The Hollywood Reporter's 20th annual ranking of the females who rule the business.
Putting together the ranked list of entertainment's most powerful women for this annual issue, The Hollywood Reporter's 20th, is nothing short of agonizing. For the top spots, the deliberations over who goes where became topics of vigorous debate in the hallways here at 5700 Wilshire.
PHOTOS: 2011 Women in Entertainment Power 100
In all the discussions, however, one undisputed trend emerged: TV, especially the world of cable, is ascendant, and women disproportionately are driving it. It's no coincidence that four of the top five women on this year's Power 100 list come from the medium (the extraordinary Amy Pascal alone represents film at No. 2).
Just a few years ago, film dominated entertainment with the most prestige, the greatest revenue and the biggest impact on our national conversation. Not anymore.
Programming such as The Daily Show, Mad Men and even Jersey Shore drives pop culture to a greater extent than any motion picture in recent years, extending its influence into the realms of fashion, politics, publishing and music. One major studio exec recently bemoaned to me that, outside of the Twilight franchise, film is lacking a major "event." "No one is talking about movies right now," said this exec. "It's all about cable."
At the same time, the earnings of some of the leading cable networks have dwarfed those of the major studios, and the valuation of Disney Media Networks -- the division overseen by the list's top-spot holder, Anne Sweeney -- is hugely more than that of its sister movie studio.
Total revenue for the entire movie industry this year is estimated by PricewaterhouseCoopers at $36.8 billion; by contrast, television advertising in the U.S. brought in $71.1 billion, and you can double that number if you add subscription and license revenue.
But economics aren't the only reason these women are at the top. It's also because television has provided opportunity that film simply hasn't. A newer industry, cable was welcoming to all when it was birthing multitudes of then-not-so-fashionable networks. The high-powered women at the top of TV largely got their breaks in the "Wild West" days of early cable -- as one executive describes them -- when television created openings that the established, more relationship-oriented movie world didn't.
None of this is to take away from the incredible women in film and other mediums on our Power 100. The same exec who decried the lack of momentum in movies was quick to point out, "It's all cyclical." Indeed, every single person on the list reflects extraordinary drive, intelligence and ability to weather whatever is around the bend in the industry. I dare anyone to not be inspired by every person in this issue. Congratulations to all.
The real question everyone's asking about Anne Sweeney isn't how she manages to pull off business miracles -- like stanching the blood at ABC by hiring former ABC Family chief Paul Lee as its entertainment president or seeing operating income in her empire grow a whopping 20 percent compared with fiscal 2010 -- it's where does she go next?
THR's most powerful woman in entertainment for a second consecutive year has been the subject of speculation about whether she'll succeed her boss, Walt Disney Co. chairman and CEO Robert Iger, when he steps down in 2015. If she does (media analysts favor CFO Jay Rasulo and Thomas Staggs, chairman of Parks and Resorts, but aren't ruling her out), it would mark a crack in the glass ceiling for women who've climbed high in media companies but never ascended to the top.
Sweeney, 54, will never say if that's her goal. "Ultimately, it's the board's decision to make," she notes with the skilled diplomacy that is her trademark. "I don't think many people are speculating. But really, no one's opinion counts more than the board's."
You can bet the board will be influenced by the success of Sweeney's portfolio, which includes a broadcast network, seven cable networks, eight local TV stations, Hyperion Publishing and Radio Disney, not to mention the company's 42.5 percent equity stake in A+E Networks and nearly 10,000 employees.
It is also sure to be influenced by 2011, during which revenue at Disney Media Networks is up 9 percent to $18.7 billion, leaving that segment of the Walt Disney Co. valued at $58.9 billion alone, according to Wunderlich Securities analyst Matthew Harrigan.
Add to this the fact that Sweeney, a married mother of two, has spearheaded a string of headline-making deals and innovations, and the sum is impressive. During the past year, she has pulled off a partnership between ABC News and Yahoo ("ABC News traffic soared from minute one," she says); Canada's ABC Spark, the Disney Television Group's first international millennial channel; ABC On Demand, the first on-demand entertainment service in the U.K., Germany and Portugal, with more markets planned for 2012; and a multiyear pact to bring Katie Couric to ABC in 2012 via a nationally syndicated talk show that has already been sold to more than 80 percent of U.S. TV households.
There are still question marks. Can her protege Lee truly turn around the flagging ABC? And can her handpicked lieutenant, Ben Sherwood, resuscitate ABC News, where insiders say Sweeney is far more involved than she lets on? (Again, ratings increases across the board bode well.)
But her success is all the more striking for an executive who never flaunts her power, who took the time to guide an inner-city teenager as part of THR's Women in Entertainment Mentorship Program and whose own child struggles with autism. Sweeney, who once aspired to be a teacher, is teaching Hollywood how to combine a private life with a professional one -- and how a business can thrive in a desperate economy. "We have weathered tremendous storms as a country and as a company," she says. "The reason we have come out stronger is because we encouraged people to be inventive and not paralyzed by fear."
Pascal is a throwback to the Hollywood moguls of yore -- a gutsy and tough-minded individualist who believes in taking risks on important, and in some cases, unconventional projects, like last year's acclaimed The Social Network and next year's reboot of Spider-Man with the outside-the-box choice of Marc Webb as director. When Pascal calls, the town jumps.
Still, following the super-sized success of 2010, this year was a bit of a dip -- and how could it not be? When the year comes to a close, the studio Pascal runs with Michael Lynton will have yielded more than $3 billion in worldwide theatrical sales, down from 2010's extraordinary $3.6 billion. (In addition to Social Network with its eight Oscar noms, last year she had the international hit The Karate Kid that grossed $359 million worldwide.)
This year, The Smurfs has earned more than $540 million worldwide, and the $20 million production Bad Teacher has generated more than $210 million, but Sony's most high-profile movie -- the Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara starrer The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, based on Stieg Larsson's international best-seller, which could notch another David Fincher win -- has yet to open.
Additionally, Pascal recently had to sever ties with director James L. Brooks and likely will face belt-tightening to help parent Sony Corp., hit hard by disasters in Japan. "Everybody has to adjust to the new economy and the new world we live in," she says, "and to be responsible and still make movies we love."
Still, the industry sometimes forgets that Pascal isn't just involved with movies: She has the distinction of being the only female film company co-chair who also oversees a television division, Sony Pictures TV, whose most valuable properties include Breaking Bad and The Big C. And Sony has more than two dozen television shows on the air in primetime, syndication and cable, which translates to about a billion viewers in more than 150 countries, and a robust digital business with Imageworks and Sony Pictures Animation.
But movies remain her great love and 2012 is looking good, with another James Bond movie, the 3D Men in Black III, a new Total Recall and the still-untitled Kathryn Bigelow project about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, along with Spider-Man. The seasoned Pascal, 53, has seen it all: She has been in a senior position at Sony since the 1980s and was appointed co-chair in 2006. She also has had stints at 20th Century Fox and Turner Pictures and is remarkable for having survived at the top in a business not known for executive longevity.
She attributes her staying power to her colleagues and "an environment where people have been through good and bad -- and know how to weather both."
"E! is a guilty pleasure … and not necessarily one people like to admit they watch."
That was the hard-to-hear feedback newly appointed NBCUniversal cable entertainment chairman Bonnie Hammer received this summer when she commissioned a brand study among consumers on the latest addition to her portfolio, the E! network.
What will come next is a brand makeover, which will see the E! logo as well as the programming tone and philosophy change to reflect what Hammer hopes will be a smarter and more aspirational destination. To hear her tell it, the network best known for Kardashian fare and Ryan Seacrest's staggering paycheck has the potential to be as popular and profitable as USA became under her watch. (E! currently garners 22 cents per subscriber a month, compared to USA's 60 cents, according to SNL Kagan.)
"E! needs to be and really wants to be the pulse of popular culture," the trim and immaculately dressed Hammer says of a network she claims has grown too Hollywood-centric to be relevant to a broader audience. The next several months with her recently reconfigured team, including a new hire to move the network into scripted programming, will redefine what the network stands for. "We'll eventually get rid of the more Playboy trashy element, and elevate E! to a fun, exciting and aspirational network," she explains with her hallmark intensity, noting that a recent promo for Kourtney & Kim Take New York, which features the stars in a helicopter and black-tie attire, is evidence -- albeit just a slice -- of the coming class.
Of course, changing the perception of E! in an era when the Kardashians' reality genre is often considered the scourge of society (by critics mostly, mind you) sounds like an impossible mission. But Hammer is cable TV's miracle worker, an executive who transformed once-dowdy USA and too-narrow Syfy into top 5 cable networks and presided over the prized possessions Comcast coveted in its $13.8 billion deal for NBCUniversal. These days, USA, which is coming off the most watched quarter in cable history, even out-rates broadcast sibling NBC on occasion. It's no wonder she earned a top position in the post-merger reorganization and a coveted spot at No. 2 on this magazine's list (tied with Sony's Amy Pascal). Hammer's portfolio, which includes G4, Chiller, Sleuth, Universal HD and Universal Cable Productions, is poised to deliver an estimated $2 billion in profit this year, and remains the biggest contributor to NBCUniversal's bottom line.
"She's one hell of a businesswoman. She has built the most powerful cable operation in the history of television. It's not by accident," says Law & Order creator Dick Wolf, whose Criminal Intent spinoff aired on USA.
Known as a skilled -- but never sleazy -- corporate player, the well-liked Hammer can be both a detail-oriented manager (she'll still weigh in on color choices on USA ads) and a big-picture thinker. USA co-president Chris McCumber marvels at the collaborative work environment she's able to foster. "She has the best gut in the business," he says of a woman he considers both boss and mentor. Says NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke, "It's rare to find an executive who has both strong leadership and creative talents, but that is exactly what you get with Bonnie. She has built a terrific team and the success of her portfolio speaks for itself."
The fallout from Kim Kardashian's 72-day marriage to NBA player Kris Humphries is still the dominating theme at the newsstand and on the web when Hammer sits down to lunch at Rockefeller Center's The Sea Grill on a crisp Manhattan day in late November. In recent weeks, reporters from The New York Times to People magazine have questioned the validity of the union, which commenced with a multi-million-dollar wedding showcased in a two-hour special on E! in October.
But if Hammer, 61, fears her network's most valuable franchise is in danger of unraveling, she isn't letting on. "This was not a stunt. In no way did people believe that this was going to happen," she says definitively, before adding: "I think true Kardashian fans know that a bigger than life mistake can be made easily in their world. Everything they do is bigger than life … it's just part of their DNA." (The latest season opener of Kourtney & Kim Take New York, featuring a then-married Kardashian and Humphries drew the franchise's largest premiere viewership to date.)
Still, Hammer is adamant that going forward the network not be as dependent on the Kardashians as it has been. Despite being a "beautiful" and "interesting" family, she believes the current strategy of living with only one or two franchises is "too fragile," and has ambitions of adding several more over the next couple of years.
Not that Hammer is interested in abandoning the kash kow family just yet. "I think it will have its own life expectancy," she says of the lucrative brand that the family has built on and off screen, "and we'll just go along with it and help hone what's right for E! and what's not right for E! as we develop a whole other world." Falling among the former are mom Kris Jenner's two youngest daughters -- technically Jenners -- and what Hammer says she hopes are "two, three, even four new Kardashian [spinoffs]."
Suzanne Kolb, promoted to E! entertainment president in July, continues to be struck by how clear and focused Hammer is on what she believes can happen and her willingness to let the team make sure it does. "She's a great mix of inspiration and empowerment for those who work for her," Kolb says of her new boss, with whom she communicates daily. "She's a master at directing people and redirecting people. She's really good at saying, 'a little to the left,' and navigating a very large ship."
In addition to the entry of scripted programming -- which Hammer seems confident will help elevate the brand -- she has plans to reevaluate the network's daily news program and grow its stable of hosting talent. At September's Emmy Awards, Hammer opted to monitor the red carpet coverage operation from an E! News van rather than walk the carpet in a gown herself. "The most important thing for E! to move forward is credibility, with immediacy being a close second," she adds, acknowledging the significance of being able to delve into smart news stories as well as to break news, something the current celebrity-themed news hour rarely does.
Also of appeal is broadening the network's purview so that it isn't so narrowly focused on Hollywood. It will still be about celebrity, but as Hammer sees it, her viewers will be drawn to people who have done extraordinary things, whether in Atlanta, Nashville or Paris, and her plan is to bring E!'s cameras to them. "One of the first things we'll do," she says, "is to expand beyond the confines of how Hollywood defines celebrity, trends and aspiration."
Hammer's own aspirations were formed in Queens, where she was raised the youngest of three children. While her late father, who started his own pen manufacturing company in the family's garage, remains Hammer's role model, it was her many summers at sleepaway camp in upstate New York that she says prepared her for the team-oriented environment she's been able to build at the office. Her father taught her not to take no for an answer, a quality she admits she employs not only in the workplace but also at hotels, restaurants and stores. "As long as you do it classily and nicely, you can get anything you want," Hammer says with a light laugh.
After toying with careers in law and psychology, Hammer graduated from Boston University with a degree in photojournalism. From there, she talked her way into a graduate program in media and technology, before landing her first industry gig working as a production assistant on Boston PBS station WGBH's Infinity Factory. As she recalls, the role included picking up after a sheepdog. "We all had to look after a cast member," she says, "and since I was the youngest and greenest PA they gave me the dog."
By 1986, she had gained experience on a handful of series and took an executive gig at Lifetime, where she focused primarily on socially conscious documentaries. Three years later, she was offered a programming position at USA, then jointly owned by Paramount and MCA/Universal, where a superior handed her the reins to what is now the World Wrestling Entertainment franchise. "I remember sitting in one of the early video conferences when Rod Perth said to me, 'Bonnie, I need you to take over the WWF. There needs to be some story there; it's all just big blowups and fighting,' " she recalls of a programming block she had little interest in. "I looked at him and said, 'Rod, are you crazy?' I'm pretty sure I flipped him the bird in the middle of the meeting, and then went home to my husband and threatened to quit."
On her husband's advice, Hammer spent the next few weeks familiarizing herself with the brand before showing up at imposing wrestling chief Vince McMahon's office. As the petite executive remembers it, she dressed down in boots and blue jeans, walked in and said, "Listen, up until two weeks ago, I never watched your show. I don't know what your business is, and I don't care what your business is. The only thing I know is how to make good TV."
She proved as much, working closely with McMahon and his team to find stories and characters that viewers could invest in. During the Monday live shows, she'd be on the phone with the crew telling them what they should show and, in the case of one character taking a machete to another's genitals, when they needed to cut to black. The following mornings she'd be on the phone with McMahon discussing notes and soaring ratings. Nearly two decades later, Hammer calls the experience one of the most enjoyable of her career.
Soon after, larger-than-life mogul Barry Diller took over, and Hammer insists one of the only reasons he kept her in the job was because of her wrestling ties. "I think he thought it was kind of funny that a girl could deal with Vince McMahon," she says. By 2001, Hammer was upped to president of Syfy (then Sci Fi Channel), and while she had spent much of her youth devouring science fiction books, she made it her mission to broaden the network beyond its core sci-fi audience. Hammer did so, bringing the network from a ranking in the high 20s to the top 10 on the back of such fare as her $40 million Steven Spielberg miniseries Taken, which debuted to Emmy acclaim in 2002. It was also that project, which cost another $10 million or so to market, that ultimately gave Hammer a career-altering boost from Diller, whom she counts among her mentors.
With the team around her doubting her instincts -- and sniping at the show's harrowing price tag -- Hammer sent an episode to Diller for review and reassurance. His response, in an e-mail with bright orange, 18 or 20 point type: "Honey, if all your episodes are as gluely compelling, I think you have a hit on your hands. Ignore the world." So, she recalls, "we held our nose and jumped. It was the highest-rated limited series not just for Syfy, but ever on cable." To this day, the e-mail remains in a special folder on Hammer's computer.
In 2004, she returned to USA as president, commissioning a brand audit that revealed what she had feared about the network. "What we heard back was that USA was like an old, worn-out shoe, and I wanted it to be a Louboutin," she says, her personal style in keeping with the latter. In her attempt to revitalize the network, she honed in on character and an upbeat "blue skies" philosophy, green-lighting shows including Burn Notice, Royal Pains and recent effort Suits. The logo changed with it: no more American flag; no more capital letters. "We made it more relatable and accessible," she explains, not to mention more popular and profitable. USA has now been the No. 1 cable network for five consecutive years and is also the most lucrative in NBCUniversal's stable.
Among the professional qualities USA's McCumber is most impressed by is Hammer's savvy management style, which doesn't allow for silos. "If we're talking about developing a show, each one of us from marketing to programming to ad sales will read the scripts and talk about casting," he says of the unique approach where every member of the team is invested. "This way, when we win, we win together; and when we lose, there's no pointing figures because we all made the decisions together."
Hammer's vision has garnered fans in the creative community. The Bourne Identity director Doug Liman, who has two shows on USA in Covert Affairs and Suits, likens Hammer to a modern-day Jack Warner. "In the olden days, when a filmmaker went to work for a studio, they worked for a place that had a strong identity and a very powerful leader. The end result is these enduring movies that filmmakers like myself today are trying to figure out how to make," he says. "At USA, Bonnie has created a version of that."
These days, the married mother of two -- son Jesse, 18, and daughter Ki Mae, 31 -- is getting used to her new status as a chairman and an empty nester. (Jesse is currently at Dartmouth, where Ki Mae and husband Dale are alumni.) Both have been major adjustments: the former because she's had to learn to be arms length after a lengthy career of being precisely the opposite; the latter because she's spent the last two decades living in tony Westport, Conn., where she's primarily known as "Jesse's mom."
Looking to the future, Hammer's goals are no longer about acquiring more networks to run, but rather about exploring new mediums. "There's a bit of quiet wisdom that comes when you're not a newbie at this. You become a lot more comfortable with yourself and you're no longer climbing," says Hammer. As skaters whiz by at the nearby Rockefeller Center rink, she opens up about all of the other things that she's been quietly itching to do, including yoga, a fitting fitness routine for someone who historically has found activities to reflect her life state. (During her stint under Diller, she took up kick-boxing, where her six-foot bag had his name as a strike target.)
There's also a tongue-in-cheek book that she's been toying with writing for women coming up in the entertainment industry, along with a movie. "I've not had any interest in running a movie studio, but I want to make one feature film," she declares as a plate of berries arrives for dessert. She hasn't come across the right property yet, but says she's thinking something "upbeat and aspirational," a movie along the lines of Field of Dreams or Forrest Gump that leaves people feeling hope. She continues, "Something that's fun, a little twisted and out there, and even a bit provocative but has humor and resonates."
She takes a beat, before adding, "It's just something that I've always wanted to do." To know Hammer, who has made a career out of turning desire into reality, is to know she will.
Raven takes the commuter rail back and forth between her Manhattan office and her home in suburban Westchester County. And while she admits to whiling away some of that time playing Scrabble with friends on her iPad, she also uses it as an opportunity to observe the media consumption habits of her fellow Metro-North passengers.
"That's been a real laboratory for me," she says. "The proliferation of iPads on the train is astounding. I get to see what people who are not in our industry are doing, what apps they're using, how they're using technology, what they're watching on their devices."
Raven isn't the only one doing the observing. If she's watching some of the programming on her own networks, "the conductor will stop and say, 'Oh, I love Pawn Stars,' " she says. Or if she's carrying a shoulder bag with the A&E or History logos, people will inevitably inquire as to where she got it. "I just say 'I work there,' " she says.
If such evidence is purely anecdotal, there is also plenty of empirical data attesting to the broad appeal and global reach of the networks in her portfolio. A+E Networks -- which includes A&E and History, Lifetime, Lifetime Movie Channel, Bio, Military History, Crime & Investigation and History En Español -- reach more than 300 million households in 150 countries.
For the third quarter, History and A&E were the only cable networks to experience double-digit ratings growth in the channels' target demographic of ages 25 to 54 (History was ranked No. 2 for the quarter, and A&E came in at No. 5). Already players in the international market, History recently launched in India -- in six languages. "In the factual entertainment space, we are the No. 1 or No. 2 network in many countries," Raven says. "History has now surpassed Discovery as the No. 1 nonfiction brand around the world."
Raven, 58, has been with the company for 29 years, joining in 1982 as a production assistant at Daytime & Arts, which became Arts & Entertainment, the early incarnation of A&E. She moved up through the executive ranks and was promoted to president and CEO in 2005.
Raven is unassuming and quick to share credit ("I have an incredible management team," she says), and her longevity is an anomaly in a business where a revolving executive-suite door is the norm. "I started at the bottom," she says. "I'm very proud of that."
Of all the primetime shows that debuted this fall, the one that likely got the most press was Fox's New Girl. Granted, the opportunity to chat with the dweebishly adorable Zooey Deschanel would be tough for any journalist to pass up, but there's also the matter of 20th Century Fox Television chairman Walden, who greenlighted the series, added it to the company's stable of successes (from The X-Files and 24 to Glee and Modern Family), and comes from a background in PR.
"I always draw on my experience as a publicist," says the 47-year-old married mom of two. "It enabled me to see the whole business, which many of my peers who came up through development and creative paths didn't get to see. There's a trick to telling a story and sending your message. Some people have the gift and some do not."
Walden most certainly does. A 19-year veteran of the studio, she, along with fellow chairman Gary Newman, has three presidents reporting to her, some 236 staffers under them, and another 5,900 on the payroll when you count actors, producers and crew members spread out among 34 shows in production. They include the Emmy-winning Modern Family, ratings leader How I Met Your Mother, Ryan Murphy's latest creation, American Horror Story, and the Steven Spielberg-produced Terra Nova.
