Producer Perspective: Cheri Brownlee

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1. Where do you find inspiration for a new show idea?

There are many places to find inspiration.  The show we did for History Channel, Shockwave, was a turn on an old standard.  It just came to me after watching History Channel -- why not expand the clip genre with information and graphics -- both of which fit History's profile. They are the channel of historic record, why not bring events that were documented on video into their arena? On the other side when we did The Gym for Fit TV, my production manager had been a personal trainer and he suggested a show based at a gym.  My husband and I hike a lot – we do lots of brainstorming while we’re climbing mountains. One of my show ideas came from a commercial I saw.  So I get ideas from all kinds of places -- thank goodness ... or we'd all be doing the same shows over and over.

2. What research do you do before going into a pitching session?
I watch some programming on the network I'm pitching. My VP of Development tries to keep me up to date. I also use tools like CableU and a program summary that my agent, Rob Miller, makes up for his clients.  And I usually google the person I'm meeting with.

3. What advice you have for upstart producers trying to get their foot in the door?
Wow.  That's a really tough question.  In the beginning I hooked up with another production company, because no network would take a chance on me ... and that's after I'd been in the business for many years as a day and date producer and executive producer. It worked for me -- I got a show on a network, and it got numbers.

4. What show do you wish you had produced and why?
Right this minute, I wish I had produced Mad Men, because that show brings everything together in such a unique way -- script, acting, art direction. But over the years I've loved Sports Night, West Wing, Monty Python, Entourage, Oprah, 24, I could go on and on. Maybe “wished I had produced” is too strong.  I admire the way they are produced. Amazing work, just amazing.

5. What types of shows do you think are most in demand now?
Reality ... but the pendulum swings.  A few years ago, everyone said clip shows were dead ... now we’re producing clip shows for several different networks. And we’re moving back into the docu-soap world with a pilot.

6. What types of programs do you wish were in demand now?  (or think should be)
We could use some more comedies ... but I love to laugh, so I always want more comedy.

7. What types of projects interest you most and why?

Because I "grew up" producing other people's projects (ET, Hard Copy, Real TV), I love all kinds of shows.  I'm first and foremost a producer and my passion comes out of that work.  So I rarely see a viable project that doesn't interest me. They all have their headaches and highs.  And I can't think of one I've worked on that I didn't love producing and watching.

8. How important do you think it is for your show idea to have an online component?
I know one person working on my staff is groaning right now.  He's been bugging me about updating our website. I truly believe it depends on the show. If you have something special to add to the show, it’s great.  I think some of the web stuff is brilliant.

9. Where does most of your budget funding come from, if not from the network?
Most of it comes from the network, but we work with some foreign partners ... and I've put in some of my own money.

10. How often do you attend industry conferences and festivals, and which are most important for your business?

A lot of people think I'm crazy, because I actually enjoy going to conferences. Realscreen has been terrific ... my agent talked me into going a couple of years ago and now I look forward to it all year.  I attended NATPE when I was in syndication -- I met so many people, smiled for hours, and gossiped about new shows and new talent.  How fun is that!  MIP has been great for my business, but I've never been.  I'll blame that on my first love -- producing.

About Cheri Sundae Productions
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Established in 2002, Cheri Sundae Productions is a television production company, specializing in reality and documentary style programming.  Cheri Sundae is currently producing 32 episodes of Untamed and Uncut, Animal Planet’s top-rated series. We just completed 33 episodes of Shockwave for History’s 2007-2008 season and an hour special, Tornado Rampage, for Discovery Channel. Spike TV is currently airing 52 one-hour episodes of  “Disorderly Conduct: Video On Patrol” hosted by Robert Patrick. Based on the success of Tornado Rampage, Discovery has ordered 5 additional specials to air in first quarter 2009. Plus, we’re in pre-production on a new series for Discovery Science premiering in 2009.

The company produced two seasons of Wild Weddings for Discovery Networks’ TLC.  Cheri Sundae created and produced a ten-episode reality show “The Gym” for Fit TV that is still airing.

Cheri Brownlee has over twenty years of production experienceBrownlee was an executive producer and creator of Paramount Television’s daily caught-on-tape show, Real TV, and prior to that, she served as Co-Executive Producer of the popular reality series, Hard Copy. Cheri was a member of the original production team that created the highly successful Entertainment Tonight.  She began her career as a Post Production Coordinator for George Schlatter Productions on Speak Up America, a weekly prime time series for NBC.

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