Exec Interview: Frances Berwick, Bravo's Executive VP Programming

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Frances Berwick

Faculty Note: At every opportunity CableU will present some of the world's most respected programmers and producers answering some revealing questions about their jobs, their companies, their careers and their lives. We're honored to launch this free feature with a programmer who has worked on both sides of the desk and both sides of the Atlantic.

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

It should be smart and appeal to an educated audience; creative and culturally revelant; innovative in subject and/or execution. Goes without saying for us that it should be entertaining.

What programs and/or genres are you looking for in the next year?
All kinds of unscripted shows. We love anything that breaks new ground and finds new ways to tell a story - whether that's in a single-episode format or an on-going narrative.

How important are other platforms like broadband and mobile applications in the initial pitch?
Extremely - but as important is presenting a viable and interesting approach to creating that content so that it's additive, enhancing the overall experience for the show's brand for fans on other platforms and cost efficient.

What's the best way for a producer to pitch you?
if we know them and have worked recently with them, they can come to us direct - to either our New York or LA offices. Otherwise it has to be through an established agency or rep with whom we work regularly. And if they/you don't have an agent and haven't worked with us, you'll need to sign a release before we can hear or see any pitch (so don't send it in an email please).

What do you look for in a first-time producer besides a great idea?

A clear creative vision and a willingness to be paired with an experienced producer, production company, showrunner.

What mistakes do producers make when pitching you?
Not hearing no. And telling us they have many other offers on the concept already. We have a very specific niche and style and although occasionally a project will work for many outlets including Bravo, generally we succeed with shows that actually don't feel right for other networks. PROJECT RUNWAY and QUEER EYE definitely fell into that category.

What can global programmers learn from the US cable network market and from your network in particular?

It's such a mature, highly fragmented market here and yet so many of the 70+ cable nets are succeeding on the basis of very defined niches, very targeted audiences. Conversely we have a lot to learn from non U.S. programmers, especially in terms of content - everything from robust entertainment and reality formats to traditional, in depth documentary film-making.

What's the best advice you've ever received?

Choose your battles; then you'll win the ones you really really care about.

Ever given?
if you don't love it, do something different. Life's too short yada yada.

Who in this industry do you most admire and why?
How much space do I have here? I've had more than my fair share of dynamic, challenging and fun bosses.

What's the smartest programming decision you have ever made?
Taking a chance on a show with an unsellable title, from producers who had previously given us our lowest rated show ever, and that pre-production press described as the worst form of stereotyping - QUEER EYE.

Dumbest?
Acquiring LARRY SANDERS. It's a brilliant series, utterly innovative, highly acclaimed and spawned many successful imitators. Yet when we brought it to Bravo it bombed in every time period we tried it in.

In all of television, which classic program should be revived?
GOLDEN GIRLS, THIS IS YOUR LIFE, PEE WEE'S PLAYHOUSE, SEINFELD

Should NEVER be revived?
ALF

Frances Berwick, Executive Vice President, Programming & Production, Bravo

As Executive Vice President, Programming & Production, Frances Berwick supervises all programming for Bravo including original production, development, scheduling and acquisitions. Berwick was responsible for developing and producing hit series QUEER EYE and CELEBRITY POKER SHOWDOWN, and Bravo's most recent line up of specials and series including the Emmy nominated PROJECT RUNWAY and TOP CHEF.

Early in her career at the network, Berwick introduced such high-profile original series as INSIDE THE ACTORS STUDIO, BRAVO PROFILES, Michael Moore’s THE AWFUL TRUTH , CIRQUE DU SOLEIL: FIRE WITHIN and THE IT FACTOR. Berwick also secured a partnership deal for Bravo to become the U.S. network of “Cirque du Soleil.” She also oversaw programming for the Independent Film Channel (IFC) and programmed Bravo and IFC networks in Latin America and Canada. Berwick joined Bravo Networks in 1996 from Britain’s Channel 4 Television, where she headed international distribution and licensing. Prior to that, she was in the sponsorship division at Sadler’s Wells (a leading London Theater), where she raised funds for stage productions. Berwick has a Master’s Degree from Edinburgh University.

The Peabody, National Association of Multi-Ethnicity in Communications (NAMIC), and Cable Ace Awards are among the prestigious honors Berwick has received. She has won two Primetime Emmy Awards and has been nominated 20 times. Berwick is a member of New York Women in Film & Television (NYWIFT), British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), Women in Cable and Telecommunications (WICT), and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (ATAS).

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