Twentieth is also behind Tim Allen's return to alpha male dominance in the ABC sitcom Last Man Standing. And, of course, there's Glee, which regularly puts Walden's crisis management skills to the test.
So is there a DEFCON system for Glee scandals? Say, level 2 for a song leak, 3 for a casting change, 5 for a Murphy-slung insult? "Glee emergencies are high-class problems," she laughs. "Peter Chernin, who was a great influence on me, always said if you play it safe, you're destined for failure. Big, bold ideas are what excite me."
Dreamworks was fully back in the game this year: having moved its base of operations to Disney and with new financing from India's Reliance, the recharged studio began rolling out a fresh slate of films. Initial titles like I Am Number Four and Fright Night stumbled, and the genre-defying summer release Cowboys & Aliens, on which the company partnered with Universal and Relativity, proved a pricey ($160 million) disappointment ($175 million worldwide).
"The filmmakers strove to make an original, unbranded, 'twisty' film -- and both studios brought their best efforts to the endeavor, but sometimes your reach exceeds your grasp," Snider, 50, says. In its wake, the studio resorted to some belt-tightening. But Real Steel, another action fantasy released in the fall, has shown more muscle, as it's climbed to $252 million worldwide.
And her biggest hit domestically also was one of her riskiest calls: The Help. Snider loved Kathryn Stockett's novel and Tate Taylor's screenplay and decided to take a chance on the relatively untested director. As a mom -- she and her husband, music producer Gary Jones, have two daughters -- Snider had relied on help herself and related to the material, which also struck a chord with audiences, who contributed to a domestic take of nearly $200 million.
"The movie's resonance with audiences was more than we could have imagined," she says, calling the movie "one of those never-to-be-forgotten life experiences."
While her DreamWorks partner Steven Spielberg has most recently been off filming Lincoln, the studio is now readying the Christmas release of his World War I saga War Horse. "The early reactions have been incredibly gratifying," Snider says of the movie that, along with The Help, is expected to contend throughout awards season.
Ask Two Broke Girls creator Michael Patrick King to come up with a great anecdote about Nina Tassler, and he'll ask you to give him a moment as he gives it some thought. It's been only six months since the CBS entertainment president picked up his comedy, and he's still proving to her that it belongs on a schedule of long-running hits from the CSI shows to The Big Bang Theory. "Let's see," the producer says, buying time by hurling adjectives you hear often about Tassler: "smart," "maternal," "passionate."
And then, bam -- he has it: "Nina had the balls to fire a horse."
The horse, in this case, is Chestnut, a vestige of the former life of one his "broke girls," the now penniless daughter of a Bernie Madoff type. King had cast a blond buckskin, more fitting for Westerns, which was waiting for its scene when Tassler came to set for a run-though. The native New Yorker, who grew up riding, knew the equine actor had been miscast.
"That horse wasn't the kind they kept at the Central Park stables," says Tassler. So she saw to it that her promising freshman comedy recast the horse, hiring a more appropriate, chocolate-colored thoroughbred.
Tassler keeps a replica of the horse propped up in her office, as much a reminder of her past as it is indicative of her hands-on style that has helped make CBS the most-watched network for eight of the past nine seasons. Now, in a fall that was supposed to be upended by casting overhauls -- Ashton Kutcher replacing Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half Men and Ted Danson in for Laurence Fishburne on CSI -- CBS has managed to lure more viewers than any of its broadcast rivals, actually growing its audience in a shrinking network environment. Two months in, CBS can claim 12 of the top 15 scripted shows and is the first since 2002 to have the No. 1 comedy (Men), No. 1 drama (NCIS) and No. 1 new series (Two Broke Girls) among the prized 18-to-49 demo, putting to rest the perception of CBS as just a place for the senior set. New entries like Unforgettable were quickly granted full seasons, and Men became the first comedy in a decade to rank as the No. 1 program four weeks into the season.
Tassler, 54, credits Kutcher's social-media fan base along with creator Chuck Lorre's creative ingenuity for Men's renewed strength, preferring to leave the conversation there for fear of having to delve into the still uncomfortable, and tired, topic of Sheen. "We turned disaster into success, and she had a lot to do with it," says her boss, Leslie Moonves. In fact, it was Tassler who had a longtime relationship with Kutcher's lawyer, Robert Offer, and put the deal in motion.
In recent months, Tassler's hands have been all over CSI, first as the show was recasting Fishburne's part and then as it was setting up Elisabeth Shue to step in for Marg Helgenberger later this season. "Nina is in that trench with you making decisions if not in body, in spirit -- though most of the time in body too," says CSI showrunner Carol Mendelsohn. "If you come in with a great idea, there's nobody more passionate than she is."
Tassler loved the arts before she knew there was a business in show business. As the daughter of a Jewish father and a Catholic Puerto Rican mother raised in a quiet dairy farm community in upstate New York, where her parents ran a sleepaway camp, she was drawn to the theater. "It felt like an environment where you didn't have to fit a mold," says Tassler, the oldest of three kids.
Upon graduating with a theater major from Boston University, Tassler moved to Manhattan to become an actor. In between auditions, she got a taste for the business at the Roundabout Theater Company. She remained there until her husband, Jerry Levine, whom she has been with since she was 18, landed a part in the film Teen Wolf. The married couple soon moved to Los Angeles, where she struggled initially to find work. (Today, Tassler and Levine have a 23-year-old son, a 13-year-old daughter and a close-knit family who have followed them west.)
In the mid-'80s, a young Tassler scored an assistant gig at the Irv Schechter Agency, where she rose to become an agent before making the leap to the bigger Triad Artists. "I had this crisis. 'What do I do? Oh, my God. I'll never be an actress. My career's over,' " Tassler recalls. "My husband said, 'Play the hand you're dealt. If you want to be in the business, take whatever job you can get.' " She did, amassing a portfolio of clients that included Tony Curtis, Victoria Principal and Meredith Baxter, before deciding she wanted a job where she got to stay with the material.
In what would begin a two-plus decade creative partnership, Tassler put all of her effort into securing a position at Lorimar Television, now Warner Bros., where Moonves was in charge. "I began a full-scale assault on Leslie and everybody at Lorimar to get me a job -- everything short of someone having me arrested," Tassler says, chuckling at her own chutzpah.
Moonves was struck by her persistence. "I'd already decided she was someone I wanted to have on my team, but she had 50 people call me. Finally, I said, 'All right, I'm going to hire you, now please tell them to stop, I have a job to do,' " he says. "Hiring her was one of the best moves I ever made." Tassler remained there from 1990 to 1996, working on series like ER before following her boss and mentor to turn around a then ailing CBS.
When the pair arrived at CBS, Moonves a year or two ahead of Tassler, the network had lost the NFL and its average viewer was well outside the 18-49 demo. But by 2001, Moonves, then entertainment president, had Survivor and the Tassler-developed CSI, which catapulted CBS to No. 1 on Thursday, TV's most lucrative night. From there, Moonves and Tassler, head of drama development at the time, continued to add series -- Without a Trace, Cold Case, NCIS and a suite of CSI spinoffs -- and viewers.
Today, as the biz's longest-running network chief -- the petite Tassler took the reins as entertainment president in 2004 -- she presides over a pair of billion-dollar franchises, NCIS and CSI, and the kind of ratings consistency that makes her the envy of the industry. Even the knock on the CBS lineup as a somewhat formulaic schedule of broad-based comedies and down-the-middle procedurals is a backhanded compliment given the results it yields.
Still, there are genres she'd love to try -- or in some cases, try again. Among them: musicals, Westerns, performance-based reality shows and a drama with a young female voice. "Science fiction is something I'd love to find a way to do so our audience could really embrace it … Oh, and I'd love to try a funny hourlong comedy," she says, overcome with enthusiasm.
Sitting beside the executive as her wheels spin with ideas, it's easy to imagine all of the trenches Tassler has yet to dive into. No matter what comes at her, she declares, "I'm still standing. Like I always say, 'I'll stop when I'm dead.' "
This year Langley had her contract with Universal extended a year early through 2014 and domestic box-office revenue is up 28 percent from 2010. That's not bad personally and professionally, but the studio co-chairman says, "I'm looking forward to proving we can fully turn the studio around and be more consistent."
Universal's year has had its ups and downs. The biggest up was Fast Five and Bridesmaids was a surprise success. The not-so-ups included The Dilemma and The Thing. "We've had some success, but not full success," says Langley, 43. "I'll feel better when we've proven we can accomplish what we've said we can accomplish."
Langley's path to being a studio head is more colorful than the norm. She was born in Staines, England and took a chance on coming to America 20 years ago "to work in production somewhere." Through a fellow Brit, she found work as a hostess at the hot '80s club Roxbury, where she met Mike DeLuca. He got her a job at New Line.
She considers DeLuca and Mary Parent, who helped her come to Universal, her mentors. "The thing I admire about Mike is he's able to stay connected to his gut instinct," says Langley. "And his batting average is as good or better as the people doing more traditional number crunching."
At the moment, Langley is on maternity leave. Her second child, a boy, was born Oct. 19. "The thing I learned from the first one is your leave should really start just as you're coming back," she says. "The first three months are routine -- feeding, burping and eating. It's when they're 6 months old they become really interesting and that's when you don't want to leave them."
Dubuc takes one cold-call meeting a month with industry aspirants who reach out to her via email. (Apologies for opening the floodgates by publicizing these random acts of generosity.) This speaks to Dubuc's work ethic while also revealing a walk-the-walk dedication to mentoring that is unusual in an industry where those who have climbed the ladder often pull it up behind them. "We all came from somewhere and it's very easy to forget that," Dubuc says. "Every industry lives on the learning of the previous generation. And I think we need to take that responsibility more seriously."
Dubuc, 42, a married mother of a 5-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son, has had some teachable moments of her own this year. What was to be History's first scripted project -- the big-budget and star-studded The Kennedys -- was jettisoned after pressure from the Kennedy family. Dubuc acknowledges that the controversy got the "lion's share of media attention." But, she says, "as a leader you have to keep pushing your team and your business forward. I learned that you can't let one show or a few negative stories stand in the way of your overall vision for the business."
The much less controversial miniseries The Hatfields and McCoys, starring Kevin Costner, will bow next year on History.
And Dubuc is still attempting to rebuild Lifetime, which became part of her portfolio last May. The network is ranked No. 6 among its core viewership of women 25–54. But Dubuc would like to see it become the powerhouse that History is: double-digit year-over-year ratings growth, ranking among cable's top four networks in all key demographics (viewers 18–49 and 25–54 and men 18–49 and 25–54), and on track to end the year with its highest-rated primetime ever thanks to the continued success of shows like Pawn Stars, American Pickers and Swamp People.
Lifetime has a flurry of projects in the pipeline including the Renee Zellweger–produced Cinnamon Girl (set in the 1960s and based on the actress' journey from small-town Texas to Hollywood) and the Jennifer Love Hewitt drama The Client List (about a homemaker-turned-prostitute), which is set to bow in 2012. These projects come on the heels of the breast-cancer anthology Five, which bowed in October and featured short films directed by Jennifer Aniston, Alicia Keys and Demi Moore. Five may not have burned up the ratings charts, but Dubuc says she "gravitated to it because -- and this is no disrespect to any of the organizations that have fought so hard to eradicate this disease -- it was a project that didn't come from a 'pink-ribbon' point of view."
To that end, Dubuc and her team have spent considerable energy dispelling calcified notions among those in the creative community about what a Lifetime project should be. "As soon as you say, 'This is right for Lifetime,' it's not right for Lifetime," she says. "I know what the backend of that sentence really means. We want to be vying for the greatest creative projects available in town that speak to our audience and the audience that we want to attract."
Just before Thanksgiving, Kroll found herself in London on business, so she decided to stay abroad through the holiday and see friends. "My time is not my own," she confides. That's an understatement, considering she runs global marketing for the most prolific studio in Hollywood -- and one of the most successful.
So far, Warner Bros. has bragging rights to the top movie of 2011, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, which grossed $1.32 billion worldwide, the best of any film in the blockbuster franchise. "The opportunity to work on that film was amazing, but I also think there's been a lot of interesting things that weren't so obvious," says Kroll.
In particular, she notes the strong branding campaign for R-rated comedy Horrible Bosses, which paired each of the three employees with their respective bosses, as well as coming up with a color palette for each. "To me, it's more than movie marketing. It's really about getting in there and bringing the concept to life in a way that people can relate to and remember," she says.
She's also especially proud of the campaigns for Crazy Stupid Love and Steven Soderbergh's Contagion, which became a surprise box office hit. "Contagion was amazing, and it was about tapping into people's worst fears," says Kroll, adding that the decision to feature Gwyneth Paltrow's terrified and ailing character on a one-sheet was "unusual and audacious."
Kroll's power base is substantial, and she sits on the studio's greenlight committee. If she doesn't think a movie will work from a marketing perspective, she can vote no. The married Kroll has a truly global view, having been president of international marketing before becoming worldwide marketing president in 2008. She says: "Watching a project evolve and working on the marketing is the best job in the industry."
In January, Zalaznick's NBCUniversal portfolio -- which already included Bravo, Oxygen and iVillage, as well as multiple company-wide initiatives (Green Is Universal, Women at NBCUniversal) -- expanded significantly. With the Comcast merger, she added oversight of Style, mun2, PBS Sprout, Spanish language broadcaster Telemundo and digital destinations DailyCandy, Swirl and Fandango. If you're counting, that's five cable networks, one broadcaster and four digital properties -- and Zalaznick still manages the integrated strategic marketing group, which includes those aforementioned initiatives.
This year, Bravo will notch its sixth consecutive best year ever among all key demos on the strength of the resilient Real Housewives and Top Chef franchises and Style is on track to deliver its most-watched season ever. If Oxygen has seen its ratings plateau after years of steady growth, The Glee Project has at least brought younger viewers to the network. The forward-looking growth strategy for the clutch of cable channels is "more good original content. Period," Zalaznick says. "It's very clear. It's also very tough," she adds. "But it's not like we're in a cloud, don't know what to do, hair on fire. We know what to do."
To that end, Zalaznick, 48, says all three networks will see a lot more original programming hours in 2012. And Telemundo, which also will hit a high-ratings mark this year, will get thousands of hours of valuable sports programming beginning in 2015 with the addition of FIFA World Cup soccer in a $625 million deal (it outbid incumbent and top-rated Spanish-language broadcaster Univision for the rights). Live sports are the holy grail in an increasingly time-shifted and streaming television universe. (Zalaznick characterizes the World Cup acquisition as "a very big deal.") And it's not just a boost for Telemundo, which will get the marquee events, but also for younger-skewing bilingual network mun2, which also will see some World Cup programming.
Her demanding professional responsibilities do not leave room for much downtime, though she likes to read novels. She's reading Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography, recently "powered through" Jeffrey Eugenides' Brown University–set The Marriage Plot (she's an alum of the school) and has purchased -- but hasn't yet dug into -- the 900-plus-page 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami.
What little leisure time she has helps her focus. "There are really only two things: You're at work or you're at home with your family," says Zalaznick, who lives in Manhattan's Greenwich Village with her husband, two teenage daughters and a 9-year-old son.
Last year, Warner Bros. International took in $2.93 billion at the foreign box office, setting a record and beating all major studios. And this year, Kwan-Rubinek expects revenues to cross $3 billion. "I am very proud that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 grossed $953 million internationally -- 44 percent higher than the last film. And it secured the biggest international opening of all time, $313.5 million from 59 countries," she says.
Kwan-Rubinek also enjoyed huge success with The Hangover Part II, which earned $331 million offshore (73 percent more than the original) to become the top R-rated comedy of all time.
The nature of her job means she's constantly criss-crossing the globe, with Europe her most frequented region. "Traveling gets harder as you get older, but I truly enjoy it," says Kwan-Rubinek, 48, who recently remarried and relocated from Encino to Santa Monica with her 13-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter. "The commute is a little longer, but I just love coming home."
Colligan has rocketed up the food chain to become one of Hollywood's marketing stars. She rose up through the studio specialty ranks, working at Miramax and Fox Searchlight before joining Paramount Vantage in 2005, where she helped land the rights to Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth featuring Al Gore. Years earlier, Colligan had worked for a nonprofit public relations firm in Washington and assisted on Gore's presidential campaign.
In 2008, Colligan, 38, joined the studio big leagues when she was named co-president of domestic marketing for Paramount. She and fellow co-president Josh Greenstein quickly impressed with their campaigns and are having another banner year, successfully launching Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, as well as the third installment in the Transformers franchise and original tentpole Super 8. "The summer was very satisfying. We had really big movies with complicated challenges, and our team rose to the occasion," says Colligan, who is now preparing for Christmas tentpole Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol in addition to a busy awards season. "The structure of Paramount is such that we do all kinds of movies, and it makes for a very creative process," she says.
This fall, Colligan was promoted to president of domestic marketing and distribution, an unusual blend, since distribution and marketing are usually parallel operations. Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore credits Colligan for coming up with innovative distribution strategies, such as for the first Paranormal Activity. "Distribution is something I've always taken an interest in, and I feel very lucky," she says.
Colligan has three young sons and is married to Mark Roybal, the former president of Scott Rudin Productions who now runs Indian Paintbrush. The couple met while attending Harvard. "I was an investment banker right out of college," says Colligan, "but I quickly became jealous of these people with cool jobs in film and politics."
Rocco knows a thing or two about the transition to digital media. An avid cookbook collector -- she inherited a cache of them from her mother -- she has found herself giving away more and more of them lately. "I'm addicted to going online now," she says.
During her all-encompassing day job as Universal's head of distribution, she also finds herself right in the middle of that larger transition as theaters have moved from analog prints to digital projection. "Physically, it makes delivery easier, less mishaps," she says, but it has put her in a tricky position at times with the theater owners who are her primary customers.
In October, Universal announced an early VOD test offering of Tower Heist, but theater chains threatened not to book the movie, forcing the studio to back down. "My main responsibility is to bring in as much revenue as I can, and the only way I can do that is to maintain great relationships with my customers," she says. "We try to work as partners and in the digital world, we see opportunities and we eventually have to convince exhibition to be our partners there. With Tower Heist, we may have lost the battle, but we haven't lost the war."
While her year got off to a slow start -- movies like The Dilemma disappointed -- it picked up when Fast Five topped $200 million, in part due to a well-timed April release in advance of the summer crush. And it hit a high point with Bridesmaids, which defied all expectations on its way to $169 million domestic.
Says Rocco, 62, who lives in Calabasas with her husband, Joseph, a retired financial planner, "It's always a pleasure to release a film that is a total surprise. It just held on from week to week, and there is nothing better than that for a distributor."
A key member of Steven Spielberg's inner circle since 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark, Kennedy has spent the past three years firmly ensconced in the director's creative camp. The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, which hits theaters right before Christmas through Paramount, represents their first big foray into 3D and animation.
Right behind that is the adaptation of Michael Morpurgo's World War I novel War Horse, which will open Christmas Day, while the Spielberg-directed Lincoln films through the end of the year. These last two projects are Disney releases produced by the reconstituted DreamWorks Studios, where Kennedy, 58, and her producing partner and husband, Frank Marshall, just signed a one-year first-look deal that may include the Peter Jackson-directed, Spielberg-produced Tintin sequel.
Naegle and HBO have been on a roll lately. Last year's freshman series Boardwalk Empire won a Golden Globe for best dramatic series. Emmy season saw the network earn a whopping 104 nominations and 19 wins. And 2012 will see the long-awaited debut of Luck, the David Milch-Michael Mann horse-racing drama starring Dustin Hoffman. "David wrote a beautiful script," says Naegle, "and Michael shot the hell out of it."
She says the show will fit nicely within a lineup that ranges from fantasy (Game of Thrones) to bawdy (Hung). "We have a lot of different colors on the palette," says Naegle, 42. "Not every single viewer watches every show. But the ones they watch should be their favorite shows."
Also slated for HBO is Girls, the Lena Dunham, Judd Apatow-produced vehicle about twentysomething women in New York; an as-yet-untitled cable news drama from Aaron Sorkin; and Veep, a D.C.-set comedy series starring Julia Louis-Dreyfuss. "I like the idea that viewers can't describe our lineup too easily," she says. "But they could say all our shows are very good."
Naegle's journey to HBO started directly from UTA. And while the jobs of agent and exec exist on two different planes, there is obvious overlap. "There's a degree of buying and selling even in my job," she says. "You have to be a strong advocate of the shows you believe in. Sometimes those skills are very similar to agenting." And while being an advocate is one job skill, the most important to her is working with the writers. "Most development doesn't make it to series," says the exec. "So you want the writer and director to have a really good experience with development because, if it doesn't work out, you want to work with them again. You have to know their work really well, know the drafts really well, and when you give notes, you need to have really thought them through."
Naegle applies the same level of commitment to her family life with comedy-writer husband Dana Gould and their three young daughters.
Call it "the panda effect": Thanks to Kung Fu Panda 2's $663 million in worldwide box office receipts -- the highest-grossing animated film of the year (and fourth film overall) -- Daly is riding high. Further boosting her mood is the robust business of Puss in Boots, which has amassed $198 million worldwide since its Oct. 28 opening. "Even in a tough operating environment, we are really proud of Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss in Boots," says Daly, 55. "We will continue to build these properties as character franchises."
Daly is responsible for DWA's day-to-day operations, and her ability to steer the company toward success stems from her years in the business, which began in 1983, when the UCLA grad joined the home entertainment division of the Walt Disney Co. "Through my experience at Disney, I started to appreciate and understand animation filmmaking as an art form," she says.
