frons a solid understanding of the organization. He chose to work in the daytime realm; at the time, the heads of all three big networks had come from daytime.
One of the youngest programmers in the department, he was assigned to one of the oldest shows, Guiding Light. Success in modernizing that show and others on CBS led to a more senior job in daytime programming at NBC—at 26, he was that company's youngest-ever VP. After six years managing some 1,500 hours of TV a year, he moved to another VP job with the creative-affairs group at NBC Productions.
For both jobs, he reported to the late Brandon Tartikoff, a mentor from whom he says he learned to trust his programming instincts. And he put those instincts to work at NBC, helping shape such notable shows as Santa Barbara, Saved by the Bell and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
Hungry for a new challenge, Frons joined New World Entertainment in 1991, helping to build that company from an independent film producer into the largest U.S.-based video and film distributor. Over six years, he rose to be president of creative affairs, overseeing program development and production of network shows, first-run syndicated programs and international co-productions.
That job, and the one that followed as senior VP of programming at SBS Broadcasting (the European television and radio company founded by current MGM chief Harry Sloan), gave Frons a decade of international experience making TV drama.
His work in those globe-trotting years included prepping an English-language telenovela of Judith Krantz's Secrets in Milan, and launching a version of Zorro for Spain's Family Channel. He also helped also start soaps in Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Romania, Sweden and Norway.
While stationed in Norway in 2000, he was recruited by ABC to return to the States to head its daytime division. Eager to spend more time near his wife and son (now 14), Frons took the job. He made changes quickly, giving the soaps a more contemporary feel and ushering in a new generation of women on The View.
In 2006, he was tapped to oversee all of Disney-ABC TV's daytime-related entities by Anne Sweeney, co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of the Disney-ABC TV Group, whom he also counts as a mentor. Frons now heads a centralized daytime unit that puts out 1,200 hours of original television per year through the ABC network, syndication and other channels.
“He's redefining daytime television beyond a network daypart, and into dynamic, multiplatform entertainment that reflects pop culture and resonates with viewers,” Sweeney says.
Frons is focused on harmonizing interaction between his role's various duties as he grows the definition of what soap opera is. For example, SOAPnet this summer is running the original series MVP, a primetime scripted drama about the wives of a fictional Canadian hockey team, as well as a second season of the primetime General Hospital spinoff Night Shift. The channel is also developing several shows from sister studio Buena Vista.
He's also expanded the definition of soap opera—SOAPnet bought rights to One Tree Hill and Dawson's Creek, series that originally aired on The WB that aren't quite soap operas but follow a similar story arc.
Equally important to him are new business channels. ABC Daytime boasts a vibrant consumer products arm, with books, cosmetics and perfumes that are woven into the storylines on its shows; earlier this year, SOAPnet.com relaunched as a youth-targeted hub for content from all soaps shows, not just those on ABC or SOAPnet.
“In this business, it's all about staying relevant, anticipating what viewers want and leveraging every asset and resource to create and deliver it,” Sweeney says. “Brian gets that, and it shows in every move he makes.”
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