Bill McGoldrick, Syfy executive VP of original content, has a reputation, and it’s an enviable one. “Everybody who interfaces with him recognizes he is a very smart, creative leader, one who really does work collaboratively with production companies, producers and writers,” says Dave Howe, Syfy president.
McGoldrick took the network’s programming reins in November 2013 after Mark Stern stepped down to go into production. Chicagoarea native McGoldrick spent much of his career at corporate sibling USA, where he most recently headed scripted programming. But he couldn’t pass up the opportunity at Syfy.
“It was a unique and a once-in-a-career kind of challenge to be lucky enough to have the position I have right now,” says McGoldrick. “Because the potential for this channel is as good as any cable channel there is.”
One of the exec’s first moves with the cabler was ordering the six-episode space opera, Ascension, which follows a group of travelers living on a starship nearly 50 years into a 100-year journey to colonize a new world.
The series, set for a November premiere, is executive produced by Stern, who led the net for nearly 11 years and was responsible for shows including Battlestar Galactica and Face Off.
With programming such as Ascension, McGoldrick hopes to bring the network back to its science fiction roots.
“I want people to know we’re in the sci-fi business in a big way,” says McGoldrick, who cites recent entrant Helix as another example of how the network is trying to reach its base.
“We know our audience likes it a bit smarter,” he adds. “They like process. They like reveals. They like seeing very smart people do what they do. They like social experiments. They like technology. And we really want to capitalize [on] that.”
McGoldrick hit a bump in the road in February when Syfy announced that alternative programming chief Tim Krubsack was leaving the network. Krubsack’s departure forced McGoldrick to dive head first into reality programming.
“The exciting thing for me in the reality space is I haven’t really worked in it for my whole career,” McGoldrick says. “I’ve kind of dabbled in it here and there. I think there’s a huge opportunity in reality to also invent genres no one’s aware of yet that are very specific to our brand.”
Krubsack helped Syfy explore the social experiment genre with the show Opposite Worlds, which pitted two groups of people with very different resources against each other.
McGoldrick wants to continue in that innovative vein, pushing the boundaries of reality television on the network. One way he and his team are doing that is through the “Igniters” campaign, which focuses on engaging the social media-savvy audience who can then in turn influence others to watch Syfy programming. He says that he and his team try to look at all potential shows through that multiplatform prism.
“Those are the sorts of areas we want to own and continue to plant our flag in because we think that will pay dividends down the road and we think that’s where the world is going,” McGoldrick says, likening the age we live in to the 1960s animated series The Jetsons.
On the scripted side, the programming chief, who counts sci-fi staple Twilight Zone as one of his early influences, is looking for shows that deal with bigger themes, such as race and gender and the challenges in everyday life.
Ascension, he says, will allow Syfy to do that by exploring human nature and the various issues that arise with a large population living in close quarters on a starship.
“Good drama is good drama; good comedy is good comedy; good reality is good reality,” McGoldrick says. “Regardless of what network you’re working for.”
These are ideas McGoldrick forged back when the USC grad started working for Syfy’s sister network USA in 1998 as an executive assistant. He left USA—where he met his future wife, Caron—in 2005, after he’d risen to head of development, taking a position leading original programming at Spike. He returned to USA in 2009 to helm original scripted programming, working on shows such as Covert Affairs, Necessary Roughness, Suits and Political Animals.
Now, McGoldrick gets the chance to find ways to tell stories in another area—as head of Syfy Films, a coventure with Universal Pictures that is a way to extend the network’s brand beyond TV screens.
But whether scripted or unscripted, feature length or short form, the exec wants creatives to feel welcome. “I don’t care if their credits say Law & Order or Desperate Housewives or anything for that matter, as long as they have a very sci-fi idea that they love,” he says. “I think those sorts of people can be very helpful for our network in terms of broadening the audience and bringing a fresh perspective.”