Her passion for animation grew when, in 1997, Jeffrey Katzenberg asked her to head the feature animation department of DreamWorks Animation, then in its infancy. In October 2004, she assumed her current post where she is also charged with fostering a creative environment at DWA's verdant campus-like Glendale headquarters. "The campus, in a crazy way, facilitates conversations and helps the creative collaborations," Daly says. "You hang out at breakfast, you hang out at lunch, people can sit in an environment where it's not completely office-y."
Daly, who is married, has high hopes for the third installment of the Madagascar franchise, coming out in June. She's also excited about DWA's recent acquisition of the best-selling kids book series Captain Underpants ("We were just so thrilled to make that deal," she says) and has been keeping busy flying to Australia -- actually a treat for the travel-loving exec -- to monitor the progress of one of DreamWorks Animation's latest ventures, a live arena show based on last year's hit How to Train Your Dragon. The production, created and produced by Aussie company Global Creatures (Walking With Dinosaurs), premieres Down Under in March before going on a worldwide tour. Says Daly: "The animatronic dragons they are creating are just spectacular."
Watts turned out two of the most critically acclaimed studio tentpoles of the year: X-Men: First Class and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Both prequels defied the naysayers and revived key franchises.
Rupert Wyatt's Planet of the Apes earned $476.4 million worldwide, and Matthew Vaughn's First Class grossed $353.6 million. "I work really hard up until the last moment to give directors everything they need. I work for the movies first and foremost, and it's a hell of a lot easier when you have great filmmakers," Watts, 41, says.
Her sophisticated if slightly bookish style is reflected in her movies, as is her penchant for working with up-and-coming directors. Born in England, Watts moved to Canada when she was 5 years old with her mother, a nurse's union rep, and her father, a management consultant. She got her start working with the late photographer Herb Ritts on music videos and later became a production executive at Oliver Stone's shop, where she spent 14 years, working on films including U-Turn (1997) and Any Given Sunday (1999). (Stone and Watts were recently reunited when Fox made Stone's sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.)
Watts arrived at Fox as a creative executive and quickly rose through the ranks. She's got a lot to manage these days, between her job and two small children, a 6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter (her husband, Jonathan Krauss, also is in the biz and works for Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski). "The juggle is substantial, but it makes you better at everything," she says.
In the early evening, Watts enforces a BlackBerry-free zone so as to spend uninterrupted time with her kids. "Once they go to bed, the Berry is back on and the scripts come out."
At work, she's gearing up for the studio's next big release: Cameron Crowe's buzzy Christmas family film We Bought a Zoo, starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson.
"I left Fox on a really high note," Salke says of her decision to exit the thriving studio (responsible for such hits as Glee, Modern Family and New Girl) for an executive role at the fourth-place network this summer. The draw, she says, was the opportunity to "take on this challenge" with her old friend Bob Greenblatt, who took the reins of NBC Entertainment in January.
Salke has spent the better part of the past four months listening to roughly 10 pitches per day, looking for creators who have a singular -- and often deeply personal -- vision the way Glee's Ryan Murphy, New Girl's Liz Meriwether and Modern Family's Steve Levitan and Chris Lloyd did when they pitched their respective projects to 20th Century Fox TV. "I'm really looking forward to bringing some of that success here because it's much needed," she says, a reference to NBC's continued ratings woes, which weren't helped by the failure of this fall's The Playboy Club.
Daunting as it may be, though, NBC's challenge fits squarely into Salke's longtime passion for the entertainment business, which began in earnest when she was an undergraduate at NYU, where she double majored in economics and writing for film and television. "It was kind of a funny left brain, right brain kind of thing," says Salke, 47, about her ongoing desire to merge the creative with the commercial.
These days, when she isn't sinking her teeth into scripts or production notes, the Los Angeles native likes to hit the ski slopes with her family in Deer Valley, Utah. The mother of three recently bought a home there with husband Bert, who runs the 20th offshoot Fox 21.
It's been a rough year for the long-reigning queen of daytime television. Since wrapping her daily talk show May 25, a quarter-century after it launched, Winfrey, 57, has been consumed with OWN, The Oprah Winfrey Network, which she created in association with Discovery Communications. And so far the results have been less than desirable, even after Winfrey personally seized the reins when she named herself CEO and chief creative officer in July. Numerous reruns and shows hosted by friends such as Gayle King and Rosie O'Donnell have failed to catch fire. Indeed, The Rosie O'Donnell Show, which debuted in August to almost half a million viewers, has been dropping steadily since its bow. It averaged only 185,000 viewers in the week ending Nov. 6, according to Nielsen.
Other programming, including the Sarah Ferguson endeavor Finding Sarah and a misguided reality show with Ryan and Tatum O'Neal, flopped. The channel, into which Discovery has poured an estimated quarter-billion dollars, is averaging slightly more than 200,000 viewers a day in primetime -- leaving it ranked No. 53 among basic cable channels.
None of this has been helped by Winfrey's problems finding the right person to help her run OWN, which saw CEO Christina Norman exit in May to be replaced by Peter Liguori on an interim basis -- only for him to announce in early November he'd be leaving by the end of the year. In the midst of this, it's ironic that Winfrey's BFF, King, has seen her own star rise, joining Charlie Rose as a host of CBS' revamped Early Show and therefore exiting her friend's network.
Winfrey's future might now depend on her return to a regular program with Oprah's Next Chapter, scheduled to launch 9 p.m. Jan. 1 with Aerosmith frontman and American Idol judge Steven Tyler as the first guest. Unlike her erstwhile talk show, this one will see Winfrey out of the studio roaming the world, even visiting the likes of Sean Penn as he continues earthquake-relief efforts in Haiti. But that show will likely be weekly or biweekly at best, leaving huge holes of programming to fill. Winfrey no doubt is committed to filling them better, and fast, or she may have the kind of "Aha!" moment she dreads.
If there's anything to glean from the decor in michele ganeless' office, it's that, even after nearly two decades at Comedy Central, she's still its biggest fan.
Her corner space at the company's headquarters in Lower Manhattan is a shrine to the brand. The assemblage of tchotchkes includes a bag of Cheesy Poofs, South Park snarkmeister Cartman's favorite snack, and a number of items related to her Northwestern University classmate Stephen Colbert, including a bobblehead and a blowup of Colbert and Jon Stewart on the cover of Rolling Stone in 2006.
She was at the National Mall in October with more than 200,000 others for Stewart and Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. She was among the guests at the Broadway opening of South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone's Tony-winning musical The Book of Mormon. And she has spent many an afternoon in the audience at The Daily Show and The Colbert Report -- though with a 3½-year-old daughter at home, she has had to curtail that somewhat. "I can't go as regularly now because they tape right around dinner and bath time," Ganeless admits.
Her most important job, as she sees it, is to enable the subversive brilliance of her stars. "We want people who have their finger on the zeitgeist," she says. "And we give them the creative freedom that not a lot of places will give them."
Once a stepping stone (original Daily Show host Craig Kilborn left for The Late Late Show on CBS, and ABC poached Bill Maher and Politically Incorrect), Comedy Central is now a destination for comedians. Last year, the network signed contract extensions with Stewart and Colbert through June 2013. And on Nov. 16, Comedy Central renewed South Park for three more seasons, keeping the show that began in 1997 on the air until at least 2016.
"My job is to create the right environment so they want to come work here. And that is an open environment that rewards creativity and is very hands-off," she says. "I do not manage Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert or Daniel Tosh. We identify talent that has a very singular point of view, and we give them a platform to do their thing."
Their thing, of course, includes lampooning sacred cows, which can mean alienating religious leaders, decency watchdogs and sometimes even Hollywood A-listers. "I don't feel like they would ever hang us out to dry," says South Park executive producer Anne Garefino. "We're good partners. And Michele is the point person for all of that. I feel like we're all on the same team."
Ganeless, 46, herself stands in contrast to the riot of sometimes-puerile guy humor that abounds at Comedy Central, which targets men ages 18 to 34. On this unseasonably warm early November afternoon, she wears a simple black V-neck sweater tucked into black slacks. Her only discernible jewelry is a modest diamond wedding band. It is a new item: She married Peter Land -- the father of her daughter, Lucy, and a communications executive at PepsiCo -- in October. Low-key and bookish, she approaches her job with a wonkiness honed in research, where her career originated when the Nyack, N.Y., native landed an entry-level job at a small Chicago research firm after graduating from college.
"I like numbers," she says. "I loved research, and I still do. It's the basis of how I make all of my decisions to this day. It's all about the consumer, about our fans. And if you listen to them, they will tell you how to be successful."
Says Doug Herzog, MTV Entertainment Networks Group president and her boss and mentor: "Michele is a great strategic thinker. I'm kind of ADD and a little bit more improvisational. I think that's one of the reasons we work so well together."
Ganeless joined Viacom in 1990 as a research manager for Ha!, the precursor to Comedy Central, and moved up the ranks at MTV and Comedy Central in research and planning as well as programming. Except for a stint at USA Network from 2001-04, she has spent her entire career at the company and was a key member of the programming team that launched The Daily Show and South Park.
"Michele is one of the architects of the Comedy Central brand," says Herzog. "She's really worked in almost every facet of this company. She has a true understanding of the brand because she really helped create it."
This year, the network ranks as the No. 1 entertainment brand in primetime among men 18-34 and is second only to ESPN across all of TV in that demo. The Daily Show and The Colbert Report have bested their late-night broadcast competition and rank Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, among viewers 18-24 and 18-34 in late-night. The network had the highest-rated week in its 20-year history in September during broadcast TV premiere week, thanks to a roast of Charlie Sheen (a booking coup that nabbed 7.6 million viewers), Tosh's College Campus Invasion special (4.2 million viewers), the second-season premiere of Workaholics (2.6 million viewers) and the premiere of Jeff Dunham's latest stand-up special (6.5 million viewers).
Ganeless admits that a record-breaking week can bring a new set of anxieties. "I would be lying if I said I didn't worry about topping it," she says. But together with her development and programming teams, she is actively plotting the next frontier, including expanding original programming into the post-midnight hours after Colbert's show wraps and continuing to grow the network's ancillary business, which has become key in keeping top talent at Comedy Central.
Comedy Central takes a "farm team" approach to building talent, which then can get 360-degree deals that include websites, consumer products, national tours, one-hour specials and DVDs. "The key is finding these people before they become the Jon Stewarts or the Daniel Toshs," says Ganeless. Tosh, who hosts Tosh.0 and has been with the network for more than 10 years, was discovered by the talent department that scours the comedy club and festival circuit for promising young comedians. He started out doing five-minute stand-up sets, then graduated to hosting stand-up specials and landed his own show in 2009. Buoyed by a robust social media presence (6.8 million Facebook fans, 4 million Twitter followers) and original web content that drives the highest traffic to the Tosh.0 site when the show is on hiatus, Tosh.0 is now the No. 1 program on the network, with more than 4 million viewers an episode this season. It is also TV's top-rated show Tuesdays at 10 p.m. among men 18-24 and 18-34.
"I think, truthfully, Tosh is our best example of development and programming and digital really working in absolute concert with one another," says Herzog. "And it's Michele's job to bring that all together."
O'Neill has a suggestion for where she should rank on The Hollywood Reporter's Power 100 list: the same line as Nancy Dubuc, president of History and Lifetime Networks. "Could you make us tied? I like Nancy. I think she's an unbelievable programmer. But I think that would be funny," says O'Neill. "She and I are a bit of mirrors to each other. Nancy built History and now has Lifetime to figure out. And I built TLC and now have to figure out Discovery."
After four years at the helm of TLC, where she ushered in Sarah Palin's Alaska and Sister Wives and spearheaded the search for Muslim families featured in the network's latest series, All-American Muslim, O'Neill added flagship network Discovery to her purview in January. In August, emerging network Discovery Fit Health also became part of her portfolio.
It's been a good year for Discovery: Gold Rush, Deadliest Catch, American Chopper and Sons of Guns all have been No. 1 in cable in their time slots this year. Meanwhile, TLC continues to resonate, landing in the top 10 in primetime six out of seven nights of the week among women 18–49. Open and down-to-earth, O'Neill is described by colleagues as gracious, humble and decisive.
Asked to respond to criticism that TLC's Toddlers & Tiaras is a voyeuristic train wreck, O'Neill jokes: "No one's ever said that to me." And she defends the series as an unvarnished look at a $5 billion industry, insisting that the network is very cautious about how it portrays the children. "I appreciate the question because it's something we certainly wrestle with. We're not going to shy away from reality, but at the same time we're respectful of the fact that these kids have to go to school the next day," she says.
"A lot of us are parents, which helps us decide how far a storyline can go." O'Neill, 45, who lives in suburban Maryland with her partner and their 11-year-old son, likes to start her day with a 5 a.m. jog. She also enjoys escaping to the Delaware shore, though she admits she has trouble leaving work behind. "You can see me on the boardwalk, head down, BlackBerry in hand."
In the 26 years she's been at Nickelodeon (no mean feat in an industry known for its job-hopping), Zarghami, 48, not only has risen through the ranks from scheduling clerk to president (assuming the title in 2006), she's seen a whole generation of Nick viewers grow up. "It's an interesting time in our business because we have now a relationship with parents that we didn't have when we first started," Zarghami says, citing a Nielsen poll that suggests about 25 percent of mothers today watched Nick when they were kids.
Zarghami, who manages Nick's $20 billion business, the largest in parent Viacom's portfolio, saw that as a lucrative opportunity. In November, she announced a new programming block, NickMom, launching at the end of 2012 (a companion website is already live). The goal is to reach busy moms, 40 and under, in the hours between 9 p.m.-1 a.m.
With more than 30 NickMom original programming projects in development, it's a venture that Zarghami, herself a mom of three boys, feels strongly about. "A lot of women watch Nick at Nite as well as preschool content with their kids, and many are those whom advertisers like to target," Zarghami says. "There's a unique sensibility and a very large automatic community among mothers that is different than dads -- not better or worse, just different."
These days, Viacom is at loggerheads with Nielsen over Nick's precipitous ratings drop; the network has tumbled double-digits since September and is on track to be bested this year by Disney Channel among kids 6-11, though Nick will finish the year as the top-rated network among kids 2-11 for the 17th year. Viacom blames Nielsen's new ratings sample. The measurement company stands by its data. Still, Zarghami can tick off many successes: the relaunching of Nick Jr. and TeenNick; partnering with Sony Music to create musical content shows such as Victorious; and September's Worldwide Day of Play in Washington in partnership with the White House.
Today, Nickelodeon is the world's most widely distributed kids' network, with 50 channels reaching more than 350 million people in 25 languages. Though she only half-jokingly says there is "absolutely no time" for fun, the New York-based Zarghami relishes time with her sons and stay-at-home dad husband.
It was Lee's Harvard Law degree that served as her entree into BET when network founder Bob Johnson hired her to start the legal department 25 years ago. But Lee doesn't conceal her aversion to the law. "I never liked it," she admits. "I was one of those students who said, 'I didn't have anything else to do so I'll go to law school.' And that made it tough. I ended up in a great place and I have a very creative job that I love. But if I had to do it over again, I wouldn't have taken that path."
Still, that path took Lee from BET's general counsel to COO in 1996 and, in 2005, to the top spot at the company. She now oversees the flagship network and sister channel Centric, which targets older viewers. "It was a quick learning curve," says Lee, 57.
The mother of a college-age daughter and a son who recently graduated and is now working in the programming department at XM Sirius, the Washington–based Lee likes to start her day by walking her daughter's dog. "My definition of a good day is when I have time in the morning to do a 45-minute walk before going to work," she says.
She also spends considerable time on the road, traveling to BET's offices in New York and Los Angeles as well as Atlanta, where the network's scripted series are produced.
After years of relying on music videos, some of which many felt glorified the gangsta lifestyle and objectified women, BET is coming off of its highest-rated season ever due in large part to a new slate of scripted programming led by The Game. Last January's premiere of the comedy -- which BET resurrected after it was canceled by the CW -- was watched by nearly eight million viewers, a cable record. It also served as a launching pad for Let's Stay Together (both shows return next month). And in October, BET, which is in more than 90 million households, premiered its third comedy, Reed Between the Lines, starring Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Tracee Ellis Ross.
With a dearth of scripted television exploring black culture, BET's efforts not only have found an audience, they've also made the network a destination for African-Americans in the creative community. "We're giving black writers, producers and showrunners a home," Lee says. "A lot of people have thanked me for proving that the business model of good, quality African-American-targeted programming continues to work."
For Minghella, 32, the year has had a circle-of-life quality: On Nov. 27, she and her husband, TV writer and author Mitch Larson, welcomed their first child, daughter Delilah. She also completed her first year as head of production at Columbia, which, she says, "has been very much like coming home," since she began her career as director of creative affairs at Columbia in 2005 before segueing into a two-year stint as president of production at Sony Pictures Animation.
Back at Columbia, working with president Doug Belgrad, she picked up right where she left off. Having had a hand in Salt -- she had suggested the title character should be a woman -- she's now developing Salt 2, and she's also reunited with the Bond franchise now that Skyfall is in production.
From her new post, she watched the worldwide breakout success of the live-action, animated The Smurfs ($561 million), which she'd cultivated at SPA. "Having grown up in Europe," says Minghella, the daughter of the late filmmaker Anthony Minghella and Yvonne Miller, "I knew the strength of the Smurfs brand, but the success of the movie is more than I could have dreamed of."
She's working again with Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs writer-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who are in postproduction on 21 Jump Street. And she speaks the lingo when it's time to talk the big effects sequences being readied for next year's The Amazing Spider-Man and the Total Recall remake.
As she focuses on her own family, she's also looking forward to working on such family franchises as a Karate Kid sequel and Will Smith's Overbrook Entertainment's new take on the musical Annie. But it's her animation background that continues to inspire her: "I was given a great education in animation and visual effects on The Smurfs that I now use on a daily basis."
Fox Searchlight continues to be one of the most envied specialty shops around, and Utley has more than proved her ability to carry on the legacy of Peter Rice and, before him, Tom Rothman (Utley runs the unit with fellow Searchlight president Steve Gilula). The latest case in point is Alexander Payne's The Descendants, an in-house production that quickly transformed into a crowd-pleaser when it opened in select theaters Nov. 16.
Originally, Utley, 56, wanted to be a reporter and enrolled in the journalism program at Northwestern. "I quickly realized that I didn't have the aggressiveness needed to be a good reporter because I'm a people-pleaser," Utley recalls. She discovered her calling when taking an advertising class and ended up on Madison Avenue, where she spent eight years at Grey Advertising (now Grey Global Group). She then segued into the film marketing business and spent more than a decade at Fox before arriving at Searchlight, where she ran marketing before being promoted to president.
If there's a secret to her success, Utley credits her Midwest upbringing (she's a Chicago native). "I think I have a different sensibility about what will work in other parts of the country," she explains. She's also got a large brood, between her three children and two stepchildren. "I'm in touch with a lot of different age ranges, since they vary in age from 15 to 30."
In terms of 2011 titles, she's most proud of Descendants, The Tree of Life and Shame, which launches in select theaters Dec. 2. Utley and Gilula surprised the indie world by picking up rights to Steve McQueen's Shame, since it's an NC-17 release. She says: "It's very exciting to try and get recognition for this film."
The modest Murchison isn't one to boast about her successes, but she scored a major coup this year with Rio. The 3D toon -- from Murchison's Fox Animation Studios and partner Blue Sky Studios -- earned $484.6 million worldwide, making it Fox's top-grossing film of 2011.
In 2007, Murchison became the first woman to head a studio animation division and right away embraced Carlos Saldanha's story about a Macaw named Blu who travels to Rio de Janeiro, Saldanha's hometown. "Rio is one of those movies where everybody involved put their heart and soul into it because it came from this very passionate, personal place," she says.
The UC Berkeley grad, 42, got her start in the industry as a paid intern and reader in Columbia Pictures' story department but considers her stint at Oakland's Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, which archived and acknowledged the contributions of African-American filmmakers, as her introduction to the business. "I got to meet the Nicholas Brothers and Cab Callaway," Morrison recalls proudly.
She joined Fox as a paid intern in 1994 and never left, segueing to creative executive positions before replacing former Fox Animation president Chris Meledandri.
Work on next summer's fourth installment of the Ice Age franchise, Ice Age: Continental Drift ("it's even more epic in scope," she says) and Chris Wedge's Leafmen, due out in 2013, has her flying cross-country to Blue Sky's Greenwich, Conn., headquarters.
Free time is spent with her husband, John Murchison, and their young son, whom she is teaching to play the violin. "He plays a little soccer but isn't in a league yet," she says, "so we do a lot of music-oriented stuff."
Gabler learned to read when she was just 3 years old, giving her ample time to develop her keen eye when it came to spinning books into film adaptations. "My mom," she explains, "was a second-grade teacher and I was an experiment for her."
Gabler is among the most respected production chiefs in Hollywood, although Fox 2000 has had a rocky 2011. David Frankel's The Big Year, starring Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson, fell flat at the box office, while tween pic Monte Carlo came and went without notice. Water for Elephants, starring Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson and Christoph Waltz, did acceptable business -- grossing $117.1 million worldwide -- but wasn't a breakout hit.
Still, Gabler's division should end 2011 on a high note with the Christmas release of threequel Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked. Combined, the first two Alvin films grossed north of $800 million worldwide. Gabler also is immersed these days in the production of Christmas 2012 event pic Life of Pi, an adaptation of the best-selling book that Ang Lee is directing. She's also got surfing biopic Of Men and Mavericks coming up for 2012.
