Executive Interview: Joseph Swift, WEtv - Broadcasting & Cable

Executive Interview: Joseph Swift, WEtv

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

Its fit for WE tv, as opposed to any other network, including those who also target women, like Lifetime or Oxygen or TLC. More than half the population is female, so there is a very broad range of programming that appeals to that demographic.

We get pitched great programs all the time that we think would be perfect for Discovery ID or Bravo or Spike or Lifetime, but they aren't a good match with WE tv.

What programs and/or genres are you looking for in the next year?

Since our w18-49 ratings in 2008 were up 39%, we have the wonderful problem of not needing a lot of new programming; there are no holes to fill. That said, we are always looking for the next series or special that will get great ratings, appeal to our advertisers, and help differentiate us from our competitors. A recent example of the is The Locator.

How important are other platforms like broadband and mobile applications in the initial pitch?

Honestly? Not important. It comes down to the television concept and execution. It's a terrific bonus if the project lends itself to new media extensions, so I would never discourage creating and including ideas for them in a pitch.

What’s the best way for a producer to pitch you?

Via email (any video should be on DVD and mailed separately). I don't mind meeting producers or talking on the phone, but those things don't increase one's odds. Nor does it matter if it comes through me or our SVP of Programming or our Manager of Development. However an idea is pitched, and to whomever it's pitched, the only things that matter in the end are: is it a great idea? can the producer do it well?

The Locator is, again, a good example. It came in the mail with a DVD, none of us know Asylum Entertainment, but we loved what we saw and eventually greenlit the series, once we had vetted the idea, the producers, and the budget.

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

The obvious answer is the ability to produce the idea well. Maybe it means they have assembled a great team; or maybe it means they are open to being teamed with a more experienced production entity. Or maybe there is something in their background that gives reason to believe they can pull it off.

What mistakes do producers make when pitching you?

Pitching something that's already on our air; pitching something that is not commercially viable; pitching something that doesn't appeal to women 18-54.

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

Be consistent. If viewers know they can depend on your network to deliver what they are looking for, they will reward you with their eyeballs. Over the past year or two, WE tv has made sure everything we do is story-driven, featuring real women at highly emotional turning points in their lives. This can range from weddings to being sentenced to life in prison to meeting your birth mother for the first time since you were given up for adoption at birth.

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

The wind blows, the mountain remains.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever given?

The wind blows, the mountain remains.

Who in this industry do you most admire and why?

Hard question. Perhaps Greg Daniels, who wrote for Seinfeld and the Simpsons, co-created King of the Hill, and then did the rare feat of successfully adapting a British sitcom for America with The Office. The guy knows funny.

What’s the smartest programming decision you have ever made?

One of the first good calls I made was back at TLC when I was overseeing acquisitions. In the stacks of VHS cassettes we got each week was a weird show from the UK called Scrapheap Challenge. But I thought it was a fresh, compelling way to do technology and championed it, coming up with the name Junkyard Wars. We tried airing it as a test, it did great, and we then created an American version that ran for years. I still think this is the first time a US network used an international format, something that soon after became a huge part of the industry.

What’s the dumbest programming decision you have ever made?

I championed a 4x60 special at TLC about the history of popular music and social causes, a project David Crosby initiated. While it was a fascinating topic, the music clearances were a major headache and there was no audience for this material, at least not on TLC at that time. Music has proven to be the hardest thing to get people to watch at any network I have worked at.

In all of television, which classic program should be revived?

None. I prefer the originals. One I would love to see that has virtually disappeared is My World And Welcome To It. I have always loved James Thurber's writing and this series was based on that. It combined animation and live action, won an Emmy, and was canceled after one season, I think. Not available on DVD.

Should NEVER be revived?

See above. I don't think any should be revived. But there is indeed nothing new under the sun, so everything is a revival in a sense. American Idol is just a modern take on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. Which is fine.

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