If anyone were ever a sure bet to make it in Hollywood, it had to be Ned Nalle. At 7, he was directing his own films on his parents' 16mm camera. At 9, he was scanning the trades and handicapping the prospects of new fall TV series. By the time he got to college, he was running a radio station and working as an assistant director on Philadelphia Phillies' TV broadcasts.
"I fantasized at a young age about what a great opportunity it would be to get into Hollywood," he says. "I wanted to be in entertainment."
Well, Nalle has been on the Universal Studios lot since 1978, working his way up to his current position as president of Universal Worldwide Television, in which he oversees development and sales of all the studio's syndicated movies and TV shows. Since starting as an executive assistant right out of college, he has licensed hundreds of the studio's classic films; produced a handful of cable-TV series, including HBO's Dream On; and launched talk/reality shows both domestically and internationally.
Nalle grew up in Philadelphia, but he wasn't as far from Hollywood as one would think. His father, Horace, was an advertising executive and followed the TV industry closely. "He used to bring home BROADCASTING and other publications, and I would pore through those every Monday," he says. "I would always look at the Nielsen rankings. I kept a diary of whenever the networks announced new schedules, and I placed a bet with myself as to which shows would work and wouldn't."
That early interest in the industry and his experience in college led Nalle to Hollywood. In 1978, with a Wharton MBA, he wound up as an executive assistant at Universal Studios and soon got his baptism of fire. Universal had just acquired a number of movies from the Howard Hughes estate, including the original Scarface, which the studio wanted to remake. To get Scarface,
though, Universal was forced to buy a number of other films. Nalle's assignment was to make money from those titles.
"None of the films had ever been on TV," Nalle points out. "I took advantage of the burgeoning cable and videocassette industries, which were hungry for products, by saying we had titles that had never been seen on TV before. And we made some good money off them."
He parlayed that into a new role at Universal Television, where he was working in development on the studio's ABC and CBS accounts when the Screen Actors Guild went on strike in 1980 and production came to a halt.
"I was pretty sure I was going to lose my job right then, but I sort of raised my hand and said, 'What about this new cable thing?'" Nalle recalls.
He made a deal with Universal executives that he would license a lot of the studio's library films to cable in exchange for a new job and a future shot at producing. Named director of programming at Universal Pay TV, he negotiated studio output deals with cable channels such as HBO and Showtime.
Named executive vice president of Universal TV in 1991, he oversaw development of various shows, including syndicated hits Hercules: The Legendary Journeys
and spin-off Xena: Warrior Princess.
In 1998, after Barry Diller acquired most of Universal's domestic TV assets, Nalle was asked to stay with the studio and run international sales.
He became president of Universal Worldwide TV at the time that the studio acquired PolyGram TV's assets and inherited a pilot for a series called Blind Date, which became a syndication hit. The division is set to launch syndicated series The 5th Wheel
this fall, and Nalle has a number of international talk and relationship shows under his purview.
"I signed up for what I thought was going to be a short-term gig, and I'm still here," Nalle says of his 23-year career at Universal. "It's been a great experience all the way through."