Across the film industry, Gabler is commended for her intellect and deft touch in working with filmmakers and talent. One of Gabler's secret weapons is her 9-year-old daughter, who has her own desk in Gabler's office. "She's my primary focus and the light of my life. This summer, she organized all the Life of Pi folders and helped deliver mail," says Gabler, 55. Her daughter accompanies her to set visits and even gave notes to Mike Mitchell, who directed Chip-Wrecked. "They were all positive, thankfully," she says. "It's amazing to be able to invest in her and see her wide-eyed approach."
Berwick added two new titles to her portfolio this year: president of Style Media and U.S. citizen. "At the start of the year, every employee does company and personal goals to achieve by the end of the year, and becoming a citizen was mine," explains U.K. native Berwick, who resides in Manhattan with her husband and 8-year-old son. "I became an American citizen by October."
Bravo is on pace to have its best year to date (the network launched 30 returning and original shows in 2011, including offshoots of juggernaut franchises Top Chef and The Real Housewives) as the No. 12 ranked network in adults 18-49, but Berwick recalls a time just a few years back when the cable network barely broke the top 20. "We've climbed up the ranks and done it all on the strength of our original programming," she says.
The network has increased its 2011 original programming roster by 20 percent with such shows as Most Eligible Dallas and Million Dollar Decorators and plans to add another 20 percent in 2012. With Bravo now in somewhat of a well-run cruise control, Berwick can turn some of her focus to her new role at the Style network. "We have a well-oiled machine at Bravo, and I think we can translate some of that to Style," says Berwick, who plans to use the Bravo business model during the Style network rebrand. "It's on an upward trajectory. We're already the fastest growing network for women this year."
Berwick says she hasn't figured out a way to add more hours to the day but manages to incorporate some mommy time into her work: "My son occasionally sees cuts before they're edited for language," she admits. "He likes to tell me when I need to put a 'beep' in.
In just two years, 25-year-old Stefani Germanotta, better known as pop superstar Lady Gaga, has accomplished what many in the music industry thought was impossible in the age of piracy: She sold albums -- 23 million of them worldwide. But success, which also includes some 64 million singles legally downloaded, didn't come solely as an outcome of quality music, honed in dingy clubs all over New York's Lower East Side and later produced by the likes of RedOne (Jennifer Lopez's "On the Floor"), Fernando Garibay (Enrique Iglesias) and Mutt Lange (Def Leppard, Shania Twain). It was in equal part Gaga's business savvy that catapulted the singer from lounge act to arena seller.
Take, for starters, the Haus of Gaga, which harnesses the creative power of a team of loyalists who guide everything from Gaga's avant-garde style to the visual aesthetic of her music videos -- high-budget clips rolled out so regularly that she's rarely out of the public eye for more than a day. There's also Gaga the tireless traveler, who has circumnavigated the globe several times over touring in support of hit albums The Fame Monster and Born This Way. The tour for the former grossed $227 million after 18 months on the road and Born sold 1.1 million copies in the U.S. its first week out, thanks in large part to a promotion offering the album for 99 cents on Amazon (demand for the download ended up momentarily crashing the retailer's servers).
And who can discount the more than 16 million followers she's amassed since joining Twitter in 2008? Gaga gives back, too, as a vocal advocate of gay rights, a contributor to the fight against AIDS and an impassioned critic of bullying, and she sometimes will bring the cause to the red carpet, as she did at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, when she was escorted by four soldiers directly affected by "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
Her big achievement this year was the debut of Katie, Katie Couric's syndicated talk show, which has been cleared on ABC-owned stations and in most of the U.S. for next fall. It's a rare launch for Disney, where Marinelli has overseen domestic distribution since 1999. "We've never been a company with a huge portfolio of first-run content," she says, "but we felt Katie fit our company's brand -- high-profile, smart, credible. That's the sort of business we're in."
She sold the ABC drama Castle to TNT for syndication in what Marinelli calls "a huge deal," and she's now selling it in multiyear deals for weekends on local stations. She licensed Wipeout to truTV, getting what she said is a "huge license fee for a reality show." Last year, Marinelli added oversight of distribution in Canada, where the company has announced the launch of Spark, a network that will draw on ABC Family programming. And she extended her retail-sales jurisdiction of VOD and pay TV last year to include home video. She negotiated digital deals with Netflix and Amazon Prime designed to extract value from content already played out in other markets.
The native New Yorker, married 23 years, has done all this without missing out on watching her 19-year-old daughter play soccer at USC and her sons play high school sports. Her newest challenge will be to replace Regis Philbin, a critical choice requiring someone whom Kelly Ripa can "play off, have fun with, someone who is endearing." She insists Disney won't rush a decision, but rather will use co-hosting into next year as an audition process. "It's really the chemistry," Marinelli says. "Who is going to fit like a comfortable shoe in that role?"
"I've been through an earthquake, a hurricane and a terror alert -- it was sort of biblical," McLoughlin jokes of the time she spent in New York this year to launch Anderson Cooper's daytime talk show. But the Queens native, who has resided in Los Angeles for nearly three decades, loved being able to put her producer's hat on again.
These days, the bulk of McLoughlin's time as president of Warner Bros.' Telepictures Productions is spent playing a bigger-picture role atop a diverse slate of programming, from The Ellen DeGeneres Show to Dr. Drew's Lifechangers to celebrity newsmagazine Extra.
McLoughlin, 49, also oversees TMZ.com and its accompanying TV show, which not only break news stories (including Kim Kardashian's divorce) but also serve as models for cross-platform fare.
The Boston University graduate and longtime TV nut got her start in a research role at Seltel, a TV consulting firm, before accepting a temp gig at what is now Warner Bros. in 1986. While it earned her very little money -- "I remember I bought a TV on a layaway plan," McLoughlin says -- it provided her with a good sense for why and how viewers consume in a medium in which she'd build her career.
On the increasingly rare occasion when the 25-year Warner Bros. vet isn't working, she can be found with her husband, whom she met in high school, and their 16-year-old daughter. "My husband and I are very close to her; we're sort of like a triumvirate," McLoughlin says, adding that she's working on developing a hobby so that she can better cope with her daughter's looming departure for college. "I think tennis will be my expansion plan," she says of a sport she and her daughter play weekly.
With AMC's The Walking Dead premiering to 10 million viewers in 122 countries on Fox channels and the network's dinosaur drama Terra Nova getting on the air nearly day-and-date around the world, Edwards is coming off a banner year. "Terra Nova specifically has been a hit that's as much of a tentpole internationally as well as here," she says, noting the differences -- and challenges -- the television industry faces in working within a smaller marketing window. "We have a unique set of issues to overcome, but I'm happy to say we've made some headway and will continue to do so because it's inevitable that we're going to have to allow our clients to go close to us with these big tentpole projects like American Horror Story, Terra Nova and Glee."
Edwards also oversaw licensing agreements for an international production of 24 in India, with Bollywood star Anil Kapoor stepping into Kiefer Sutherland's shoes as Jack Bauer. "We hope that it will lead to perhaps additional versions in other countries," says the 20-year Fox veteran. "Sadly, it seems terrorism and the threat of terrorism are even more, not less, relevant in our lives now. This makes that particular series increasingly interesting around the world."
When she isn't overseeing foreign productions of Fox's Bones and Prison Break, the University of Denver theater grad and married mother of two is supporting local productions. Edwards says: "I think people under-estimate how much live theater there is in L.A., both large and small."
Rhimes has had a whirlwind year. While her freshman doctors-without-borders drama Off the Map fizzled, Rhimes had her Kerry Washington public relations political drama Scandal ordered to series at ABC (it will likely premiere early next year). "I feel like that was a big accomplishment, creating a new show that was entirely different from anything else that I'd done before," she says. "It was something that helped me grow as a writer."
Meanwhile, Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice, in their eighth and fifth seasons, respectively, continue to be standout performers for ABC, with Rhimes, 41, noting that Practice's November intervention-themed episode was a powerful experience.
The Chicago native, who was the first black female showrunner in primetime, notes that there's never been a better moment for women to make further strides in the business and is "too busy to care if somebody else has a problem with whether or not I have a vagina. I feel like that's part of the equation: not giving a crap."
In line with that mentality, Rhimes and her Shondaland producing partner, Betsy Beers, went four-for-four this development season, selling projects outside of the female-driven fare they're best known for, including Wildwood, a teen drama set up at Fox. Three went to ABC: murder mystery The Circle, period hotel drama Gilded Lillys, which has Gossip Girl writer K.J. Steinberg attached, and an untitled drama.
Beyond work, the unmarried mother to an adopted daughter devotes herself to working with Planned Parenthood and the Writers Guild Foundation. "But of all the issues that are important to me," Rhimes says, "it's promoting adoption in this country," a theme featured prominently in this season of Grey's. She's also taken up "weird" activities in her downtime like boxing and Pilates, something she says, laughing, she finds "horrific but necessary."
This year has offered Redstone some time to focus. At the top of her list was the fine-tuning of her role with National Amusements in the wake of the sale of 35 theaters and other financial problems stemming from the recession that began in 2008. In the meantime, her often tumultuous relationship with her 88-year-old father, Sumner, seemed to calm down, or at least didn't result in public feuding. That may be because she stayed out of the affairs of Viacom and CBS, which are both controlled through National Amusements. (She and two non-family members will run a trust that will inherit Sumner's stock when he dies, holding it for his grandchildren.)
Shari and Sumner's New England-based theater company operates about 950 screens, roughly half of which are in six eastern U.S. states, with the rest in the U.K. and Latin America, where Shari, 57, has been especially aggressive expanding theater operations in Brazil. She's also been leading the charge toward modern digital technology and upgrading to Imax and premium services, such as serving food and beverages, often under the Cinema de Lux brand.
She was not shy about making it known that she feels there are too many movie theaters in the U.S. for any to be profitable, and she made public her opposition to premium VOD distribution of movies a short time after they open in theaters, putting her at odds with some plans by Viacom's Paramount Pictures. A company she led sold movie theaters in Russia for almost $200 million about a year after the theaters were acquired from National Amusements, when it needed to raise funds; she is reported to have made a sizable profit from the sale.
Redstone also launched Advancit Capital this year and is managing partner of the smallish venture capital firm focused on early-stage investments in media, entertainment and technology. She joined the board and executive committee of Our Time, a membership organization that promotes the economic interests of 18-to-30-year-old Americans. Redstone, who has homes in Massachusetts and New York, is divorced and has three grown children.
In March, after Comcast closed on its acquisition of NBCUniversal, Menendez added to her job oversight of approximately 70 channels that are part of Universal Networks International, while remaining head of international TV distribution. Her new role, in which more than 300 people report to her, required that Menendez relocate to London, where she grew up but had not lived in decades. She has spent the months since then merging four NBCUniversal and Comcast units.
"Being acquired by a company is always interesting," says the divorced mother of two college students. "You have to adapt to a process and business style." That has involved combining distribution, sales and channels outside the United States. Her duties have placed greater demands on her time: "I was working long hours and now I'm working even longer hours. I'm hoping by the middle of next year, we will get into an operating rhythm."
The challenge she has been given is to grow the international businesses, including TV distribution and new media. She says most of her big competitors get at least 16 percent of their business from international, but "at the Comcast group we only have 8 percent, so the intent is to really expand over the coming years." One way will be to expand Picture Box, NBC's proprietary VOD service, territory by territory.
Of the changes to her job since the merger, she says: "I'm much more focused on strategy. In the initial months, we have spent a lot of time trying to put together the most effective structure."
She will be full-time in London by early next year but still intends to spend a lot of time in L.A. Says Menendez: "It's great to come back home, and great to have this opportunity."
The year has seen one high point after another for Nelson, who delicately balanced a trio of high-wire acts. The culmination of the Harry Potter movie franchise, which, as global head of franchise development, Nelson has been overseeing since 2000, was an emotional marker for her, even as she and her team make sure that the end of the film franchise is not the end of the Potter brand. The hardest part of that job, according to Nelson, was fighting for the right to say no to certain merchandising opportunities, letting Warners -- where she's worked for 15 years -- make a short-term trade-off for long-term brand protection.
"The goal was not to create a trend or a fad," explains the mother of two boys, ages 7 and 12. She oversaw the launch of Aim High, a McG-produced Internet short series that marks a shift from an emphasis on made-for-video to digital content production. But perhaps the biggest and most controversial move was saved for last: As president of DC Entertainment, she presided over the rebooting of DC Comics. The home of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman set sales records and found itself in the mainstream when it not only relaunched its comics in print form, but also became the first major publisher to go digital day and date as well. "We made them feel like part of pop culture again," says Nelson, 44. "And not a declining business or niche business, which is what it was, arguably, a year ago."
She plans to make DC the next evergreen brand for Warners, taking it to Potter levels by working with other divisions to thrust the characters front and center across all platforms, from screen to digital to stage to consumer products.
In the 17 years Bell Blue has been exec producer of Entertainment Tonight, 2011 has likely seen the most change to the syndicated staple. Nancy O'Dell replaced veteran host Mary Hart, who had been with the show for 29 years; and there have been layoffs and cutbacks after ET's annual budget was reduced from roughly $40 million to $35 million. (The show makes more than $100 million annually in profits.) "The whole company had to take a deep breath and deal with the challenges," says Blue, 55. "But the transition from Mary to Nancy went as smoothly as it possibly could. And there are very few media outlets that haven't had to tighten their belts. We just have to run better and smarter."
Despite all the change, ET's ratings are up 14 percent since last November. And The Insider, which Bell Blue also exec produces, is up 15 percent. ET's viewership is easily double that of competitors Extra and Access Hollywood and this ratings power helps it remain top dog. "The thing with these shows is, they all want to be first with the interview," says a veteran publicist, "but because ET's got the ratings, it tends to get it."
Bell Blue's take on her 30-year-old show's bread and butter is, "America is in favor of Hollywood and it wants to know every last detail on stars."
One friend describes the Bikram yoga fan as "a big ball of energy," which is particularly impressive because she wakes up at 4 a.m. daily with her husband, Comcast executive Steve Blue. She will need the energy for 2012: Despite ET's focus on entertainment, Bell Blue sees the big stories emerging from the presidential election and the interviews that come with it. "The candidates and their families have become celebrities," she says. "They know Entertainment Tonight has a demographic rich with women, and they want their votes."
Nevins has had a bang-up year. In October, the documentary vet was honored by the Directors Guild of America. Just one month earlier, she beat out her "buddy" James L. Brooks for the most Primetime Emmys won by an individual (54). But perhaps her proudest moment in 2011, both professionally and personally, came on Aug. 19, when, after 18 years and three HBO films, the imprisoned West Memphis Three, wrongly convicted for a 1993 triple murder in Arkansas, reentered society as free men. "Nothing has been more gratifying than getting those kids off because they didn't do it," says the married mother of a grown son.
Nevins funded and supported the Paradise Lost docs after reading about the case in a newspaper. "It's one thing to think something, it's another to know," she says. "So it was impossible to let it go. It's like being an accessory to the crime." It was also a rare moment of immersion for Nevins, who, since joining HBO in 1979 ("I didn't know what cable was, I thought it was dirty shows, local access," she says with a laugh) has made a name for herself and the network with racy, voyeuristic programs like Real Sex and Taxicab Confessions along with more serious, award-winning fare such as Ghosts of Abu Ghraib and Bobby Fischer Against the World.
Ultimately, asserts the lifelong New Yorker, she can find a documentary in anybody. "When pushed against a wall and trusting, everybody has a great story," she says. But unlike reality TV (episodes of Intervention, Hoarders and Real Housewives of New Jersey can be found on Nevins' DVR), "it's not always one you can capture for television," she adds. "I think everybody is a freak, but reality has converted that freakdom into a kind of artificial but pleasant aura of unreality. In documentaries, you still retain a certain honesty, sadness and truth about the human condition."
When DreamWorks finally locked down its post-Paramount financing two years ago, Bario, along with fellow production president Mark Sourian, had to get four to six movies cast, produced and in front of audiences as soon as possible. This past year showcased the fruits of their labor. "In the first year, for a company to get six movies up and out is pretty amazing when you're starting from scratch," Bario says. "That is something we're all super proud of."
Bario's slate included the summer releases The Help and Cowboys & Aliens, plus the drama Welcome to People, which filmed early this year. While the Jon Favreau-directed Cowboys underperformed, The Help, the first studio film from Tate Taylor, was a surprise hit with mainstream audiences, to the tune of $168 million in domestic grosses. But no matter the level of success, what Bario relishes is the impact she can have at a studio with a small staff and reasonable ambitions. "You have more of an imprint," she says. "Our movies are handmade. Say what you will about Cowboys, for better or worse there's a lot of me in that movie. The movies are really personal to us. We're selective."
Raised on Martha's Vineyard before heading to Emerson College in Boston, Bario, 44, now lives in Sherman Oaks with her husband of 13 years and their two kids, Emma, 10, and Peter, 7. Time outside of work is spent hiking Fryman Canyon, catching up on Breaking Bad and West Wing episodes and maintaining the right balance between work and home life. "You can never pretend that the home is not the priority," she says of being present for her kids. "Whenever I try to middle it, they're unhappy. And their unhappiness is way worse than Mark Sourian's unhappiness."
Frot-Coutaz has spent the better part of the past 18 months auditioning, contemplating and replacing TV judges -- first for the No. 1 Fox series American Idol, which saw Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez step into the shoes of Simon Cowell and Ellen DeGeneres, then for Cowell's new show The X Factor, which was mired in controversy over the summer following an unexpected exit by Cheryl Cole, and now for NBC's America's Got Talent as it looks to fill a seat vacated by Piers Morgan (Howard Stern, anyone?).
Yet she's not immune to judgment herself. "My boss, my peers, the people who work for me, they're tough on me sometimes," says the 45-year-old French expatriate and married mother of two. "And they tell me what I'm doing wrong."
But on the whole Frot-Coutaz is doing a lot of things right. Tasked with overseeing Fremantle's North American operations, which also includes game show properties like The Price is Right, Let's Make a Deal and Family Feud, scripted fare such as TBS' forthcoming The Wedding Band and recently acquired rights to the UFC franchise and cartoon character Sonic the Hedgehog, she has more than doubled the company's revenues since being promoted to CEO in 2005.
The admitted perfectionist credits, among other things, having a "commercial brain" and the conviction to make decisions fast -- even hard ones. "I'm not particularly warm and fuzzy," she says matter-of-factly. "Some of that is personality and it's also cultural. I think the French are fairly abrasive in our communications style, compared to the Brits and Americans. I've worked on that over the years; I've tried to be a little less blunt." Or maybe she just needs to spend a little less time with Simon Cowell.
Bajaria's family moved from London to Los Angeles when she was 8 years old to, as she puts it, "pursue the American dream." Her Indian parents did precisely that, launching what would become a collection of car washes, which her younger brother now runs.
Bajaria, for her part, decided early on that she wanted to pursue a career in entertainment. "I wanted to be a producer," she laughs of her childhood dream, acknowledging that she had very little idea of what that meant at the time. But with the exception of a brief post-college stint running a nonprofit focused on third-world children, she has been working in the industry since 1996, when she took her first gig at CBS.
During her 15-year tenure there, Bajaria, 40, oversaw upward of 150 TV movies and miniseries, as well as the creation of a cable division at CBS TV Studios. (Recent sales at the latter include Common Law at USA and Ghost Projekt at Syfy.) In August, Bajaria, who is one of only a few female executives of Indian descent working in Hollywood, accepted her next professional challenge: rebuilding Universal Television. "I strongly believe, creatively and financially, in the independent studio business, and to be able to work with Bob Greenblatt made taking the job a no-brainer," she says of her role at NBC's sister studio.
Since then, Bajaria has assembled a team, rebranded the studio and sold shows at all of the broadcast networks. The mother of three spends whatever downtime she has away from work with her writer husband and family: doing math with her 10-year-old daughter, Rami; playing soccer with 8-year-old Sofia; immersing herself in the world of superheroes with her 4-year-old son, Enzo; and assisting her mother, who runs a nonprofit domestic violence shelter in Los Angeles.
After taking a bit of a beating in the media last year for the poor performance of The Sorcerer's Apprentice and Prince of Persia, Carney had a better go of it in 2011 thanks to the billion-dollar success of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Cars 2, The Help and The Lion King 3D. Now a year and a half into her job, Carney says, "It's starting to feel at home. It takes a bit of time when you transition into something new to make it work in the way you want it to."
And she is quick to point out that just because it's the fourth Pirates movie and Cars has a 2 after it, in this day and age there are no guarantees. "Yes, we have a fabulous name, but we have people out there who feel like they can't see a fourth movie if they didn't see the first three," Carney says. "Or if they have seen the first three, they don't need to see the fourth. There are no movies that you can stick a name on and open."
Carney is a single mother of two who sees her two kids, 11 and 13, on weekends in New York, where her ex-husband looks after them during the week. It's a decidedly modern arrangement that has the two parents vacationing and spending holidays together for the benefit of the kids, whom Carney takes to museums and movies, introducing them to an eclectic slate ranging from The Omen to All About Eve. "My son would rather go to the skate park," she says. "But I feel my role as a mother is to force them to do things they don't want to do occasionally, and then buy them skateboards afterward."
Annie Mumolo admits she was clueless as to the provocative nature of the film she was co-writing with Kristen Wiig -- and for that, she is grateful. "I was pregnant when we were writing it and I was pregnant while we were shooting," says Mumolo, 38, a longtime friend of Wiig's from The Groundlings comedy troupe. "To have had the added pressure of knowing that people thought this movie was going to fail? Too much!"
Whoever thought a bawdy comedy starring mostly women wouldn't work ate a lot of humble wedding cake the weekend of May 13, when Universal's Judd Apatow-produced Bridesmaids had an opening weekend of nearly $25 million -- proving that women were not only funny but could also write a damn funny movie.
