Women in Entertainment 2010 - Power 100 List
I quit. I’m done. I have to stop right now.” Those were the words Christina Norman recalls telling herself in 2008, the year she walked away from her 17-year career as an MTV media executive. “It was the most honest moment of my life,” she says. “Being able to say that I was not good at this anymore — not good to myself, to my work, to the people that depend on me — was the honest truth.”
Unlike many high-profile Hollywood jobs, which invariably end with the executive being shoved out the door, Norman says she made the decision to leave on her own, burned out from too many years of being on call 24/7. Now, she has redefined herself as CEO of Oprah Winfrey’s new network, OWN, a job she has held since February 2009.
She met Oprah in 2007, after a torn Achilles tendon forced her to cancel a family vacation in Italy. In its place, after she had recuperated, she took her family to South Africa. “I walk into the lobby of this most opulent, beautiful place,” Norman says. “I’m covered in dust, literally, and I see Gayle King [Winfrey’s best friend]. That’s when she tells me that Oprah is opening a school that week.” King invited her to join them for the opening.
"It was the most honest moment of my life, being able to say I was not good at this anymore."
Soon after, Norman was approached about joining OWN while still at MTV, where she was president of the network. But the timing was wrong. “I was really not in a good place,” she says. “I was not 100 percent, and it showed. It was just not an electric connection.”
A year after her first interview — and much shuffling among the top execs Winfrey originally appointed — Norman says “a headhunter called me and said they had reopened the search and did I have any recommendations? ‘Give me the job!’ I said. ‘I’m ready.’” So was Winfrey, who adds, “It takes a real woman to know when to say no.”
Now it will take a real executive to deal with the challenges Norman faces.
It’s a big risk, and Norman knows it. But risk-taking is part of her DNA. A New York native, she grew up in the Bronx with an architect father and a mother who runs an education and training program for the New York State court program. She earned her degree in film production from Boston University but as a college student was “a knucklehead.”
After leaving the university, Noman got a job as a P.A. with a small production company — and loved it.
More work in commercials was followed by a freelance gig as a production coordinator at MTV Networks that turned into a full-time post as production manager in 1991, when Norman oversaw in-house promotional spots for shows like Beavis and Butt-head. When that became a pop-culture phenomenon, she moved on to manage creative campaigns for such shows as The Osbournes and The 10 Spot and soon was appointed senior vp marketing, advertising and on-air promotion. In 2002, parent company Viacom hired her as executive vp and GM of MTV sister network VH1, where she helped launch series including Bands Reunited and Best Week Ever. VH1’s key demographic rose from 250,000 to nearly 340,000, and Norman was tapped as VH1’s president in January 2004.
A year later, she became president of MTV, supervising the network’s creative and business endeavors — a job she held until she left the company in 2008.
If this all seems like smooth sailing, that’s hardly the case. Norman admits she has had to master the art of corporate politics.
“When my second daughter was born, I was at MTV running the promo department,” she recalls. “I had hired someone to sit in for me while I was gone. And then I kept getting calls from my assistant saying, ‘This person you hired is out to get your job.’ So I came in one day a week during maternity leave.”
Now she’s going to be working at a much more ferocious pace as OWN ramps up to launch Jan. 1. Among the programming, Norman is supervising Oprah Presents Master Class, in which Winfrey will speak with icons including Jay-Z, Diane Sawyer and Condoleezza Rice; a new Rosie O’Donnell Show; and programs featuring King, Sarah Ferguson and Shania Twain.
“It’s just weeks before the start of this bold new undertaking,” Norman says. “It is incredibly exciting, energizing. I am anxious, proud and exhausted, and we all feel this every single day.” She pauses, tired, but prepared to soldier on.
“It is so important that everyone deliver,” she says. “That’s what it is about. Put your head down and get it done.”
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