Exec Interview: David Kenin, Hallmark's Executive VP of Programming

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CableU is honored to present David Kenin, Executive Vice President of Programming for the Hallmark Channel and The Hallmark Movie Channels. A 25-year veteran of the media industry, he's been a driving force for some of today's biggest successes on US cable. Here are David's answers to CableU's "Fun Fourteen" questions:

What is the key element that makes a program right for your network?

It may seem axiomatic but to fit into the Hallmark Channel schedule, a program, a movie, must fit the brand. It must be family friendly. We are a mainstream and main street entertainment network.

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We celebrate human relationships, celebrate family and recognize the importance of love and of caring. We like to celebrate special occasions and the smallest events.

Typically our movies are stories of comfort, kindness and the joy of living. But we embrace classic genres too: we program westerns and mysteries and our audience seems to love them.

What programs and/or genres are you looking for in the next year?
We are looking for movies in several categories: holiday movies, romances, westerns, mysteries and dramas. We are looking for ways to create events that are brand friendly.

How important are other platforms like broadband and mobile applications in the initial pitch?
Broadband and other delivery platforms are important and are increasing in importance, but these are not as concrete and present as building ratings on the Hallmark Channel and the Hallmark Movie Channel. So in a pitch, unless the fulcrum of the presentation is broadband, the web, or some digital application, the core value of the program is how we evaluate it.

What's the best way for a producer to pitch you?
We are not actively seeking program series, but we are meeting with experienced television movie producers for projects that will air in 2008 and 2009. We prefer to see scripts without attachment of actors or production companies, but we read everything.

What do you look for in a first-time producer besides a great idea?
It has not been our pattern to use first time producers. There is less risk in working with veterans in the field and less risk is important to us. We have worked with first time writers however and have had success with them.

What mistakes do producers make when pitching you?
When someone tells me this is perfect for the Hallmark Channel—I cringe. It is a rookie mistake. I think it is better said: “this seemed to us to be right for your brand. How do you think it fits?”

What's the best advice you've ever received?
Balance and timing are the keys to a great golf swing.

Ever given?
Serve the consumer first. Everything else fits nicely after that.

Who in this industry do you most admire and why?
The list is long. Many have retired, but the cable industry has produced so many great program executives. Many are competing against us right now.

What's the smartest programming decision you have ever made?
When I put the World Wrestling Entertainment events on the USA Network 25 years ago. It is still a leader in audience delivery every week. I remain dazzled by the endless creative energy and ideas of Vince McMahon and his team. Great company and great people.

Dumbest?
I have repeated the same dumb mistake in a couple of genres, but in a moment I could still be convinced that the movie serials of the 1950’s will work again. Oh boy!

In all of television, which classic program should be revived?
I worked on PM Magazine in the 70’s and think it is a great concept. I think an interpretation of the form (not really PM, but a form of the content) is viable and could be a winner.

Should NEVER be revived?
Never say never—great creative writers and producers can make magic.

DAVID KENIN, Executive Vice President of Programming, Crown Media Holdings, Inc., Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movie Channel

David Kenin is the Executive Vice President of Programming for Crown Media Holdings, Inc., owner and operator of Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movie Channel. Based in the channels’ Los Angeles office, he has oversight responsibilities for development, acquisitions, program administration, scheduling, creative services and all corporate communications and program publicity initiatives for the networks. He reports to Henry Schleiff, President and Chief Executive Officer, Crown Media.

At Hallmark Channel, Kenin’s programming choices and strategic scheduling tactics have brought the network huge ratings increases. 2006 was the most successful year ever and concluded with the premieres of the channel’s highest-ever-rated telecasts: “The Christmas Card” (4.2 HH rating) and “March of the Penguins” (4.1 HH rating). Hallmark continues to rank as a top 10 network month-after-month and recently celebrated its best-ever February (2007), among Prime Time HH ratings.

Prior to joining Hallmark Channel, Kenin headed Los Angeles-based Kenin Partners. He represented clients including Viacom, Microsoft and Lucent Technologies in areas of business development, international programming, international sports rights and new technology.

From 1994 to 1997, Kenin served as President of CBS Sports where he oversaw the rebuilding of the network’s sports division through extensive acquisition and renewal of such sports rights as the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament and the Masters Golf Tournament.

Kenin spent 12 years at USA Networks as Executive Vice President where he helped the network become the number one network in basic cable. Besides his innovations at the USA Network, Kenin is also credited as an architect of the SCI FI Channel, overseeing its branding and programming initiatives.

In addition to his career at CBS Sports and USA Networks, he was station manager for Scripps-Howard’s Kansas City station, KSHB-TV, and has served in a variety of executive positions at Metromedia, ABC, Field Communications and CBS.

Kenin currently serves on the board of WWE. He was awarded the Danny Thomas/Sheldon Leonard Fellowship at S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication at Syracuse University, where he received a Master of Science in communications; and the Distinguished Alumnus Award at the University of Oregon, where he received a Master of Arts in English.

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