"Honestly, we never saw any of that coming," says Wiig, 38 of the prerelease naysaying. "Six women on a poster was suddenly this subversive act. It made me cringe!"
Seven months and $288 million worldwide earnings later (the largest haul of any Apatow comedy), the women of Bridesmaids are more than sitting pretty: Mumolo landed a development deal at ABC just weeks after Bridesmaids opened, and Wiig, still an SNL centerpiece, is exec-producing and starring opposite Matt Dillon and Annette Bening in the feature Imogene and is set to appear opposite Robert De Niro in the Sean Penn-directed dramedy Comedian.
The rest of the cast is also thriving: Scene-stealer Melissa McCarthy (another Groundlings member), still fresh off her Emmy win for Mike & Molly, scored a deal to co-write with her husband (and Bridesmaids co-actor Ben Falcone) Tammy, a road-trip comedy for New Line; Ellie Kemper (The Office) will appear in the remake of 21 Jump Street; Wendi McLendon-Covey (Reno 911!) co-stars in the Fox comedy I Hate My Teenage Daughter; SNL alum Maya Rudolph is a lead in the NBC comedy Up All Night; and Damages' Rose Byrne just wrapped the feature drama The Place Beyond the Pines alongside Ryan Gosling.
As for Mumolo, who appears alongside McCarthy again in Apatow's next film, This Is Forty, she is heartened by how "people are much more open to my ideas now," though she admits she needed a bit of a recuperation period before jumping back into the creative saddle. "I got very overwhelmed for a while," she says. "It really feels like Kristen and I had a baby together."
Jacobs, an agency partner, tackled one of the tougher challenges of her career this fall when she helped wrestle the big-budget Disney project The Lone Ranger back from the dead for client Johnny Depp. "It was very challenging, it got done, and it's a real case in point about how the business has changed," she says. "We all have to be a lot more understanding and adept in the shifting market and realize that we're not in 1995. It's a much more compact and difficult business to navigate, and you have to be smart in the deal-making process."
Depp's company Infinitum Nihil also is galloping forward with its first productions: Hugo, The Rum Diary, Lone Ranger and next summer's reteaming with Tim Burton, Dark Shadows.
Jacobs has helped to revive Jennifer Lopez's career with movie roles, a prime spot on American Idol and a handful of TV shows produced by her company Nuyorican Productions snagged over the past three years.
The Chicago native and Boston University graduate (with an honors degree in medieval history) also loves digging into the burgeoning careers of new talent such as Swedish actors Noomi Rapace, whom she put in Ridley Scott's Prometheus, and Joel Kinnaman, a star of AMC's The Killing who just landed one of the leads in Warner Bros.' Arthur & Lancelot. "You always have to balance a client list," says Jacobs, 53, who managed to take her first vacation ever this summer. "You need to have the people who are the revenue generators and you need to have the people that are going to be the revenue generators of the future."
Those would include filmmaker clients Brad Bird (Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol), Mike White (Enlightened), Greg Mottola (More as This Story Develops) and Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity); actors Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams, who had a hit in Midnight in Paris; and Kristen Wiig, whose Bridesmaids was the story of the spring.
A 28-year agency veteran who lives in the Hollywood Hills, Jacobs became close to industry icon Sue Mengers before she died in October. "I look at her as the trailblazer for women," she says. "I do feel an obligation as a woman to not differentiate myself from what the men do, but to be as good, if not better."
Pett-Dante can get frustrated sometimes. Throughout the years, she's helped steer her clients, including Brad Pitt, Courteney Cox and Charlie Hunnam, toward projects that are rewarding both professionally and financially. But these days, she sees an entertainment industry that can be paralyzed by an overabundance of caution, leading to some heartbreak for her clients. A project might seem ready to go. Everyone is excited. The lawyers are negotiating the fine print on contracts. "And at the last second, poof, it all goes away," she says.
For example, her eyes started tearing up when it looked like one of Pitt's dream projects, Moneyball, was about to fall apart. The first script came in, and she says, "Everybody went, 'Wait, what? There's no need for Brad to be in this movie.' " Working with studio executives to find a new director and order rewrites, the movie was eventually made and came out in September to acclaim.
The same patient drive toward success paid off on behalf of Hunnam: After nearly a decade of TV work, including a breakthrough role on Sons of Anarchy, the actor is set to star in his first major film, Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim.
Pett-Dante, 49, has also helped Garrett Hedlund line up a star turn in a live-action remake of Akira and put Aaron Johnson aboard Oliver Stone's next film.
Some days are better than others for Pett-Dante, she admits, but the star manager can always take comfort at home. There, she's confronted by the many goats, sheeps, pigs, dogs and cows she rescues and hosts on her Malibu property. "Nothing makes me laugh harder when I walk up the hill, go up the stairs and have a 900-pound cow named Earl who was about to be slaughtered mooing when he sees me," she says.
Sheindlin's syndicated show, Judge Judy, set in often contentious small-claims court, has notched its second consecutive season as the leading show in daytime, beating even the mighty Oprah during its final reign. (Most weeks, hers also is the leading program in syndication; on a good week, she gets close to 10 million viewers a day.) The New York Times recently dubbed her the real Queen of Daytime.
But to Her Honor, 2011 is a year with a slight disappointment: No new grandchildren arrived. "We have our fingers crossed for one of our children," she says, adding that her oldest grandchild is halfway through law school. "I think if you're really lucky, as a woman, you can have a terrific professional career and a satisfying family life. I can't imagine one side of my life without the other."
The tough-as-nails judge (her website calls her a "swift decision-maker with no tolerance for lame excuses") thinks the show's success comes not just from its messenger but its message, which she calls, "Do the right thing, take care of your responsibilities, stop making excuses, stop crying. It's not the bartender who put the drink in your hand -- it's you who got behind the wheel!"
And you've got to deliver that message the right way, she says: "With a sense of humor, and be able to laugh at yourself." Sheindlin, 69, a "physical fitness nut" who walks or works out several hours a day looks forward to many more days in court: Judge Judy will being shooting its 17th season in April. "When you get tired of something you do every day in the entertainment business, you should quit, because the audience can tell if you're calling it in," she says. "But each day is a fresh start for me. I'm still having a good time. I don't know what I would do if I didn't work."
Donner managed to overcome a lot of skeptics and fanboy cynicism with last summer's X-Men: First Class, which successfully relaunched Fox's superhero franchise, a movie series she's been involved with since its debut in 2000.
She credits director Matthew Vaughn, new actors to the franchise Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy and the return of producer Bryan Singer, but also the movie's setting: the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. "By going to a real historical event, it gave the movie more of a reality than the other movies had," says Donner, 61, who's married to Lethal Weapon director Richard Donner. "The other movies had a reality within their own mythology; this one had a mythology tied to an actual event, giving it relevance."
A producer since the early 1980s (Mr. Mom was her first feature credit), Donner notes that the landscape for women producers has improved since she started in the business. But the keeper of the X-Men flame has witnessed other changes in the movie business that make today's environment perhaps the toughest she's seen for the producer set -- male or female. "When studios weren't owned by corporations, they trusted the producers a lot more. In general, they are a lot more controlling than they were in the past."
On how to deal with the new times, she errs on the side of discretion: "I have to be a lot more collaborative," she says.
Cutting deals for directors as dissimilar as James Cameron (Avatar) and Steve McQueen (Shame) "is not as different as you'd think," says Swofford. "People want to make films. They want to reach audiences. They are singular people with something to say. It just has to do with how expensive the tools they need are."
Swofford, a serious art collector who graduated from USC Film School, specializes in developing careers for filmmakers that steer from the giant studio franchise to the more intimately scaled drama, such as Sam Mendes taking on James Bond in Skyfall while directing a stage version of Richard III or Richard Linklater jumping from the independent Bernie to a forthcoming remake of The Incredible Mr. Limpet at Warner Bros. Meanwhile, Cameron is moving ahead on two Avatar sequels while McQueen's intense new work heads into awards season. And Harry Potter director David Yates closes out a four-movie streak with the $1.33 billion of Deathly Hallows Part 2 before starting on a feature version of Doctor Who.
The bottom line for every client, says Swofford, is an acknowledgement that budgets, fees and expectations are not what they once were, and flexibility is the key. "You have to be much more clever about the way you put together films," says the North Carolina native, who splits her time between New York's SoHo neighborhood and the Hollywood Hills. "Smart filmmakers and artists are keenly aware that they have to adapt or they won't be able to make the films that they want to make or tell certain kinds of stories."
Swofford, who describes herself as "a big history buff," made two trips to Russia this year, including a jaunt to St. Petersburg, where she attended a celebration at the Mariinsky Theatre and wandered through Catherine the Great's Summer Palace during the White Nights, when perpetual sunlight bathes the city. "Anytime I get to feel like I'm walking back in time into something that I've been reading about all my life that's hundreds of years old, there's something really magical about it," she says.
When sony decided to distribute the upcoming Osama Bin Laden drama from Hurt Locker duo Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, Weil jumped into action to make sure the studio wasn't assuming any hidden liabilities -- a job that became national news when politicians began questioning whether Obama officials had granted the filmmakers improper access to confidential information.
"When everyone was going on TV complaining about the movie, there was no script!" says Weil, 51.
Clearing complicated fact-based dramas has become routine for Sony's top lawyer, who has worked on The Social Network and Moneyball and may next vet a movie on Steve Jobs' life.
The Broadway-loving mother of two, whose youngest is graduating from high school in June, oversees a legal staff of 250 while taking the lead on the studio's antipiracy efforts, major litigation and its biggest deals, such as the recent $278 million sale of The Amazing Spider-Man merchandising rights to Disney.
Her office suite on the Culver City lot features an impressive collection of Sony movie-themed snow globes, all gifts from studio co-chairman Amy Pascal. "I proudly display them all, but I broke Zathura," she confesses of the trinket from Sony's 2005 space fantasy. "I expected something magical to happen, but it didn't."
Meet the marketing mastermind behind the Twilight series, one of the biggest surprises in the history of Hollywood franchises and one that has earned $2.3 billion worldwide. When Rob Friedman, then her boss at Paramount, left to run Summit's new production studio, Kirkpatrick quickly followed.
The indie studio route is notoriously difficult, but then came Twilight. Kirkpatrick, who just finished opening The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1, was applauded for a smart marketing campaign in launching the first film that relied both on traditional spends and social media. "It's the most fun thing I've ever done in my life. I was down at tent city [where fans camp out] the weekend before Breaking Dawn opened and saw a bunch of fans I've gotten to know, including two girls from the Philippines who fly to Los Angeles every time there's a Twilight premiere," she says.
It got even better. At the premiere, Kirkpatrick found herself dancing with Bruno Mars, who has a song on the Breaking Dawn soundtrack. "The deejay started playing 'It Will Rain,' so Bruno says, 'Let's go slow dance.' There I am dancing with him, and he's singing to me in my ear. It was so much fun," she says. Kirkpatrick notes that the Twilight machine never stops, between DVDs, merchandising and fan outreach.
But that doesn't mean she doesn't have other films to shepherd. This year, Summit's release slate included Source Code, A Better Life and the Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen cancer dramedy 50/50, of which she is particularly proud. "Those guys did a great job with a very challenging subject," she says. Kirkpatrick, 56, celebrated the opening of Breaking Dawn on Nov. 18 by catching a red eye that night to North Carolina's Outer Banks, where she and her husband have a house; they spent Thanksgiving with their son, 25, and two daughters, who are 23 and 21.
"I am still completely driven by seeing a great performance," says Queally, who's been with CAA since 2004. "Being able to see that that's the one to go for, thinking, Oh my God, who is that? and not being able to sleep at night over it." That instinct has led her to new talent such as Elana Anaya (The Skin I Live In), Jessica Chastain (The Tree of Life, The Help, Take Shelter) and Brit Marling, who co-wrote and starred in two Sundance movies this year (Sound of My Voice, Another Earth) and has another, The East, in production.
At the same time, more veteran clients such as Rose Byrne (Damages, Bridesmaids) and Kate Winslet (Mildred Pierce, Carnage) have recently explored new genres and new media, with success moving between TV and film work -- Oscar-winner Winslet added an Emmy to her trophy case this year. "The medium is more irrelevant now than the quality," says Queally, 50, who acknowledges that while good feature drama parts for women are harder to find, she still counsels patience in her clients. "I would prefer to wait it out and try another angle and a different medium to get quality work."
A County Clare, Ireland, native who maintains her strong lilt, Queally has lived in the States since 1989 and resides in Pacific Palisades with her husband, Brad, and their three children, Charlotte, 16, Ryan, 13, and Myles, 8. "I try to get home at least two evenings a week to have dinner with them," says Queally, who also serves on the boards of Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA, Heal the Bay and the US-Ireland Alliance. "They understand the job that I do is not a nine-to-five job, but they understand that I love it. We try to act like a five-member team, and we always have the idea that if everyone is contributing, the team does really well."
Gail Berman and partner Lloyd Braun have relied on two primary mantras in running their company, which in less than five years has emerged as a player in developing TV series on broadcast and cable, creating websites that pull in millions of visitors and placing several feature films in development and production.
"Every day we have to have a couple laughs," says Berman. "And no assholes allowed."
Berman is buoyant as she talks about the privately held company's rapid growth. Wearing a pantsuit in her bright and airy west Los Angeles office, she laughs as she shows off some of the very personal art on her walls, such as a picture of Queen Elizabeth with Berman's head pasted on it that was a gift from comedian Steve Martin; a portrait of Alfred Hitchcock, her favorite filmmaker; and a mounted lightbulb that she says inspires her to have "good ideas."
It's Berman's sense of humor, as well as her humanity and humility, that Braun says made him go after her as his partner to create a "21st century media company."
"So often you begin to feel people are lying to you," says Braun, former chairman of the ABC Entertainment Group. "There isn't any of that with Gail. She is first and foremost a wonderful human being. When you add on that she is a fantastic businesswoman, has fabulous creative skills and is trustworthy, you know why I feel fortunate to have found her as a partner."
Adds Braun: "She's also a hell of a lot of fun to be with. You're going to have bad days, shit happens. When you have somebody down the hall who you can sit with and laugh, it makes all the difference."
Under Berman's watch, BermanBraun has cultivated three thriving divisions: TV, digital and features. In scripted TV, they have Alphas on Syfy, just picked up for a second season; the Brad Meltzer unscripted Decoded for History Channel, entering its second season; Swords, in its third season on Discovery; Junk Gypsies in production for HGTV; and the Jenny Bicks pilot Modern Love, being developed for Lifetime. (They have a first-look deal at NBC, where they are developing both comedy and drama pilots.) On the features side, upcoming projects include Ben Stiller's Rent-a-Ghost with Fox and Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus for Summit.
But it's in new media that BermanBraun has scored with sites like Wonderwall, the primary celebrity destination on MSN, and Glo for women, created with MSN and Hachette Filipacchi Media, which draws more than 5 million unique visitors a month, according to ComScore. Braun says they expect to have 10 sites by the end of next year, which they divide according to their areas of expertise. On Glo, Braun defers to Berman. "Gail knows that area better than I do," he explains. "She spends far more time making sure the editorial voice remains true and consistent. I'm capable of doing it, but I know she's going to be better at it than I am."
Before the current phase of her professional life, Berman, 55, already had a stellar reputation. When Jennifer Salke, now president of NBC Entertainment, was at Fox Broadcasting, she watched as Berman took the network from fourth to first place during her five-year tenure. She recalls Berman as a "great leader" but not the typical executive.
"It was common to see her walking down the hall with no shoes on with a megaphone calling out to everyone, 'Come on, what's going on out here? What's everybody excited about? We should be celebrating this!' " says Salke. "She was just great about rallying the troops and getting people motivated and excited to work for her."
Now Salke is enjoying working with Berman at NBC, where the two have partnered on such projects as the comedy Apocalipstick (being done with Universal TV) and the drama Masters and Apprentice.
"Talented people are incredibly loyal to her," Salke says. "She has deep ties with the writing, producing and acting community because she really knows her stuff. She's also very strong and direct, but not a bitch. It's a rare combination."
Berman began her career from a rare vantage point. The daughter of an insurance executive and a housewife, she graduated with a degree in theater from the University of Maryland in 1978 and got her start in show business producing a live stage version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in Baltimore (later taking it to Broadway, where she produced several other shows) before working for Comedy Central. She'd met her husband of 31 years, comedy writer and producer Bill Masters, in school, and when he got a movie deal a decade later (his credits include Seinfeld and Murphy Brown), they moved to Hollywood with their twin children, a boy and a girl, now in college.
She joined Sandollar Productions (owned by producer Sandy Gallin and Dolly Parton), which launched the Fox hit Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a series she went on to produce. That was where Peter Chernin recruited her to start a TV division for a joint venture of New Regency and Fox, where she created such hits as Fox's Malcolm in the Middle. That success led her to Fox, where as the network's first female president she launched juggernauts like American Idol and 24.
"She pushed people to get out of their comfort zones," says Salke. "In that way she was very inspiring to a lot of young executives."
Nina Tassler, CBS president and her longtime friend, met Berman when they worked on a pilot for Regency in 2000. Tassler adds another layer to Berman's appeal: "Gail has always listened to her inner voice," Tassler says. "She has exquisite taste and great instincts."
When Berman left Fox to become president of the movie division at Paramount in 2005, those instincts told her she wasn't in the right place. She never adjusted to the corporate life and was out as part of a studio restructuring after 18 months (with two years left on her contract). Her gut told her she wanted to be entrepreneurial without the pressure of a big corporation.
"You have to be self-motivated to do this," adds Berman. "And Lloyd is a wonderful partner. I don't know that I would feel so great about it if I were doing this alone."
Also: "I never wake up with that feeling in the pit in my stomach. That's a positive sign."
"If you're a particular kind of crazy, then this is the most satisfying business to be in," says Pope, laughing. It's no wonder she feels that way: Pope just wrapped up sales for this development season -- her company sold more than 15 network projects -- and she's already thinking ahead to next year.
Slowing down is not something the Chicago native does particularly well, as evidenced by a whirlwind year during which she launched Fox's New Girl and Terra Nova, and gave birth to her second child. "I'd gone to Australia on the Terra Nova pilot when I was five months pregnant and then I had a baby in March when we started shooting New Girl," says Pope, 39, adding: "I sort of feel like [the New Girl crew has ]taken care of my baby as much as I have."
Up next is the midseason premiere of Touch, the Kiefer Sutherland drama that she and former Heroes honcho Tim Kring have been discussing since 2009. The pair had worked together closely during Pope's stint as head of NBC's sister studio, then called Universal Media Studios, where Heroes joined such offerings as Friday Night Lights, The Office and 30 Rock. The gig, which ended abruptly during Ben Silverman's controversial tenure, came after the former newswoman's decade-long climb up NBCUniversal's corporate ladder.
These days, there's little climbing left to do for Pope, an avid fan of such shows as Homeland, Breaking Bad and Project Runway, who calls 2011 "one of the most satisfying years of my life."
Globe's strategy for marketing DreamWorks Animation films is, well, global. "Our movies bring in upward of 60 percent or more from the international marketplace," says Globe. "So we're always crafting a campaign with an eye toward how it's going to be received not only in the United States but by other key territories around the world."
In the case of Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss in Boots, DWA's 2011 tentpole releases, that meant partnering with YouTube, Zynga (FarmVille) and Halfbrick, the makers of online game Fruit Ninja ("an organic connection between Puss, who is a swordsman, and the slicing-fruit motion in the game," Globe says) on innovative ways to reach audiences.
It's a matter of "cutting through the clutter and breaking out of the pack to do whatever is new and different," adds Globe, 48, whose contract with DWA was recently extended to Jan. 1, 2014.
The strategy is working. Together, Panda and Puss have amassed $861 million in worldwide box office, with Puss still rolling out in additional territories overseas.
Globe's first entertainment industry job after graduating from Syracuse University was in the publicity department at the Walt Disney Co. She later segued to MCA/Universal before joining DreamWorks Animation in 1996. Jeffrey Katzenberg anointed her head of worldwide consumer products and promotions in 2005, and she assumed her current post in 2007.
On weekends, when she's not watching her 10-year-old daughter (whom she calls "my test market for all things") play in organized sports, Globe, who is married to Brad Globe, president of Warner Bros. Consumer Products, can be found indulging in her love of film. "I'm one of those people who organizes groups to go to the movies," she says. Like many working moms, Globe is adept at multitasking, using every available minute to her advantage, including making calls on the drive home to Pacific Palisades from DreamWorks' Glendale campus. "Half the time," she says, "I'm in my garage on the phone trying to get done with that last call."
"Artists need to be much more entrepreneurial and self-starters as far as what they're doing, creating opportunities for themselves, creating businesses," Bohan says about how the industry has changed for talent.
Her superstar comedy clients (and sometime collaborators) Tina Fey and Steve Carell are certainly great role models for that prescription, frequently moving between TV and film and often co-writing and producing their own material. (Fey's book, Bossypants, hit No. 1 on The New York Times best-seller list this year.)
As a married mother of three (ages 9, 7 and 5), Bohan can relate to the difficult working-mother dynamic that Fey and new client Maya Rudolph perpetually juggle. "I so admire women who don't stop pursuing their dreams because they're confined to one role, which is being a mother," she says.
Bohan also picked up longtime Saturday Night Live writer Paula Pell, an "undiscovered gem" whom she's helped move into features with writing on Date Night; Judd Apatow's This Is Forty; an untitled comedy at Universal that Fey is producing; Bridesmaids; and Wanderlust. "What I love about Paula's story is that it's never too late," says Bohan, who notes that Carell and Fey also found stardom close to 40. "It flies in the face of the idea that it's only the young people who can really emerge, and it just gives me such pride and possibility."
