One of former A+E Networks CEO Abbe Raven’s first memories of Charlie Collier, now president of AMC, SundanceTV and AMC Studios, was at a wedding. Collier was the best man and gave a toast.
“He was witty and charming and all of what Charlie is, and my husband — a very good judge of people — leaned over, whispered in my ear and said, ‘future CEO,’ ” Raven recalled.
Indeed, Collier has risen through the ranks to oversee the network that aired Mad Men and Breaking Bad and the studio behind The Walking Dead.
Arlene Manos, who was head of sales at A&E, hired Collier just before the 1996 upfront. A&E’s presentation was at the Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center and a client was squawking about seating arrangements. Manos sent Collier to take care of it.
“He assuaged their feelings and left them feeling quite charmed,” she said.
Despite Collier’s youth and relative lack of experience, Manos put him in a sales-management position ahead of some more senior people. A&E was small, and Collier would ask people in the programming department about decisions being made there.
At Court TV, Collier oversaw growth in ad revenue, said Henry Schleiff, who was CEO of that network and is now group president at Discovery. He also displayed a desire to play a larger role and contribute to programming decisions. “He was clearly an extraordinarily talented guy in multiple facets of the business.”
The crime that Court TV covered wasn’t always popular with advertisers, so Collier had to be creative. “He kept telling me about how engaged his viewer was, and I said, ‘Let’s guarantee it,’ ” John Muszynski, chief investment officer at Mediavest Spark, recalled. A formula was agreed to and a deal got done.
A Great Listener
“Charlie Collier is one of the greatest listeners I’ve ever come across in the business,” Muszynski said. “He truly listens to what you’re saying and tries to find solutions or things that can help you. You’ll get a note from him about something you said six weeks prior in a conversation, and he’s following up to see how things are going.”
Muszynski said Collier is more than a sales guy or a programmer. “When he pitches a show, you go home and say, ‘I’ve got to watch this,’ ” he said. “He’s their secret weapon. I’m fascinated by him; all his different interests and ventures. He’s a special one.”
When AMC moved from showing old movies to original scripted content, it looked for someone to sell the new strategy. Collier’s name came up. “About six or eight different people said, ‘You should talk to this guy,’ ” AMC Networks chief operating officer Ed Carroll recalled.
“Charlie has played an instrumental role in elevating AMC and helping to make some of the series iconic,” Carroll added. “It’s probably not overstating it to say they have a permanent place in the history of television. And obviously, that comes from creating an environment where creative people want to work and can do great work.”
Vince Gilligan, creator of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, can attest to that. He tells a story about how Collier got Breaking Bad — the story of a cancer-stricken teacher who turns to cooking crystal meth — greenlit by jumping on the helicopter taking Tom Rutledge, then-chief operating officer of Cablevision Systems, AMC’s parent company at the time, to work.
“If you don’t have someone like Charlie in your corner pulling for you like that, you’re not going to get anywhere, especially with an idea that is dark and a little bit dangerous and scary,” Gilligan said.
Collier is more than just another studio suit. “He’s a lovely guy who understands how hard it is to tell a good story and, as an executive, he gives us what we need to make our shows as good as they can possibly be,” Gilligan said. “He goes to the set and knows crew members by name. And he’s funny. I keep thinking in another lifetime he could have been, like, a talk-show host.”
Said Collier: “I love the fact that we’ve been able to tell the types of stories that other people couldn’t find a way to tell. And that we’ve been able to grow the business with it.”
Josh Sapan, CEO of AMC Networks, said Collier is indefatigable, of high integrity and inspiring. Once, when Sapan was traveling in Europe, an opportunity came up to acquire a show in London. It was easy enough for Sapan to make the meeting, but Collier left from New York, flew overnight, showered at the airport, showed up for lunch fresh as a daisy and closed the deal.
“He was irresistible,” Sapan said. “And he was probably sleepless.”
On top of work, Collier finds time for other interests. He and some friends are part owners of the San Francisco Giants’ minor league team in San Jose. He’s got a World Series ring, because many of the Giants players who won the championship played for San Jose on their way to the majors. He’s also got a company that sells Swing Oil, which helps golfers’ aching joints.
“Most people will use their downtime from a demanding job to write poetry or run marathons or play 36 holes,” Carroll said. “Charlie starts businesses, and he manages them apparently, between midnight and 2 a.m.”
“When there’s an area I’m passionate about, whether it’s content or baseball, I try to follow it up,” Collier said. “You try to do well with what you care about.”
The area Collier cares most about is his family. He has four children with his college sweetheart, Kristin: Twenty-year-old twins Ben and Will are in college, Kate is 15 and Ellie is 13.
“I could talk all day about them,” he said. “They keep me laughing and keep me happy.”