Bringing Entrepreneurial Spirit to a TV CareerBajaria thrives on challenges and hopes to help revive NBC 2/20/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern
Bela Bajaria’s family story truly exemplifies the
American dream. When she was 8 years old, her parents,
who are of Indian heritage, moved the family
from London to Southern California to pursue the
car washing business.
“It was a very interesting time. We were
going to go build it from scratch,” the executive
VP of Universal Television recalls.
Today, Bajaria’s family owns several successful
car washes and other small businesses.
And this entrepreneurial spirit has
had a big impact on her career. “I think it
is very deep-seated in me,” Bajaria (pronounced
BA-jer-ee-ah) says. “I love the
idea of growing and owning a business.
I’ve done my own version of that.”
Her own version can be traced back
to winning the Miss India Worldwide
pageant in 1991. Bajaria’s title was more
than just a sash and crown; she used her
platform to help launch and run a nonprofit for handicapped children in Third
World countries, all while still in college.
After four years with the organization,
Bajaria decided it was finally time to pursue
her other professional passion—a career in
the entertainment industry. In 1996, she
got her foot in the door as an assistant in
the long-form division at CBS. By 2001, she
was running the department as senior VP
of movies and miniseries. Of the more than
200 projects she made there, the Emmynominated
miniseries Joan of Arc was one
of her biggest highlights.
By 2007, Bajaria was ready for the next
challenge, so she pitched creating a cable
division within CBS TV Studios to CBS
Corp. President/CEO Les Moonves and
Nancy Tellem, now senior advisor to the
CEO. They were supportive, and Bajaria
became senior VP, cable programming
for CBS TV Studios, building the division
while simultaneously holding her network
position as head of movies and miniseries.
Under her leadership, the studio produced
such series as A&E’s The Cleaner and USA’s
upcoming Common Law.
Bajaria had been at CBS 15 years when
last summer Bob Greenblatt, newly named
chairman of NBC Entertainment,
to run NBC’s sister studio
(then Universal Media
of Smash, Grimm and
Whitney, among others.
Along with Tellem
and Moonves, whom
she credits for “giving
me those initial big
breaks,” Bajaria also
considers Greenblatt an
“Bela is a sensational
executive, and I learned that first-hand in
the trenches when I was a producer of
a miniseries for her at CBS,” Greenblatt
says. “She is a producer at heart, but
thinks like an executive.”
Her appointment at Universal reestablished
the studio as a stand-alone entity,
a move Bajaria embraced. “I think it
works best for everybody financially and
creatively when you are an independent
studio,” she says.
Being the foundational exec in the new
studio afforded Bajaria the opportunity
to build her own team and culture and
“start it from the beginning,” which happily
meant tapping into her entrepreneurial
drive once again.
While she recognizes NBC has content
needs, Bajaria’s goal is to have a little bit of
everything at different networks. She loves
that great projects that aren’t necessarily
suitable for NBC can find another home.
Bajaria points to the studio’s Mindy Kaling
pilot that Fox picked up. “It really makes
sense for it to go there because it’s such a
good companion for New Girl,” Bajaria says.
Fox is also home to Universal-produced
House, which after much speculation will
end its run after this season. “House has
been an incredibly valuable
show to Universal
TV and we’re extraordinarily
proud of its critical
and commercial success,”
And Bajaria feels exceedingly
the growth potential of
partnering with fourthplace
NBC. “Fourth with
great leadership is an exciting
place to be. I love
the Comcast culture of
just being honest—here’s
where we are,” she says.
While acknowledging that it likely takes
three to five hits to turn around a network
(a sentiment echoed by Greenblatt), Bajaria
believes in the patient approach, taking it
one show at a time. That said, she would love
to count the six comedy and seven drama
pilots NBC picked up as the first of her projects
to hit the air—along with the studio’s
two comedy pilots now at Fox and CBS.
When not engaged in the busy pilot
season, Bajaria prefers to simply spend
her downtime with her husband, three
children and extended family. One thing
you won’t find her doing, however, is
“I like having one too many things on
my plate,” she says. “Doing that one extra
thing is where I like to live.”