Clients Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife), Amy Adams (The Fighter, The Muppets, Man of Steel) and Lucy Punch (Powers, Bad Teacher) have had strong years, and Bohan signed Thor baddie Tom Hiddleston, who also has a role in Steven Spielberg's War Horse.
A self-proclaimed "Cali girl" from Westlake Village who now lives in Santa Monica, Bohan spent 10 days in August sailing the South Pacific with her boating husband and their kids, sleeping and eating onboard and swimming with sharks. "It was one of the most extraordinary trips ever," she says. "My husband is trying to talk me into taking a year off and sailing around the world."
Paramount's top lawyer helped close a particularly complex deal this year, ending Marvel's distribution arrangement with the studio in the wake of Disney's purchase of the company. "Disney got what it wanted, which was to take over distribution early, Marvel got to reorganize with its new partner, and we got a very nice financial deal," says Prentice, 58, a former Shearman & Sterling partner who has been with the studio since 1996 and is working on a total reorganization of its legal department.
Considered one of Hollywood's sharpest negotiators, Prentice, a graduate of Cornell Law School who was licensed to practice law in 1982, this year received the Los Angeles County Bar Association's outstanding corporate counsel award. She oversees a 60-member team that's helped her to negotiate some of the studio's most important and innovative deals, including one that gave Netflix rights to stream thousands of Paramount movies, and assists her in protecting the studio from digital theft.
When away from the office, Prentice and her "semiretired" husband also are ardent mountain climbers, taking frequent trips to Yosemite to tackle Half Dome and other challenges. "We're fun climbers," she says. "I work so hard I don't have time to get truly serious."
Christensen's April visit to Rio de Janeiro wasn't just to celebrate the world premiere of her studio's mega-blockbuster Fast Five. Universal's top lawyer used the trip, one of several she made this year, to meet with officials in the increasingly potent Brazilian market and state Hollywood's case for tougher antipiracy measures. "I've been trying to open up a debate to encourage them to strengthen their copyright laws," says Christensen.
General counsel since 2005, she also is working to expand Universal's already wide reach into the international market, including China, and firmly took the lead this year on such deals as the studio's purchase of French animation house Mac Guff Ligne, maker of the hit Despicable Me, and the buyback of the 50 percent of its Orlando theme parks owned by private equity firm Blackstone Group.
She also helped put the final touches on Comcast's purchase of studio parent NBC-Universal. "We're liking our new owners," she says. "They get our industry, they're a family-run company and they are very decent people."
In the wake of the Comcast acquisition, Roberts has a new boss (Bonnie Hammer) and an expanded role. She now oversees all business affairs for NBCU's sprawling collection of cash-cow cable channels like USA, Syfy and E! and has an influential COO position at the cable studio. "In business affairs, the holy grail is to get into the operations side," she notes.
Roberts, 53, has spent 14 years rising within the company, having started at NBC when it was simply a broadcast network. The married native of Philadelphia native has recently discovered Santa Ynez wine country, heading there from her Burbank office four times in the past six months. "It's like Napa was 20 years ago," she says, admitting that a crazy work schedule doesn't allow for her to become a committed oenophile. "I don't have time to become a real connoisseur of wine, but I'm certainly a dabbling amateur."
When Comcast set its sights on NBCUniversal in 2009, the company was an unknown to many employees -- but not to Baker. Comcast was her longtime customer and she had worked with its co-founder Ralph Roberts, his son Brian and its executive vp, Steve Burke, for years. She joked to Burke that she knew his cable systems better than he did. "I meant that with affection," Baker says. "They had acquired TCI and Adelphia systems, where I'd spent a lot of time over the years."
During the walk up to the closing in early 2011, Comcast execs often turned to Baker for counsel and gave her oversight of the combined operations after the acquisition was official. "There are 30,000 employees at NBCUniversal," says Baker. "We were the only one that was 100 percent duplicative, because they had distribution arms for their cable assets and we obviously had that as well."
When USA, Syfy, CNBC, Bravo and other NBCUni linear and digital channels were merged with E!, Style, Golf, Versus and the Comcast group, Baker oversaw the consolidation and absorbed as many as possible, ending up with about 120 people under her supervision. Her job isn't merely to sell the content everywhere but rather to package the programs and library to create new branded channels such as digital services Chiller and Cloo (formerly Sleuth).
The mother of three (she has been married to a lawyer for 16 years), who often rides her bike to work, was one of the first people hired by NBC cable 23 years ago. And Baker finds it an "amazing irony" that when she started, cable was an afterthought at the network. "The idea that Comcast stated that the value of this acquisition was predominately in the cable piece, I take as a compliment," she says laughing. "We worked hard imagining this could happen."
Managing the emotions of her twin 16-year-olds is nothing compared to dealing with the players involved in The Lone Ranger, Disney's upcoming action-adventure from the Pirates of the Caribbean team of producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Gore Verbinski and star Johnny Depp. When the studio pushed pause this fall on the megabudget remake over cost concerns, Brandis, its top business affairs exec, stepped into action, working with reps for the creative team to shave the budget down to around $215 million.
"The compromises that we reached allow everyone to participate in the upside and they protect the studio against downside," says Brandis, 58, who is active in raising money for her alma mater, UCLA. The press attention toward the Ranger impasse didn't bother the usually media-shy Brandis. "It showed that movies don't get made just because there's big talent involved," she says of the constant news about the project. "In a perverse way, I almost appreciated it."
Cook isn't the highest-ranked talent lawyer on this list simply because of her A-list client roster of directors (Tim Burton, Sam Mendes), producers (Scott Rudin, Richard Zanuck) and actors (Keanu Reeves). She's also a tireless philanthropist, lending her time and money to causes like Big Brothers/Big Sisters and THR's mentorship program while motivating hundreds of friends in the industry to get involved. "It's just part of who I am, I've always been crazy busy with my charities," she says.
The daughter of a California judge, Cook studied dance at UCLA before deciding to put her own spin on the family business. She became the first female partner at the powerhouse Ziffren Brittenham firm at a time when few women were practicing entertainment law, and she now works to mentor young people in the business.
In November, she accompanied fellow Power 100 women including CBS' Nina Tassler, WME's Nancy Josephson and attorney Jeanne Newman, on an outreach trip to Jerusalem. And with her kids grown, she and her husband of 26 years have been enjoying their new house near the water in Hermosa Beach: "I now have a monster paddleboard."
Newman, one of the town's top talent lawyers, found herself at the center of two major media maelstroms this year, representing Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner in his protracted renegotiation to continue with the show, and handling Real Housewives producer Evolution Entertainment during the fallout from the Russell Armstrong suicide. She also represented The Voice producer Talpa in its deal to bring the Dutch format to NBC, all while welcoming a high school girl into her office for THR's mentorship program. "It became a firm project, and all of us are better off for it," she says.
Newman says she's proud that after years of trying to recruit women attorneys to the firm, she is now surrounded by "four great female lawyers." The success in her day job helps make up for the cold weather that led to a challenging year at the central California winery she owns with husband Gary Newman of 20th Century Fox Television. "I am so happy that Gary and I don't need to feed our three children based on the profits from the winery," she jokes.
It's been a busy year for Lewis, between in-house productions The Descendants, Stoker and The East. Lewis and her colleagues didn't miss a beat when Alexander Payne brought in Kaui Hart Hemmings' book and asked if Searchlight was interested in turning the novel into a film. "We immediately said yes, and then Alexander decided to direct it himself, which was a blessed joy for all of us," Lewis recalls.
Payne's Ad Hominem has an overall production deal with Searchlight, which released the filmmaker's critical darling and box office hit Sideways. (Lewis, 55, has known Payne since their days at UCLA's graduate film program.) Descendants is the first Searchlight pic starring George Clooney. "He's an incredibly intelligent, cool, charismatic person, and very focused. He and Alexander have a wonderful relationship," she says.
But what Lewis is most proud of is her varied slate. Stoker marks director Chan-wook Park's English-language debut and stars Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode and Dermot Mulroney. Shot in Nashville and written by former Prison Break star Wentworth Miller, the ensemble thriller centers on a young woman who loses her father and must contend with a mysterious uncle. The East, shot in Shreveport, La., is directed by Zal Batmanglij, an emerging filmmaker who first caught notice at Sundance with Sound of My Voice, and stars Ellen Page and Alexander Skarsgard. "The East is a really distinctive story," Lewis says. "These three films really represent the range of my tastes and Searchlight's tastes."
One funny coincidence: When Lewis went to Kauai to visit the set of Descendants, the cottage where Payne was shooting was the very same cottage she'd rented years before while on vacation. Lewis has been with Searchlight since Tom Rothman founded the division in 1994.
When the great Charlie Sheen implosion of 2011 deprived CBS of its No. 1 sitcom, Barak stepped in to negotiate a new deal with producer Warner Bros. to keep Chuck Lorre's Two and a Half Men on the air -- and keep it delivering huge ratings -- with Ashton Kutcher stepping into the shoes of the departed star. "Everybody worked together as a team to bring that show back and make Ashton part of the cast," says Barak, 54, CBS' top business affairs executive and the mother of three grown children.
The former O'Melveny & Meyers litigator has been with the network for 27 years, rising first through the legal department and then business operations. Barak, who built on 2010 success such as closing deals for David Letterman and Craig Ferguson re-ups, had a big 2011 with closing huge deals that placed Ted Danson and Elizabeth Shue on CSI, re-upped the cast of Criminal Minds and secured the Grammys telecast for another 10 years.
Barak says none of her success would be possible without the help of longtime CBS exec Nancy Tellem, who is currently the senior advisor to CEO Les Moonves. "Nancy is my biggest mentor within the company," says Barak. "She brought me out of the legal world into the business world. I learned everything I know about business affairs from her," she says of her work, which includes overseeing the thrust of the network's talent and producer deals, and licensing fees.
Tuzon's tireless efforts to secure retransmission consent fees for News Corp.'s Fox network isn't the sexiest job in Hollywood, but the increased payments from cable and satellite companies could generate billions of dollars in revenue for broadcast networks in the coming decades. "Fox was on the forefront of changing the business here," she says. "We believed in it. And it's fundamentally altered the value proposition in television."
Tuzon, 52, heads a 50-person legal team covering such cable networks as FX and Nat Geo, as well as Fox's regional sports networks. This year put the married mother of two in the crosshairs of Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, who is suing Fox Sports. "Frank likes to call me directly," she notes.
Tuzon also leads the network's standards and practices group, meaning she's the ultimate arbiter of what racy content makes it onto Family Guy, American Idol and the network's new broadcasts of Ultimate Fighting Championship. "We had eight people on the button for the recent UFC fight," she says of her team's preparation for fleeting expletives. "Given the fight was 64 seconds long, there was not really a lot for them to do."
A self-described "trailblazer," Ross was the first woman to head advertising sales for a major U.S. broadcast network. As of last year, she is the longest-serving in her position among all broadcasters, having started in 2002. During the most recent ad sales upfront, she led the No. 1 network to the largest increase in the industry, reportedly raising ad prices 14 percent.
She credits CBS for her accomplishments, declaring that the schedule shake-up that moved Emmy-nominated The Big Bang Theory to Thursdays in fall 2010 was risky but has been a big success. "When you have really good content to sell," she says, "it makes the job easier."
Not that it was an easy year. On top of a difficult economy and advertisers migrating online, she had to deal with months of uncertainty over the fate of the hit show Two and a Half Men. "It all worked out perfectly for us if you look at the ratings," says Ross, 58, who was born in Brooklyn and raised on Long Island, where her extended family still converges in the summer. "Advertisers accepted Ashton Kutcher and so have viewers."
Her joy is mixed with personal pain from a torn rotator cuff she has lived with for a year. It happened on a snowy Manhattan street as she was walking her 80-pound Labrador retriever Justine. But, Ross says she won't get it fixed because of her fearfullness of of MRIs. "My husband is about ready to kill me," admits Ross with a laugh, referring to Michael Zelman, her husband of 27 years, a physician and anesthesiologist.
"This was the year of the big deal for me," says Winograde, ABC's top business affairs executive. She sealed the network's new deal to air the Academy Awards through 2020, secured the Country Music Awards and talent pacts for the final season of Desperate Housewives, and finalized a much buzzed-about arrangement with Warner Bros. Television that will likely set the standard for digital rights allocations between studios and networks.
In addition to managing a staff of 125, Winograde, 47, recently took over first-run syndication, meaning she was tasked with negotiating with Katie Couric and producer Jeff Zucker for Katie, which will launch next fall. "That was a challenge because I had never done a first-run syndication or a news deal," she notes. The interior-design buff spends her free time on extreme makeovers. "I really like buying and remodeling houses and flipping them."
Gregorian heads a centralized marketing department at the busiest studio in Hollywood. This year she was involved in launching Anderson Cooper's talk show and The Big Bang Theory in syndication, as well as working with network partners on existing shows and new ones like 2 Broke Girls on CBS and Suburgatory on ABC.
But she also had to contend with the distraction of Charlie Sheen's departure from Two and a Half Men. "It was a tremendous drain on our publicity folks," says Gregorian, 48, who has headed WBTVG marketing since 2005. "But in the end, when you see how CBS was able to platform Ashton Kutcher, it all worked out."
With most new shows, "the heavy lifting is done by the network partner," she says. Her unit is more active when a show is in its third or fourth year and isn't getting much attention from the network. "We can see syndication coming up, so we will start to invest in new [promotional] materials, which we also make available to the network."
She has a team of 135 people in the U.S. and 30 more overseas. That includes eight who focus solely on social media. Product placement is another area her team concentrates on: "We have Subway on Chuck and Kia doing an integration with Nikita," she says. "We develop the integration idea and pitch it to the networks and they sell it to advertisers. Then they come back to us to execute it."
Married for 23 years, Gregorian lives in Studio City with her husband and 18-year-old son. Each year, her son picks the location of their family vacation: So far they've been to South Africa, Cambodia, Russia, Vietnam, Japan and, most recently, Morocco. "The only place we won't go," she says, "is North Korea."
Hudson describes her introduction to her new job as CEO of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences -- she stepped into the newly created post in June after 20 years with the much smaller Film Independent -- as "awe-inspring." She's referring specifically to her first visit to the Academy's Margaret Herrick Library, where she thumbed through Gregory Peck's script for To Kill a Mockingbird and a letter from Billy Wilder to Arthur Miller complaining about Marilyn Monroe.
But beyond coming face-to-face with the Academy's storied past, she's also gotten her first taste of what it takes to steer the tradition-bound organization into the future. One of her first initiatives -- striking an agreement in principle with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to open an Academy museum in the old May Co. building on Wilshire -- won the board of governors' approval. "It's the right dream at the right time," Hudson, 55, says.
But when she and Academy president Tom Sherak decided to entrust Brett Ratner with producing the 84th Academy Awards, their unexpected choice proved embarrassing when Ratner dropped a few homophobic and sexist remarks before bowing out. "Brett immediately took responsibility for what he said, and he's making repairs," she comments diplomatically. "Everyone rallied and called to help, and when we changed producer and host [bringing in Brian Grazer and Billy Crystal], it took just 24 hours."
Moving forward -- what free time she has often turns into a busman's holiday since she enjoys taking her 12-year old son, Sam, to the movies -- she hopes to highlight the Academy's myriad activities that are usually eclipsed by the show itself. "What I would wish for," she says, "is an awareness of the year-round work this organization does -- in preserving our history, helping young artists and leading the industry in positive ways."
Ever since the Comcast-NBCUniversal merger was formalized in January, E! had been on the hunt for its next network head (former president Ted Harbert was named NBC Broadcasting chairman out of New York). It wasn't until July that NBCU cable entertainment and cable studios' Bonnie Hammer named Kolb the new president of the predominately female network. "I always had the desire to run a network," says Kolb, who has been at E! since 2005 and most recently served as the marketing, news and online president for both E! and Style. "Nowadays, there are a number of people running networks that have come out of the marketing space, where that was a lot less present 10 years ago."
While her new post may demand more of her time, Kolb begins her days the same way: "My 12-month-old daughter wakes up every morning at 5:45 and we go and look for the moon," says the 42-year-old single mom. Prior to her tenure at E!, Kolb worked her way up the ranks at Grey Entertainment, where she served as an advertising coordinator on Stephen King's TV miniseries The Stand ("I went around doing big prison photo shoots," Kolb recalls) before becoming a marketing vp at the now defunct WB network. Five months into her new post, Kolb is overseeing a "deep analysis of where we stand as a brand, refining our mission statement and our vision of what we want the network to be."
Despite backlash over E!-lebrity Kim Kardashian's 72-day marriage to Kris Humphries (as documented by the two-part wedding special Kim's Fairytale Wedding: A Kardashian Event, which brought a record-breaking 10.5 million viewers to the network), E! continues to profit from the Kardashian franchise: Kourtney & Kim Take New York season two premiered to nearly 3.2 million viewers on Nov. 27.
E! announced earlier this year its plan to move into the scripted space and recently inked a two-year deal to keep late-night comic Chelsea Handler at the network as host of the topical series Chelsea Lately. However, Kolb's primary focus remains the nuts and bolts of the network: "We need to continue deciding who we want to be as a network and figure out the creative representation of that."
A Miami Beach transplant by way of Sarah Lawrence University, Kohan has begun sharing her longtime passion for film with her 3-year-old daughter, who loves Singin' in the Rain and totters around singing "So Long, Farewell" from The Sound of Music. "It's a joy to introduce your kid to great movies," says Kohan, who lives in Beverly Hills and is married to TV writer-producer David Kohan. "It's almost like seeing a movie for the first time again."
This year the agency partner helped commercial director Dante Ariola get his feature debut, Arthur Newman, Golf Pro, off the ground with Emily Blunt and Colin Firth in the lead roles. "One of the things that year in and year out is always one of the biggest challenges and then one of the most rewarding things is introducing the world to a new director," she says.
Kohan, 43, has recently signed actress Zosia Mamet (Parenthood), actor-writer Jason Mantzoukas (The Dictator) and Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory), and she's especially proud of Beginners, a very personal story written and directed by client Mike Mills and starring Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor, which has grossed $14 million worldwide through Focus Features this year.
Like many agents in the industry, Kohan has been forced to adapt to a tougher market for her talented clients. "Opportunities haven't been as plentiful or as traditional," she says. "And when we can't find them, we create them and lean on our entrepreneurial spirit as much as we can."
For Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg that meant helping them launch their company Point Gray with the independently financed 50/50, released by Summit. And client Mindy Kaling recently released the book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) to showcase her voice outside of The Office (Kohan relatives may find book-shaped packages in their Christmas stockings).
Kohan supports female writers, directors and performers for a very practical reason: "I want there to be entertainment out there for me to really enjoy," she says, noting that she introduced Bridesmaids writers Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo to producer Judd Apatow. "I'm excited the movie did as well as it did and that it potentially could open doors for the Mindy Kalings of the world to emerge."
Jackson's star client is Baby Gaga. That would be Georgia Washington Jackson, the 19-month-old daughter whose Halloween costume became "the main focus" of Jackson's workdays this fall. Still, she managed not to slight any of her other top clients, who include Jonah Hill, Amy Poehler, Jason Segel, Will Arnett, Jason Schwartzman, Jack Black and John C. Reilly.
Hill starred in awards contender Moneyball and has the comedies The Sitter and 21 Jump Street, which he also co-wrote, coming out, plus a TV deal and a directing job on the books. Segel had a high-profile summer movie in Bad Teacher and relaunched The Muppets for Disney. And Poehler earned her fourth Emmy nomination in a row for Parks and Recreation.
"This is the best moment in the entire business for female comedians," says Jackson. "Anyone that can self-generate can write their own ticket."
The Long Island-raised Jackson, who went to NYU film school, also reps writer-director Charlie Kaufman, whose latest project Frank or Francis is moving toward production. "I promised him when he came over here that he was going to direct a movie," she says. "It was a script that he had written that he loved that he had been told he would not be directing. We spent the year putting the actors in and, with [WME Global head] Graham Taylor's help, raising an unprecedented amount of money in this economy."
Whatever the challenges, Jackson, who lives in Nichols Canyon with her husband, musician and composer Woody Jackson, and daughter, still loves her job. "I've been doing it a very long time, but I'm flipping out with excitement about some of these movies opening," she says. "I cannot wait for people to see them."
"I don't think people care about age, they care about how hard somebody works," says Howard, who recently signed actors Topher Grace and Nathan Lane. The longtime motion picture talent agent counts veterans Michael Caine, Christopher Walken and Alan Alda among her clients, and takes pride in having pushed Samuel L. Jackson back toward theater this year, as Martin Luther King Jr. in the Broadway play The Mountaintop.
"Between movies, television and theater, now is very exciting for actors," she says. "Today, you have to read every play, read every television script, read every movie and decide what's best."
Michael Keaton has film, TV and theater projects set up, Alda has best-selling books and a new play at the Geffen and Michael Sheen is taking on Hamlet in London. And actors Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie), David Strathairn (Alphas), Laura Linney (The Big C), Emily Mortimer (More As This Story Develops) and James Spader (The Office) have seized on opportunities in TV.
"The reason people are gravitating to television is because the writing is so excellent," says Howard, 67. "There isn't that snob thing anymore about television. It is quite an accomplishment to get and keep shows on the air."
A Los Angeles native who's been married for 22 years, Howard puts great value on her marriage and jokes that her clients are her kids: "They fulfill my nuturing instincts."
