After two years as president of Bad Robot, the production company behind ABC hits Alias and Lost, Thom Sherman has returned to the world of the suits. The former ABC executive is now heading up drama development for the new CW network. But while Sherman may be working at a network again, he is in no hurry to dress like it. “I’ve been wearing a T-shirt every day for the last two years,” Sherman says. “We’ll see how long the streak lasts.”
Sherman is far from casual about his prospects at The CW, which launches Sept. 18 with a primetime slate drawn from the soon-to-shutter WB and UPN networks. In the two years since he left ABC, network television has been revivified not only by the addition of two new networks but by the emergence of new-media and distribution platforms. And Sherman relishes the challenge of helping to build a network from the ground up.
“It’s a chance to be part of how TV will be defined for the next five to 10 years,” he says.
Sherman arrived in Los Angeles in 1988, intending to be an actor after studying theater at the University of California in San Diego. But a chance encounter with a customer at the rental-car agency where he worked led to a job as production assistant on Lifestories, an NBC series dramatizing medical crises of ordinary people, in September 1990. The show didn’t make it to Christmas.
“Welcome to Hollywood,” he laughs.
A gig as a writer’s assistant on the Stephen J. Cannell show Palace Guard didn’t last either, but Sherman soon landed a job shadowing late producer David Peckinpah through four seasons of USA Network detective series Silk Stalkings. He made three appearances on the show, but by 1995, Sherman had abandoned acting for the executive track.
He worked briefly as an assistant in creative affairs at NBC Productions before joining ABC as manager of drama development in 1996, rapidly rising to head of the department three years later.
After five lackluster seasons running drama development at ABC, Sherman played a pivotal role in developing Lost and Desperate Housewives, the two shows that would reverse the struggling network’s fortunes in the fall of 2004.
But the February before the shows hit the air, Lloyd Braun, then ABC Entertainment co-chairman, told him that Lost creator J.J. Abrams wanted Sherman to run his production company, Bad Robot. Braun thought he should take the job.
“I had been there for a long time, and we hadn’t had a lot of success in drama,” Sherman says. “It became clear that I was going to go.”
At Bad Robot, he worked on Lost and other projects, including ABC comedy What About Brian and an early version of Six Degrees that was rejected by The WB. (The show has since been reworked for an older audience and is one of ABC’s hottest prospects this fall.)
Still, Sherman was restless. “I love producing, but not controlling your own destiny is hard,” he says.
COFFEE AND A NEW DEAL
Around upfront week last May, CW chief Dawn Ostroff mentioned to her lawyer, Ernie Dell, that the new network needed a head of drama development. Dell suggested Sherman, also a client. Days later, Ostroff and Sherman hit it off over coffee, and a deal soon followed.
Sherman was attracted by the network’s mission of programming to the 18-34 demo. “It could be a success or a big failure. Who knows?” he says. “But at least I understand the plan, and it makes sense to me.”
Bryan Burk, executive VP of Bad Robot, says Sherman may have had ulterior motives for leaving. “Whatever Thom says, he probably made the move so he could play more golf,” Burk laughs. (Sherman admits that his new office is only minutes from the golf course.)
Now intent on building assets for the fledgling CW, Sherman is unsentimental about rejoining the development game.
“Am I looking forward to having to read six scripts when I get home? No,” he admits. “But it’s part of the gig sometimes.”
Just don’t ask him to put on a tie.