Fox Programming Exec Writes His Own Destiny

Relationships, tech savvy help Harrison get ahead

Why This Matters

Dan Harrison


Executive VP, strategic program planning, Fox Broadcasting


B.A, Cornell University, 1991; J.D., Harvard Law School, 1994

Employment Highlights:

Manager, scheduling & development, UPN, 1994-96

VP, program planning & scheduling, NBC, 1996- 2000

Senior VP, programming, Fox Sports Group, 2001-03

Senior VP, emerging networks, NBC, 2003-09

Senior VP, strategic development, CBS Corp., 2010-12

Current position since January 2012


born Nov. 1, 1969; married to Libby; daughters Stephanie, 6, and Hannah, 4

Plenty of kids have pen pals growing up. Not many
can say they exchanged letters with the creator of
one of the most popular television shows in history.

But Dan Harrison, Fox’s new executive
VP of strategic program planning, did.
As a teenager, the avid M*A*S*H fan
sent a letter to 20th Century Fox Television,
and series creator Larry Gelbart
responded. The two kept up a correspondence
over the next 25 years, with
Gelbart teaching Harrison about the
creative process of making a TV show
and even visiting the high schooler at
his home in Schenectady, N.Y.

Harrison, now 42, credits Gelbart
with igniting his passion for television
as well as introducing him to people
in the business (like Fox Broadcasting
cofounder Barry Diller and television
writers Ben Starr and Stanley Ralph
Ross), connections that landed him a
summer internship at 20th Century
Fox TV syndication in college.

While Gelbart opened the door, it’s
Harrison’s adeptness with technology
that has helped him stand out in his
career. During that internship, he was
the first in the office to use a Macintosh
computer to produce marketing materials,
which earned him freelance work at
20th TV throughout college. At NBC in
the late 1990s, Harrison implemented
a new scheduling system and wrote a
memo about what the Internet could
mean for CNBC that caught the attention
of General Electric CEO Jack Welch.

“I have generally found a way to
combine technology and innovation
with my role, regardless of the role,”
Harrison says.

But the hallmark of his career is the
importance of relationships he has
forged along the way. Harrison has
stayed close with most of his former bosses, including Preston Beckman,
Fox executive VP of strategic program
planning and research (and formerly
of NBC), who hired Harrison to be his
successor in January.
And there are those
contacts Gelbart introduced
him to, like
Starr, with whom he’s
had a standing lunch
date every Saturday
for 20 years. He even
met his wife, Libby, as
a result of the NBCUniversal
(he was working for
NBC at the time, she
for Vivendi).

Starr describes Harrison
as someone who
“knows everything about everything.” In
addition to programming a mainframe
computer at age 10 and earning a Harvard
law degree, Harrison is also a published
author, of the Andy Griffith Show guide
Inside Mayberry. Though Starr adds that
Harrison is “very modest about it—
there’s no braggadocio with this guy.”

Beckman cites that mensch-like character,
as well as Harrison’s love of television
and scheduling, as reasons for hiring
the exec to rejoin him at Fox. “All of us
who do this are the same person,” Beckman
says. “Dan is cut from that cloth.”

That includes a love of baseball (the
statistics-heavy sport tends to be a
favorite of TV schedulers), though
Harrison’s affinity for the New York
Yankees and Beckman’s for the Mets
makes for a friendly inter-office rivalry.

In addition to the opportunity to rejoin
Beckman, Harrison, who most recently
worked for CBS, was intrigued
about contributing to the success of Fox,
a network that the economics major
wrote his senior thesis about in college.

“I had a very corporate, strategic
role at CBS,” Harrison says. “You don’t
get your hands quite as dirty as you
do in an operational
role. These roles,
being the head of
scheduling at a network,
don’t come up
all that often.”

As Beckman prepares
to officially
take on his new advisory
role at Fox in
June, Harrison is focused
on the continued
performance of
American Idol
, hoping
for a sophomore
bounce in ratings for
The X Factor and the task of refreshing
the network’s drama coffers as the
long-running House retires.

Looking back, Harrison counts success
in being a part of the “Must-See TV”
era at NBC, but he also values having
been a part of seven network start-ups,
including turning around Bravo, experiences
that gave him a stay-hungry mentality
that will serve him well at Fox.

“It’s good to be in the trenches and
go through those times because then
you can appreciate the work that needs
to get done to refresh and renew or to
maintain,” Harrison says. “If you only
work during the good times, you don’t
understand how hard it is to get there.”

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