Travel in recent years has included a few summer jaunts to Europe on David Geffen's boat with her TV producer husband, David Yarnell, while her time in the agency trenches has offered endless perspective on the vicissitudes of gender politics in the industry.
"I have always felt that being a woman in this business has helped me. People used to say, 'Oh, but they're young and hot,' and I think well, I am old and hot!" she says with a laugh. "I'm the Clint Eastwood of the agenting world."
Shaw's tough job closing client Jamie Foxx's deal to star in Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained was indicative of the challenges facing film actors. "Precedent doesn't exist anymore," she says. "People don't care what your credentials are. It's like you're starting from zero."
That's why Shaw, 57, is advising clients to be more entrepreneurial. She cites Nick Cannon as an example: He acts, hosts America's Got Talent, appears on NBC's Up All Night and is creating an awards show for Nickelodeon, all with Shaw's help.
The married mother of two adult daughters grew up in Harlem before attending Columbia Law School and becoming the most successful African-American woman talent lawyer in Hollywood, as well as a mentor to countless young people.
"Even when I started this firm with Ernie Del [in 1989], we said, 'It has to look different than our competitors,'" she says, citing hiring practices that have created perhaps the most diverse talent law firm in the business.
Despite her intense workload, this year Shaw and her husband took off for a very rare vacation in South America for two weeks. How rare? "It was the first one in 24 years," she says. "Although, after the first week, my clients started to track me down and call."
Despite growing up an avid television fan -- Rosenfeld and her two brothers would often rush through dinner to catch classics like Happy Days and Hogan's Heroes -- CAA's most senior female television rep says she never realized back then that she could have a career working in the medium she loved.
Two days after graduating from UCLA, Rosenfeld landed an internship as an assistant at CAA despite having "no idea what an agent did." About a month later, her love affair with the industry was in full swing and she enrolled in the agent training program. "I got lucky," says Rosenfeld, a native of Cupertino, Calif., who is married to CAA agent Michael Rosenfeld.
The die-hard Dodgers fan, who tries to take in as many home games during the season as her two kids' homework schedules permit, spent the better part of a year shepherding a project near and dear to her heart in Lifetime's Five. After losing her mother to breast cancer 16 years ago, Rosenfeld, 47, reached out to CAA clients Jennifer Aniston and producer Kristin Hahn, who signed on immediately. "We put it together in a way where we could put high-end and talented actors in business with Lifetime where maybe they hadn't been in business with them before in order to get as much publicity for this cause as possible," she says of the short-film anthology, which also featured CAA clients Patty Jenkins, Jeanne Tripplehorn and Demi Moore.
In addition to representing a who's who of TV writer-producers, the 49ers fan, whose office is lined with signed jerseys from Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Steve Young and new CAA client linebacker Patrick Willis, is having a strong fall. A pair of freshman dramas she brought to the air -- Unforgettable and Revenge -- both earned full-season pickups. Add to that an Emmy for client Melissa McCarthy and the only thing missing from a perfect year would be seeing her team win the Super Bowl.
Josephson has agenting in her blood -- literally. Still, the daughter of ICM's founder, Marvin Josephson, was intent on taking another route, starting her career as an entertainment lawyer. The catch? "I realized quickly that I was sort of an 'agent-y' lawyer," she says, explaining how she'd be more interested in bringing in new clients than assisting those of her bosses.
Once Josephson decided to make the career shift, she did so determined not to work at her father's shop. But when ICM heavyweight Sam Cohn caught wind of her circling a gig at Susan Smith's agency, he intervened and lured her to ICM. She later became the company's first female president before jumping to WME.
"Sam was absolutely my first mentor," she says, recalling one night when he dragged her to Don't Tell Mama, an off-the-beaten-path New York City music club at 1 a.m. "There I was with Sam Cohn, legendary agent. He had already found Meryl Streep, but he was always looking for new talent."
Both that eye and the excitement that he had for talent stuck with Josephson, who rattles off her clients' accomplishments this past year with maternal pride: Rosie O'Donnell returning to TV with her talk show on OWN; Ricki Lake getting clearance to launch a daytime show next fall; David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik nominated for an Emmy for their Showtime series Episodes; and Cheryl Hines' new series, Suburgatory, premiering to critical and commercial success.
This enthusiasm extends to her home life as well. "It's a big year for me," says the married mother of three children. "I have a son graduating college, a daughter graduating high school and a son graduating elementary school," she says. "So don't call me in June."
For a lawyer known as the hyperaggressive queen of the independent film circuit, Lichter, 60, sure has a lot of clients working on big studio movies. Marc Forster is prepping Paramount's 2012 Brad Pitt action pic World War Z, writer Linda Woolverton is scripting Disney's Maleficent for star Angelina Jolie and a sequel to Alice in Wonderland, and director Tarsem Singh is following Relativity's Immortals with the studio's March Snow White adaptation, Mirror Mirror.
Despite her clients' success, the married mother of three grown kids, who often escapes L.A. to homes in Hawaii and Northern California's coastal Sea Ranch, says she's "worried about the movie business. Things are changing and there is a feeling that there isn't going to be as much money in it."
Not hurting quite yet: Girl With the Dragon Tattoo rights holders, whose complex deal for the Sony movie was handled by Lichter. She also reps Paranormal Activity producer Oren Peli and the directors of the microbudgeted Paranormal 3, which has grossed $200 million worldwide. "Paranormal is financing all of Paramount," she jokes.
Despite a major transition under the NBCUniversal umbrella and viewer backlash after the Kardashian wedding debacle, Berger still considers 2011 a rather smooth and successful year for the network. "It's been a really great nurturing period and we are seeding growth," says the 47-year-old, who climbed the ranks at E! after a 12-year tenure at MTV. "Frankly, I'm really proud of this year."
The network spectacle Kim's Fairytale Wedding: A Kardashian Event brought more than 10.5 million viewers to E! for the two-part special and generated up to $100,000 per 30-second ad spot over the course of two nights.
In October, the network announced a new goal to break into the scripted world by 2013 (E! brought in former ABC Studios comedy head Kevin Plunkett to oversee the scripted push). "We really are starting from scratch," says the avid American Horror Story fan. "We'll definitely start with one hour, but I don't feel it's going to be drama or comedy necessarily. Somewhere in between, but dramedy is so overused. I'd like to coin a new phrase."
The network also signed a two-year deal with Chelsea Lately host Chelsea Handler. Amid all this, the married mother of two daughters considers her biggest personal achievement one that's a little closer to home: "My 11-year old is getting a dance solo. I'm a total dance mom -- it's really scary."
If she's experiencing any deja-vu, that's because Gigliotti has been there and done that before. In the '90s, she spent three years as executive vp of Miramax Films before going on to a producing career that saw her sharing the best picture Oscar for 1998's Shakespeare in Love; in October 2010, she rejoined Harvey and Bob Weinstein at their new company, where she now heads production. "The Weinsteins make a particular kind of film, and their taste and my taste really do line up perfectly," she says.
Plus, Harvey Weinstein threw in a sweetener, a promise that in addition to her exec duties, she could produce two films a year. "It's what I keep calling the Robert Evans deal, because as far as I know Robert Evans is the only other guy who ever had that deal," she says.
Wearing her producer hat, she oversaw the Sarah Jessica Parker comedy I Don't Know How She Does It, which was ignored at the box office, taking in less than $10 million domestically. Saying "it got maybe the best test scores I've ever seen," Gigliotti, 56, can explain its reception only by the fact that it opened on the same weekend when many of the multitasking moms at whom it was aimed were taking their kids to The Lion King 3D.
Back in her executive mode, she spent time in the editing room with Madonna, refining the final cut of W.E. after its shaky debut in Venice. "She's got the goods as a director and was very receptive to suggestions," Gigliotti insists. And then she headed to Philadelphia to produce David O. Russell's The Silver Linings Playbook, starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.
Doing double duty is easier said than done, she realizes. "Honestly, it's a little trickier than I thought," she admits. "I've been running production meetings out of a trailer on the set, I don't know how."
When it comes to running a record company, Greenwald likens her role to that of Mel Gibson's character in Braveheart. "It's the best feeling in the world to know that when I'm storming the hill, I've got 225 people running behind me, like, rawr!" says the 42-year-old mother of two (her husband, Lewis Largent, is a former MTV executive).
A devoted lieutenant for more than 20 years to Warner Music Group chairman Lyor Cohen, Greenwald was first hired as an assistant at hip hop label Def Jam Records. Soon after Cohen brought her over to run the legendary Atlantic Records in 2004, the company saw its market share balloon on the back of hits by James Blunt and Paramore. "He gave me so much wisdom, encouragement, and strength to let me grow," she says. "Loyalty is underrated, but for me it's the most important thing."
And clearly it's paid off for all, as Atlantic, riding another wave of chart-topping success with Bruno Mars and Cee-Lo Green, had been one of the few companies hiring during the recession. "We're beefing up in the digital area," says Greenwald. "It's helped monetize our business in so many ways."
Still, the New York native acknowledges that "it's a tough time for a lot of people," and she is doing her part to offset some of the excess that fueled the music industry in the 1990s and doomed it a decade later. "I fly coach and I'm the queen of the subway," she says, beaming. "[My employees] still get a kick out of seeing me try to catch the F train in seven-inch heels, and I'm like, 'This is how I roll!' At this point, the message isn't, 'I'm big Willy over here.' It's all for one and one for all. I still walk with swagger. I may not have a town car or a private jet, but I've got a lot of subway stories if you want to hear them."
"What we've done, and what I think everybody has had to do, as agents is really become even more 'producerial' in our approach to the business," says Clemens of the new challenges of the industry. "You can't just be in one area. You have to be diversified." On the other hand, she notes, this has prompted "a ton of great opportunity for new people."
Clemens recently helped move the boxing drama Southpaw, packaged with client Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy) and Eminem, from DreamWorks to MGM and Sony. And she's on the agency team for Tony award-nominated Book of Mormon star Josh Gad, who now has several movies and a TV show set up around town.
Clemens also has nabbed gigs or sold specs for writer clients Melissa Wallack (Mirror Mirror at Relativity), Will Staples (Myth at Fox), Art Marcum & Matt Holloway (The Sigma Protocol at Universal, Highlander at Summit) and Wally Wolodarsky and Maya Forbes (Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days at Fox, Infinitely Polar Bear).
Her focus on alternative sources of financing and blending studio work with independent filmmaking have been a necessary adjustment in her approach to clients. "You have a situation where the mentality of our business for development executives went from, 'I need to be constantly buying material and hiring the most expensive people to justify my job' to 'I can't make a move or I'm going to put a bull's-eye on my back,' " says Clemens, 42. "It's a reflection of the economy."
Married to TV writer Vaun Wilmott and the mother of two boys, aged 2 and 4, the San Francisco-born Orange County transplant has lately been drawing targets on backs of colleagues, clients and friends who assemble at her Pacific Palisades home to play a murderous strategy game she's obsessed with one called Mafia. "It's like poker without the casino," she says, pointing out that it has more than once thrown an unexpected spotlight on a spouse's "diabolical" side. "It's all lying and deception."
Klein didn't start her career in the agency mailroom like many of her peers. Instead, at just 19, she was a receptionist at Norman Lear's company, and then, at 21, she landed a gig as a literary agent at Irv Schecter Co., where she'd later run the TV department. "When your feet are to the fire on day one, you have to start, and start well," she says. And things haven't slowed down a bit since for Klein, who is now co-head of Paradigm's literary department and a member of the Beverly Hills agency's six-person management committee.
This year, Paradigm has sold 42 television projects that were either fully or co-packaged by the agency. Klein, 49, has closed several deals for her clients, including projects for showrunners Jaime Paglia (Eureka), Marc Cherry (Desperate Housewives) and Shane Brennan (NCIS: Los Angeles) and writer Bert Royal (Easy A), while also continuing to rep Emmy-nominated showrunners like Robert and Michelle King (The Good Wife).
Among her recent biggest deals is Cherry's next project: developing Devious Maids, which producer David Lonner brought to Klein, who brought it to Cherry. Based on a Televisa format, the hourlong drama is set up at ABC. For Brennan, Klein sold to CBS the tentatively titled King & Maxwell, which Brennan will write. The project is based on a series of novels written by another Paradigm client, David Baldacci. "What I am trying to accomplish," Klein says, "is giving the client something that they themselves may not necessarily come up with."
The married mother of two is also passionate about charity work: She sits on the executive board of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and also works with Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles, among other organizations. Looking back now on her almost 30 years in the business, she still doesn't regret her early lack of agency mailroom experience: "I'm still not so sure that driving mail around Hollywood is enough to give someone the backbone to be an agent."
As head of WME's huge lit department, Walsh felt a great sense of relief when the digital book biz finally took shape this year. "This was the year we landed on shore," says Walsh, who helped guide more than 200 books into the market in 2011. "We spent the 18 months prior to this year feeling like Christopher Columbus: We were on the boat and had our supplies, which is our content, our stories, but we weren't exactly sure where we would be landing in terms of how that content was going to be delivered to the reader."
Among the clients who prompted surges were Ann Brashares (Sisterhood Everlasting), Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (Cold Vengeance) and Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra: A Life), as well as books by actors Portia de Rossi (Unbearable Lightness) and Rob Lowe (Stories I Only Tell My Friends).
WME's newly launched lecture unit, which has recently featured Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and ex-FDIC chairwoman Sheila Bair, also has helped feed book sales. "I find readers where they live," says Walsh, who grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and now lives in Chelsea with her husband and three children, ages 17, 13 and 9.
"There've been times in my life when I've passed out books at a train station. There's nothing I won't do to get a book into the hands of the readers." Walsh, 44, also was instrumental in organizing WME's first women's summit in October, which assembled 120 female execs from the agency's offices around the world.
As the only woman on WME's 12-person board, Walsh is equally passionate about her advocacy for women inside and outside of the business. "I take it as a sacred responsibility to make sure that the female perspective is always being represented," she says. "You'll know I've done my job if in the next few years I'm not the only one on the board."
Two weeks after graduating from UCLA with a degree in communications in 1984, Siebert opted against a law school education for a gig with the head of business affairs at the Gersh Agency. Within a year and a half, she had been made an agent; two and a half decades later, the Los Angeles native is running the talent agency alongside Bob and David Gersh.
"Either I'm a slow mover or a creature of habit," Siebert, 49, quips of her one and only employer.
The married mother of two teenage boys says she knew "agenting" was her calling when she was an intern for a string of casting directors during college. "I realized it when someone said to me, 'Come up with 10 names for this role' -- it would take me all day," she explains. "But if someone said, 'Here are 10 people to sell,' that's what I can do."
She's proven as much in the past year, having put Debra Messing in NBC's midseason ensemble musical hopeful Smash, Madeleine Stowe on ABC's freshman darling Revenge, Angela Bassett opposite Samuel L. Jackson on Broadway in The Mountaintop and longtime client and indie film queen Catherine Keener in four upcoming film projects.
One of her biggest thrills this year came when longtime client Kyle Chandler scored a surprise Emmy win for the final season of NBC's Friday Night Lights. "I'm excited about finding him his next Emmy-winning show," she says of the actor, who is currently shooting the big-screen thriller Broken City with Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe.
When she isn't focused on her clients, Siebert -- who in 1996 became the agency's first partner who wasn't a family member -- relies on weekend retreats to her beach house for tennis and bike rides with her family to unwind. "My passion is my family," adds Siebert, who is one of the inaugural mentors in THR's Women in Entertainment Mentor Program.
If anyone doubted the extent of Grace's fan base, just consider her recent run on ABC's Dancing With the Stars. The former prosecutor turned HLN star made it to the final five, beating rivals such as Chaz Bono and David Arquette. Not even Grace would claim this was a testament to her dancing.
But it was a testament to her widespread cultural impact, where the pugnacious commentator has the power to turn crime stories like Caylee Anthony's into media firestorms. Not to mention becoming the center of some firestorms herself.
Critics have accused her of racing to judgment, and some have even blamed her for the 2006 suicide of Melinda Duckett, shortly after Grace interviewed her in connection with her son's disappearance. But that hasn't softened Grace's style, unique in the world of HLN, which has struggled to build other brands with the likes of recently not-renewed Joy Behar.
The Atlanta-based mother of 4-year-old twins (husband David Linch is an investment banker) says her hardboiled view of the world was formed after her fiance, Keith Griffin, was murdered three decades ago. That's when the Georgia native gave up plans to become an English professor and received a master of law from New York University.
She subsequently worked as a prosecutor in Atlanta and in 1997 was asked to host a legal commentary show with Johnnie Cochran on Court TV, before joining HLN with the eponymous Nancy Grace in 2005, where she's the top-rated show.
Now Grace, 52, is branching out. In addition to three books she's already published, she has more in the works: "I am in the middle of writing my next murder-mystery, titled Death on the Dance Floor," she says -- adding, in case there were any doubt, "I loved Dancing With the Stars!"
She's also stamping her name on some upcoming TV movies, developing a Lifetime crime drama based on The 11th Victim, her first novel, and developing several unscripted true-crime projects, with the view to forming her own production company.
All this could make her even more of an asset for HLN, where her contract expires at the end of 2013. "I definitely plan to remain in the crime-fighting and justice milieu," she says. "You'll be seeing me in L.A. much more."
After leaving Lifetime Networks, where she had been president and CEO, Wong spent more than a year searching for the right opportunity, and joined the board of Liberty Media before taking the Sony offer in September. "It was the perfect challenge for me," says Wong, 45. "It draws on skills I have, but gives me an opportunity to grow."
Part of taking on what she calls her "next great adventure," meant moving from West Hollywood to London, where she had often visited during her years working for ABC. It was there she found Dancing With the Stars, which she imported to America, along with many other shows. "I always get creatively stimulated there because there's so much great talent in the TV business [in the U.K.]," says Wong.
She will need all those skills and more to oversee Sony's local production operations in 15 countries, from Russia to Latin America to China. "My job," she explains, "is to bring out the best in each of them and ensure they are as successful as they can be in their territory."
She knows that it will be a challenge: "You can't have great success unless you take risks, so you can't be afraid to fail." Adds Wong, who grew up in Northern California: "I think it will be a great experience to do business outside of this country and learn the international world."
"We have been pretty agile as a management company," says Goldsmith-Vein of the company she founded in 1993. "When there was contraction in the television animation space, we made a move into representing content, and we've really been able to build substantially on the libraries that we represent, the publishing houses that we represent and the individual authors that we represent."
Highlights from the past year include client Angus Wall winning an Oscar (with Kirk Baxter) for editing the David Fincher-directed best picture nominee The Social Network. Actor Steve Buscemi has found the role of a lifetime in Nucky Thompson on HBO's Boardwalk Empire; he won the Golden Globe for best actor and received an Emmy nomination this year. And Robert Goolrick (A Reliable Wife), Mo Willems (Happy Pig Day!) and Rick Riordan (The Throne of Fire) are among the author clients who landed books on the New York Times bestseller list.
The Gotham Group also has continued to expand into feature production. Despite the tepid returns for the Taylor Lautner action vehicle Abduction this fall, the company has dozens of projects in development.
Goldsmith-Vein, 48, who grew up in La Jolla, Calif., spent her college years at Hollins University in Virginia and UCLA. She now lives in Hancock Park with her husband and two kids, son Jack, 8, and daughter Caroline, 11, who accompanied her on a recent family trip to southern Ireland to "get in touch with the Irish roots, have a pint" and hang out with 80-year-old author and beer heir Desmond Guinness.
But what Goldsmith-Vein is most proud of passing on is her rare status as a woman who owns her own business. "It's important to set an example for young girls and young women," she says. "It's a unique position to be in. The people it is most valuable to are my daughter and my daughter's friends. I think my daughter's really proud of having a mom who's running a company."
Onscreen and off, Tina Fey projects the affect of an ugly duckling who -- after staying home studying for the SATs every night -- suddenly woke up a glittering swan. Part of that's true enough, but the 30 Rock creator and noted Sarah Palin impersonator always has been shrewder than her cool wallflower persona implies, as Fey's hit book, Bossypants, reminds us.
And with earnings of about $13 million a year for her work as a television actress, she's not just a sober and diligent worker but one of the field's top paid talent.
Fey cut her teeth with Chicago's Second City before moving on to Saturday Night Live, a show she'd obsessed over as a kid, becoming SNL's first-ever female head writer ("Only in comedy, by the way," she writes in her book, "does an obedient white girl from the suburbs count as diversity") and then, alongside Jimmy Fallon, one of the show's best-ever Weekend Update anchors.
In 2011 her biggest coup has been Bossypants -- a celebrity memoir for people who don't read them. Possessor of a boatload of Emmy nominations, a handful of trophies and, as of last year, the status of youngest-ever winner of a Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, she has managed to keep her head on straight as she's become a household name.
To what mantra does she owe her success? "My advice is always 'Trust your gut,' " she says. "It's not a new idea, but the few creative regrets I have were always situations where I didn't follow my instinct to give a note or change a piece of dialogue or something."
Fey, 41, lives on Manhattan's Upper West Side with her composer husband, Jeff Richmond, and their two daughters, and supports autism and leukemia charities.
With the exception of Mean Girls ("I met a young woman who told me with great emotion how the movie helped her get through high school… That meant a lot to me"), her film projects haven't quite captured her geek-chic genius, but 30 Rock's Liz Lemon character is as inspired a creation as her Palin: With a mix of hyper-competent and bumbling, take-charge and insecure, she's a figure whose appeal reaches beyond women struggling in a male-dominated workplace.
For those still wondering how she does it, by the way, her book advises: "No pigtails, no tube tops. Cry sparingly."
9Lorrie bartlett has a confession to make.
