When Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner made Caryn Mandabach a full partner this year, renaming their studio Carsey-Werner-Mandabach, they recognized the achievements of one of Hollywood's top TV producers, one of the first female producers to create a network sitcom and one of the first to earn an Emmy for it.
"I never paid any attention to being the only woman on the job," says Mandabach. "I was just too busy having fun and enjoying my life to notice. Guys were having trouble, as well, because this is a scrappy, hard business."
Mandabach knew from her college days that she wanted to be a producer, but she thought it would be on Broadway and spent two years studying theater production at the University of London. Finishing her undergraduate work in St. Louis in '72, though, she followed her college boyfriend to Los Angeles in search of an entertainment career.
That career didn't start off glamorously. Her first job was production assistant with Video Tape Enterprises, working on roller-derby and professional-wrestling events at Los Angeles' Olympic Auditorium.
"I didn't know what I was doing," she says of her early days in Hollywood. "I just knew that I wanted to be in show business. Just to be near a camera and a cable made me happy back then."
Mandabach landed at KNBC-TV Los Angeles in 1974, producing weekend community-affairs show Focus. The show led to her meeting producer Norman Lear, who hired her to work on sitcom Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Soon an associate producer on his comedy One Day at a Time, Mandabach produced the pilot episode and a good portion of the show's first season.
Mandabach went out on her own in 1976, forming Caryn Sneider (her maiden name) Productions and working with various Hollywood writers on network comedies.
In 1980, she met Carsey, who was running ABC's programming division. Mandabach had been working with a pair of writers who had a development deal at ABC and producing such sitcoms as Detective School and In Trouble. "I was just the girl who kept bringing in these odd and unique pilots," Mandabach says. "There weren't a lot of women line producers. So I was noticeable to Marcy, and we bonded."
When Carsey left ABC in 1980 to form her own studio, the first person she hired was Mandabach. In 1984, Mandabach moved to New York to produce Carsey-Werner's new Bill Cosby comedy. Needless to say, The Cosby Show
took off, earning her an Emmy in 1986. "I had the time of my life on that show," she recalls. "I don't think a day goes by when I don't think of the great times back then."
Returning to Los Angeles in 1987, she was named president of Carsey-Werner and executive producer of all of the studio's shows. And the hits kept coming: Roseanne, A Different World, Grace Under Fire, 3rd Rock From the Sun, That '70s Show, Grounded for Life. Last year, the studio joined forces with Oprah Winfrey to launch cable network Oxygen. The venture's big-name partners attracted a lot of media attention-much of it critical of its apparent slow growth.
"Nobody has been held to a higher standard, and nobody has built faster than we have. People don't remember that it takes years to build up distribution. HBO didn't do anything but boxing for 10 years. Lifetime wasn't even a network for women for the first 10 years; it was the Health Network. We've only been around for one year."
Mandabach plans to stick around awhile. "The future is as bright as it can be here because we are still hugely energized by the TV business. No matter how it's going to change, it's still communication. We feel, within all of our shows, we have said something and have made a difference, and we want to continue doing that in all platforms and in all ways."