Fifth Estater

Bringing a Brand New Dawn to Sundance Channel

President/GM Barnett leads push into original series with increasing momentum 4/29/2013 12:01:00 AM Eastern

Sarah Barnett

Title:

President and general manager, Sundance Channel

Education:

B.A., art history, University of Warwick, 1990

Employment Highlights:

VP, on-air, BBC America, 2001-05

Senior VP, marketing, Sundance Channel, 2005-09

Executive VP and GM, Sundance Channel, 2009-13

Current title since February 2013

Personal:

Born Feb. 15; husband, Chris

Since being promoted to president and general manager of Sundance
Channel a mere two months ago, Sarah Barnett has taken the
network’s pace toward original scripted programming from
simple steps to a full-blown sprint.

The network premiered its first wholly
owned scripted series, Rectify, on April
22. Its coproduced miniseries Top of the
Lake
, which earned all-around positive reviews
from TV critics, debuted March 18.
Not even a month after Barnett’s promotion,
Sundance announced it had greenlit
its second original scripted series, The Descendants,
in conjunction with a new “small
but perfectly formed” team, as Barnett calls
it. The network named Nena Rodrigue
head of programming and development; and filled two scripted development and current
programming jobs, with Christopher Vesper
as senior VP and Jordan Helman as director.

Taking Sundance to the level of sibling network
AMC or competitor FX has been a focus
of Barnett’s since she was named executive VP
and GM in 2009, after which she initiated the
network’s push into scripted programming.
The first, a coproduction with France’s Canal+
called Carlos, won a Golden Globe and earned
two Emmy nominations in 2011.

“That was the moment I realized that scripted
on Sundance Channel really had a chance of
breaking through,” Barnett says.

Soon, Sundance will break through to an even
bigger business when it becomes ad-supported
on Sept. 30, joining the ranks of parent company
AMC Networks’ successfully shifted
networks—AMC, WE tv and, most recently,
IFC—with Barnett at the helm.

Leading that charge requires “two essential
components,” says Ed Carroll, AMC Networks
chief operating officer. “One is to pick
the right shows, and the other is to effectively
represent those shows to our constituencies.
And Sarah has the ability to do both.”

Barnett went through a similar transition
before, having worked at BBC America as VP of
on-air during the period the channel went from
unrated to rated. She had initially relocated to
BBC America’s headquarters in Washington,
D.C., for a two-year stint away from her home
in London, where she worked at the BBC.

“I was at a point in my life where I thought,
‘Why not? It’s a great adventure. I’ll come back
to London.’ All my friends said, ‘You’re not going
to come back.’”

They were right. Three months after arriving
in America, Barnett met her now-husband
Chris; after six months, fellow Brit and BBC
America founder and then-CEO Paul Lee,
Barnett’s boss, asked her to stay.

Barnett had spent 12 years at the BBC in London
working in various production and marketing
roles. When she arrived at BBC America in
2001, Barnett says, working in the American
television business was a “huge rude awakening.”

“In England, television was founded with the
BBC, and its mandate was to inform, educate
and entertain—in that order,” Barnett says.
“TV in America came from show business.
Right from its earliest days, commerciality
was baked into it.”

She soon got comfortable with the business,
diving right into the network’s upfront as part
of the marketing department—though at first,
she had never even heard of an upfront.

After four years at BBC America, Barnett, now
married, decided she did not want to be the
“British woman working for an offshore British
company,” she says, and joined Sundance
Channel as senior VP of marketing in 2005.

Her experience on both the marketing and
production sides of the business has helped
Barnett think innovatively about the ways to
launch Sundance’s new series.

“My marketing instincts led me to not think
traditionally about launching a show like
Rectify at a small network,” Barnett says, “but
to play with some sampling and platform opportunities
to have it cut through.”

To that end, the network made the first three
episodes of Rectify available on VOD and TV
Everywhere platforms a week before its linear
launch. In addition, Sundance hosted a “binge
screening” of the entire first season in theaters
in New York, an experience in which Barnett
participated earlier in the year at the Sundance
Film Festival, where they screened Top of the
Lake
in its entirety.

Barnett credits, in part, her ability to think
creatively about launching a series to her educational
background in art history. Back then,
she says, the discipline was more focused
on cultural studies, which helped structure
her thinking. She received a B.A. in the field
at the University of Warwick in the U.K.’s
West Midlands, and originally planned on
repairing frescoes in Tuscany.

She never did get around to that. After graduation,
Barnett—pondering her fresco-repairing
options—signed a six-month contract at
the BBC, where she had worked as a production
assistant and researcher prior to earning
her degree. Having grown up in a small village
about 70 miles south of London, the television
world was the most “glamorous place I’d ever
been in my life,” she says.

Her plans to put her degree to use in Italy
fell to the wayside while at the BBC; they were
totally forgotten when she arrived in the U.S.

But Barnett, who recently moved to upstate
New York from Brooklyn, may now have a
chance to fully exercise her degree. Living in
a town chock full of antique stores (a delight
for any art history buff), Barnett says she has
become engrossed in the interior decoration
of her new home.

That is, when she gets around to it. With the
momentum building behind Sundance Channel
and Barnett’s dedication to the network,
hopefully her home decoration plans don’t go
the way of those still-unrepaired frescoes.

E-mail
comments to
lindsay.rubino@gmail.com
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@LindsayRubino

Sarah Barnett

Title:

President and general manager, Sundance Channel

Education:

B.A., art history, University of Warwick, 1990

Employment Highlights:

VP, on-air, BBC America, 2001-05

Senior VP, marketing, Sundance Channel, 2005-09

Executive VP and GM, Sundance Channel, 2009-13

Current title since February 2013

Personal:

Born Feb. 15; husband, Chris

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