Jessica Samet is the ultimate Hollywood insider. The Los Angeles-raised daughter of screenwriter parents, she brings ample experience in agency work, production and development to her new post as senior VP, reality programming, at Lifetime Television.
“I want people to watch Lifetime and go, 'Wow. This is new, this is fresh, this is exciting,'” she says.
Samet joined Lifetime in February after more than six years at MTV—most recently as senior VP of original programming and series development—where she played a key role in crafting hit shows like Wildboyz and Jackass: The Series and strips like Taildaters.
Her career path began just after college at small literary agency Sanford Gross. There, she sold a script to Fox for $1 million, which landed her name in the trades and launched her into a job at talent agency UTA.
But working in that sort of cutthroat environment didn't quite suit her. “It's a huge weight to carry on your shoulders—being responsible for people's mortgages, paying their rent and taking care of their families,” she says.
So she moved into production, working at Disney's Touchstone Pictures on such movies as The Sixth Sense and Gone in 60 Seconds. But after her wheeling-and-dealing agent days, production felt slow. So Samet switched to developing TV shows at MTV in 1999, filling what she calls the hole on her résumé.
Samet's new boss says it was the perfect stepping stone. “She comes from a place where the reality genre is incredibly well-respected,” says Lifetime Entertainment President Susanne Daniels. “She is creative and smart and direct in a very appealing way. This is her opportunity to put her own style and stamp on reality television.”
Samet has already overseen the launch of Cheerleader Nation and Face the Family and is developing more unscripted fare for Lifetime Television, its sister cable network Lifetime Real Women, and Lifetimetv.com. She's keen to “change things up” by exploring various genres within reality, looking for anything from a prime time competition series to an afternoon destination block for women—similar to what MTV's TRL is for teens.
The mother of a baby boy, Samet enjoys photography, exploring L.A. and watching TV with her husband, who owns a candy company. “When we moved in together, I had to confess to him that I crawl into bed and watch Lifetime movies from 4-6 [p.m.],” she says. “The funny thing is now I can say I watch for work. I am the Lifetime audience.”