"I'm so obsessed with KDAY right now, you know, the old-school hip-hop station?" says the ICM agent in a tone way too bubbly for this early hour on a Monday morning. "On the way to work today I heard 'Sorry Miss Jackson,' and I was doing my dance in the car. By the time I got to the morning meeting, I felt like, 'Wow, there's nothing I can't do today!' "
Sitting with Bartlett in a conference room overlooking Century City, one learns quickly that her eerie peppiness is just one quality that sets the 48-year-old apart from her peers. The first black agent -- male or female -- to lead a talent department at a major agency, Bartlett speaks about her work with passionate but frank warmth. It's a no-nonsense vibe that has allowed her to keep, woo, sign and cultivate such valuable talent as Zoe Saldana (Avatar), Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family), Emmy Rossum (Shameless) and Kelly Macdonald (Boardwalk Empire) while also expanding the resumes of established movie stars including Josh Duhamel, Mira Sorvino and Michael Keaton.
Whether it's for a summer tentpole, indie film, miniseries or network comedy, Bartlett says she applies the same sensibility when counseling clients. "We are here to elevate people's careers, not sell in volume," she says. "With every decision, there has to be serious, careful consideration of why or why not to proceed with a certain project. Everything should add value. As a talent, you never want your agent feeling like a used car salesman."
Bartlett's instincts for quality control were first sparked when she was a kid, one of two, growing up in the small town of Monrovia, Calif., just east of Pasadena. As "the kid with her nose in a book on family road trips," she was especially impressionable when it came to her father, Robert, who spent time away from his job at a trucking company to act as city mayor to the tune of $100 per month.
She recalls a colorful story that had Robert flying to Detroit to procure an unscheduled meeting with Lee Iacocca, then president and CEO of Chrysler, to request that the executive not pull his company's dealerships out of economically depressed Monrovia. "He told him, 'Our city will be a disaster,' so Iacocca decided to keep them there a few more years," recalls Bartlett. "I loved the drive he had, the idea that you can't take no for an answer. My dad was definitely my role model."
Bartlett also showed early leanings toward entertainment in the form of movie-soaked summers spent with her maternal grandparents. "I loved to be entertained," she says. "I think I had an early, very serious admiration for people who could create, who could act. I could never do that! When you see people who are such good actors or you read an amazing script … to this day, I'm constantly amazed. It makes me very happy that I actually still feel this way."
Perhaps sensing she couldn't actually make a living based on how "enamored with Hollywood" she felt, Bartlett opted to study diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College. She landed her first job at 20, while still in school, answering hotline calls for the Rape Prevention Education Program at UCLA. Despite loving the mission of her work there, Bartlett still had an itch for Hollywood, and after graduation, she decided to revisit her early admiration for artists -- "Working at an agency seemed the world's biggest playing field," she says -- and won a coveted position at William Morris on the desk of literary agent Bobbi Thompson and, two months later, under talent agent Joan Hyler. Although she enjoyed watching her mentors cultivate talent such as Tim Burton and Gus Van Sant, Bartlett felt lost among the masses of would-be superagents. "Those two women were great, but there were a lot of politics -- I just didn't feel comfortable in my skin there," says Bartlett. "It was like a lot of mini-agencies under one umbrella. There wasn't much solidarity."
It was around that time that Bob Gersh was looking to infuse new energy into his agency and in 1992 hired Bartlett, making her a full-fledged agent less than a year later. One of Bartlett's first clients at Gersh offered her the opportunity to test-drive her creative instincts: In the mid-1990s, Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz was seeking to branch out into movies and turned to Bartlett for counsel. After some film parts came and went (Paul Rudd's breakout role in the 1995 comedy Clueless was initially offered to Horovitz), Bartlett sensed her client wasn't fully invested emotionally. The two decided they would put movie work on hold. "What surprised me about that first experience was how much he relied on me to discern the situation on his behalf," says Bartlett. "You really do need a working knowledge of who they are, and what they want, as people. 'This will add value to your career because …' -- you should always have an answer to that."
Bartlett spent 16 years at Gersh before landing at ICM in 2008. One of her star clients, Saldana, with whom Bartlett has worked for a decade, followed her to ICM (as did Megan Fox and Duhamel, among others). Saldana recalls her first meeting with Bartlett when she came to L.A. for the 2002 premiere of the Britney Spears movie Crossroads. "I was with my mom and we met the entire Gersh team," says the actress, then 24. "After, my mom said: 'I liked that lady with the glasses. She is very nice. You would be in good hands with her.' And I have been ever since." Saldana remembers one moment when Bartlett had to get tough with her. While promoting the 2004 film Haven at the Toronto International Film Festival, Saldana answered a news conference question, in her own words, "quite rudely," and had to face an incensed Bartlett in the green room. "She said, 'We do not do that. We're trying to sell a movie and you essentially told these people to f-- off? No way,' " remembers Saldana. "I respect her so much for never biting her tongue and always having my best interests at heart. We are definitely kindred spirits."
Bartlett says her long partnership with Saldana has taught her a lot about the business, including some of the inherent challenges of steering the career of a non-white actor, even one as bankable and beautiful as Saldana. "You definitely hear 'no' a lot more," she says, laughing. "I remember we were at the premiere of Avatar, and it was as if it were Zoe's first movie. I joked with her, 'How it does it feel to be a 10-year overnight sensation?' By then she'd already worked with Ashton Kutcher in Guess Who? She was directed by J.J. Abrams in Star Trek and starred with Tom Hanks in The Terminal. The business has such a short memory, but we look at it as a challenge."
This year, Bartlett was promoted by ICM agency head Chris Silbermann to her current post as co-head of the talent department alongside Dar Rollins and Adam Schweitzer. (She declines to comment on the recent report of possible shake-ups at the agency.) Her new post made more headlines than most corporate shuffles do as she became the first person of color to assume such a position in the business. It's a distinction that Bartlett approaches with a lighthearted reverence.
"It's funny … it never occurred to me that I couldn't do something because I'm black," says Bartlett. "Though, that's not to say I'm not always reminded when I go out into the world, especially in Hollywood, that I'm not Caucasian. I do want some girl who's going to Crenshaw High School to think, 'She did it; why not me?' That's what most resonates. I've sacrificed a lot to be better at my job. But I did it because I love it. And I just happen to be African-American."
To Bartlett's marquee talent, she is simply a great agent. Before she was an Emmy nominee for Boardwalk Empire, Scottish film actress Macdonald was at a professional crossroads and calls signing with Bartlett in 2004 "the best move" she ever made. "She really kick-started my career in the U.S.," says Macdonald. "She got me in front of the Coen brothers' casting director before they'd even started casting No Country for Old Men. She is more proactive than anyone I've ever worked with before. It seems an obvious way to operate, but you'd be surprised."
Emmy winner Stonestreet, whom Bartlett signed with a team of agents in 2009, says the agent "knows who she is" and never panders to the status quo. "I respect her calm, confident demeanor," he says. "And I love her out-of-the-box thinking and approach to my career and to show business in general. She has exquisite taste, in actors and otherwise."
Bartlett's tastes do every so often extend outside the realm of entertainment; luckily for her partner of more than eight years, Mike Clayborn, who works for the Los Angeles-based nonprofit food program PACE, they include football. "I tell him every Sunday, 'You are so lucky,' " says Bartlett of her weekend ritual at home in Laurel Canyon with Clayborn, with whom she has helped raise his 22-year-old daughter-and-son twins.
The couple also likes to escape to their family home in Orange County's Dana Point ("I drive over the hill and just … exhale. It's such a cool, laid-back spot," she says) and to indulge in Bartlett's many music obsessions -- most of the time together.
"We saw Mary J. Blige and Jay-Z together," she says, adding with a laugh, "but I had to go see Dolly Parton alone. He wasn't into that."
An Emmy nominee for last year's Golden Globes, Adelson insists the lawsuit over TV rights to the awards show hasn't distracted her from the next edition. "I'm keeping my eyes on the ball, and that is to make the best show for 2012," she says. "Thankfully, the Hollywood Foreign Press is of the same mind."
Building on that success, adding to existing shows, developing a digital presence and adding new shows, she says, are all part of her mandate to "push the limits of every show we have to be very current." This means Adelson's top-rated New Year's Rockin' Eve is expanding from 3½ hours to 5 ½, the American Music Awards added a broadcast preshow and a three-hour digital preshow, the Academy of Country Music Awards will air from multiple locations in Las Vegas and Emmy nominee So You Think You Can Dance has been renewed for next summer and sold into syndication.
Adelson, 55, who is married and has a son in college and a daughter working in feature production at NBCUniversal, recently oversaw the opening of DCP offices in New York to expand sales and development. This year has seen the addition of the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants and Deadly Things for Discovery's IDTV, as well as the debut of the Los Angeles Food & Wine festival and a return to producing TV movies for ABC, Lifetime and Hallmark.
Adelson also is launching the NFL Awards, a show celebrating philanthropy on NBC and the Streamy Awards to honor online work, which will bow on the Internet.
Adelson draws on her yoga practice and what she learned serving in the Israeli army as a young woman to help survive workday stress. "It taught me teamwork and discipline," she says. "It's never about one person; it's about collective achievements."
Born in Georgia but raised in Chicago's northern suburbs, Salata had always dreamed of working for Oprah Winfrey. Her wish came true when the former freelance producer was asked to produce a few promo spots for The Oprah Winfrey Show. "There's no question I won the lottery of career opportunities when I walked into the studio and she saw my shoes," recalls Salata of her knee-buckling first encounter with the Queen of Daytime, who fortunately approved of her spectator footwear.
Rising through the ranks from promotions producer at Harpo Studios starting in 1995, Salata was tapped as executive producer of Oprah in September 2006, a post she held until the daytime talker's end this year. "After 25 years, the expectations were so fierce, even I was shaking in my shoes," she says of the final season, noting that "no stone was left unturned" and that every episode "felt like a primetime special."
Salata says she was "still concealing the dark circles under my eyes from exhaustion from the final season" when Winfrey appointed her president of OWN in July (a position she shares with Erik Logan); she shuttles between producing in Chicago and running the upstart network from its L.A. offices.
With OWN struggling to cut through the clutter, Salata, 52, acknowledges that the network is finding its way "like any start-up." "The expectations are really high, and we have to learn fast and make really good decisions that keep us on brand as we find our way with our audience," admits the unmarried owner of three English bulldogs. "I remember [Discovery CEO] David Zaslav said it would be the most fun I'd ever have, and I can see what he means now, even as I'm still feeling my way through it and learning and growing exponentially."
There are those entertainment industry hotshots who grew up with singular dreams of making it big in Hollywood. Peters is not one of them. Raised on a farm in Iowa with five siblings, she bounced from place to place and job to job -- Washington (working with lobbyists), Germany (translation work), Denver (commercials coordinator) and Chicago (producing commercials) -- before landing in Los Angeles with her husband.
As she tells it, a temp agency set her up in the William Morris mailroom. "You learn more in three months than you would in three years running around this town," she says. Despite the drudgery of the job, Peters found she enjoyed the work. Her first assignment had her assisting a female agent who sold books and articles for films. "While I was on her desk, she sold Sleepers. I got to see the whole process, and I was hooked," says Peters.
From there, Peters worked her way up the corporate ladder during the next 14 years before jumping to UTA in 2008.
These days, the married mother of two is busy not only running UTA's talent department but also putting a growing portfolio of her own clients -- recent additions include Ewan McGregor and Paul Walker -- to work.
Among Peters' highlights from 2011: long-term client Kirsten Dunst's Oscar-buzz turn in Melancholia, Jeffrey Dean Morgan's casting in Starz's Magic City and James McAvoy's range of projects including X-Men: First Class and Danny Boyle's upcoming Trance.
The fourth season of Salsano's brainchild, MTV's Jersey Shore, attracted a record-breaking 8.8 million total viewers for its Aug. 4 premiere. "MTV called me and said, 'Holy shit, we got the biggest numbers ever,' " says the 37-year-old producer. "We were in production on the next season, and I was in the control room. Everything was going haywire, and I said, 'I gotta go.' I slammed the phone down and never called them back."
Admittedly, the bicoastal reality producer doesn't take much time to smell the roses. "I don't want to buy into any of the bullshit," she says. "Right now, I'm in Ugg boots, a fleece, I haven't showered in two days, and I'm sitting on a street corner in Rhode Island. I'm just a producer; I don't want it to change my outlook on life."
Since getting her start as an intern on Multimedia Entertainment's dishy daytime talk show Sally Jessy Raphael, Salsano has climbed the ranks of the male-dominated reality production world doing stints on such shows as ABC's The Bachelor and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. In 2006, she launched 495 Productions (named after the Long Island Expressway she frequented growing up), and the company's biggest coup has been the reality show about six twentysomethings who spend their summers in New Jersey's Seaside Heights.
While Shore initially met resistance from Italian-American groups and advertisers (the cast often refer to themselves as "guidos" and "guidettes," terms commonly considered derogatory), the show gained a cultlike fan base during its first season and more than 4.8 million viewers for its season finale. "I didn't even realize the show was so popular," says Salsano, who spends most of her time on the road. This year alone, Salsano has completed two seasons of Jersey Shore, spinoff pilots for Shore stars Pauly D and Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, a season of both MTV's Disaster Date and the network's new series Friend Zone, Oxygen's Tanisha Gets Married, VH1's Mama Drama and TV Guide's Nail Files.
"I flew more this year than I did in the past four years combined," says Salsano, who begins each day by 4 a.m. "Four times a year I cry, have a breakdown and say, 'All I want is a day off.' After 48 hours, I'm so sick of myself that I just want to get back to work."
And she shows no sign of stopping. Although Shore saw its first ratings decline for the season-four finale (6.6 million total viewers), the New York native says it hasn't skipped a beat. "If a dip in the ratings is having a cable show that gets over 6 million, I'll take that dip every day," she says.
With the fifth season premiering in January, Salsano promises all of the drama, fist pumps and hookups fans have come to expect, but she still wonders at the pop-culture phenom she created. "Everyone's like: 'What's the next Jersey Shore? What's the next Jersey Shore?' and I'm like, 'Shoot, if I knew how to only make No. 1 shows in history …' " she says, laughing. "It's like, 'Yeah, I've been just sitting on them all and waiting for you guys to call me.' I wish it were that simple."
Stern remembers the precise moment that led her to a career in entertainment. "I was 21 and doing graduate work in comparative literature," recalls the Brooklyn native. "I woke up one morning and asked myself: 'What am I thinking? I'll never make a living doing this!' "
After earning a law degree from UCLA, Stern landed in the legal department at Columbia in 1982 and soon "was seduced away" by the law firm that is now Bloom Hergott Cook Diemer & Klein, where she helped develop a television department.
It was a move to Lionsgate in 2003 that led Stern to her true calling as one of the key architects of the movie company's cutting-edge TV division, whose properties include Showtime's Weeds and Nurse Jackie, AMC's Mad Men, Starz's Boss and the upcoming FX comedy -- and much-buzzed-about Charlie Sheen comeback vehicle -- Anger Management.
Says Stern of Lionsgate's TV slate: "I feel like I've died and gone to heaven. We are still small and specific compared to other larger studios. This allows for a lot of cross-pollination with our film division." In that vein, she notes the deal she set up at ABC to bring The Lincoln Lawyer to television. "I get to play in a lot of sandboxes," says Stern.
That playtime has been extremely lucrative for the 14-year-old company, which grew from $8 million in revenue in 2000 to more than $350 million in 2010, with Lionsgate properties earning a total of 98 Emmy nominations and 19 wins under her watch. Stern, who's single and enjoys supporting small local theater companies in her free time, says Anger Management has been "one of the nicest collaborations I've had, maybe ever," and she puts to rest any notion that the project's star is back for more tabloid glory.
"Charlie has been in all the showrunner meetings. He's very smart and very enthusiastic," says Stern (whose age falls, she says, "somewhere between 40 and dead"). "We all like to have second chances, so this has been nice to see."
Nelson doesn't come across as terribly impressed with herself. Her last movie hit it big, she says, because "we got to explore these characters more deeply. Everyone working on the film -- the cast, the crew -- knows these characters so well. And everybody has such a great time doing it."
That's the case with a lot of movies and probably a lot of sequels. But not every movie sees the same scale of success as Kung Fu Panda 2: With worldwide box office of about $650 million, the animated 3D sequel to the 2008 original has become the highest-grossing film directed by a woman.
Nelson started early. "I've been drawing my whole life," she says. "My mom says my sister and I were drawing by age 1. Animation seems a real, natural extension of drawing as a way of telling a story visually."
Before working on the sequel, which had Jack Black voicing the titular panda alongside Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman and Jackie Chan, Nelson, 39, was head of story on the original Kung Fu Panda and Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas and a story artist on Madagascar and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.
She also has worked as an animator in Australia (on the live-action feature Dark City), Japan (overseeing animation for HBO) and Korea, where she was born and lived before moving to Southern California as a child. Even with all of that preparation, the former Cal State Long Beach illustration student remembers the jolt of her feature directorial debut on Panda 2. "Something I found a little scary is that there are so many people looking to you for your guidance and thoughts," she says. "Hundreds of people over several years, hoping you won't waste their time. A lot of the time in animation is spent getting the story right -- that's something you can't rush."
Because moviemaking is more a marathon than a sprint, it's important to Nelson to have "enforced downtime," which includes hanging out with her husband and nephews and playing video games. She also donates to the Burbank Animal Shelter. "I think it's not healthy just to limit yourself completely" to working all the time, she says. "You need to have a balance. It gives you perspective."
"I'm always surprised at my ability to work hard," jokes the 36-year-old comic and host of E!'s Chelsea Lately. "Because I consider myself to be inherently lazy."
Handler might be a lot of things, but unmotivated is not one of them. On the contrary, her fast-growing empire -- including three New York Times best-selling novels, her Borderline Amazing production company and a lucrative Belvedere vodka endorsement -- is testament to Handler's profound work ethic.
In 2011, the New Jersey native spent 12 consecutive weeks taping each of her three television shows: E!'s Chelsea Lately and After Lately and NBC's midseason replacement Are You There, Vodka?, which she executive produces.
On Nov. 27, the second-season premiere of After Lately attracted 937,000 viewers, up 12 percent compared with its first bow (Handler promises an impressive guest-star roster for After Lately, including pals Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon). In November, amid much speculation, she inked a two-year deal with E! to stay on as exec producer and host of her late-night topical series.
It also gives Handler a first-look deal through her production company. "I realize the success of Chelsea Lately and what it could become," says Handler of the show, which averages more than 1 million viewers an episode. "A friend also reminded me that I was the first woman to have a successful late-night TV show and what it will mean for women in the future."
Fresh off her national stand-up tour Lies That Chelsea Handler Told Me (spawned from her most recent novel of the same name), Handler is ready to take some time off. "I couldn't be more sick of the sound of my own stand-up routine," she says. "One more week, and I would have ended up in a mental hospital."
Her style might not be as aggressive as that of the late Jack Valenti, but Prewitt -- whose professional roots are, like his, in Washington -- is to independent films what the hard-charging Texan was to the studio mainstream.
Her task with the trade group, though, is an unusual one: As the head of IFTA, she fights to ensure that indies exist as their own category, with their own needs -- often distinct from those of the big boys. "What we're seeing recently," she says, "is that decision makers understand it. Increasingly, they ask for an independent point of view."
That point of view is especially crucial in matters like piracy, which hits indie filmmakers differently than it does corporate distributors. "This is a year where we've been engaged, here and in Europe, with the issue of online theft," says Prewitt. "We've been negotiating with the White House and Congress, as well as the various service providers." Because indie films are often made on a shoestring, piracy's ability to erode revenue can be considerable. "If piracy takes a market down, like it has in Spain, all the jobs are lost -- the film can't get made."
It's not all about online theft; Prewitt also fights for net neutrality and to help indies beat trade barriers. IFTA oversees the American Film Market, held annually in Santa Monica and the world's largest event of its kind. "Independents make 70 percent of the films released in the United States, and often they expose new talent," she Prewitt, noting that the studios are often busy erecting tentpoles of familiar fare.
The Los Angeles-based Prewitt was drawn to indie film largely because of the passion that drives it. "I'm absolutely fascinated by how much of it depends on an independent producer and his or her complete conviction," she says. "It may take years, but what it requires is someone's need to bet the ranch on it. We try to push as many administrative and political barriers out of the way and let them do what they do best."
As a kid, Gibbons wasn't allowed to watch much television; she was mostly limited to Get Smart and Hogan's Heroes. But she has been making up for lost time: Gibbons is in charge of marketing and advertising for FX and Fox Movie Channel, which she joined in 2004.
This year, her biggest coup has been a creepily successful campaign for the infidelity-themed fright fest American Horror Story, which saw Los Angeles laced with billboards showing a latex-clad S&M ghoul hanging from a ceiling above a pregnant redhead. The campaign also got monster traffic virally, helping give Horror Story the highest-rated first season of any series in the cable network's history. (It's averaging 4.1 million total viewers and 3.1 million in the 18-to-49 demo.)
For a while, FX appeared to be struggling to find its way after the end of The Shield. These days, with It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Justified, The League, Sons of Anarchy, Wilfred and the animated Archer, the network has picked up new energy, and FX, thanks to the strong lineup and Gibbons' efforts, now has its best ratings ever.
This year, Gibbons and her colleagues won the Promax/BDA Award for marketing team of the year. One of the few "out" lesbians in Hollywood, she oversees FX marketing of gay-themed shows, drawing rave recognition from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. And while the network's corporate parent, News Corp., hardly has a reputation for progressivism, Gibbons helps advise the company on carbon neutrality and spreading the word about energy conservation and global warming.
The Ohio native started out at the NBC affiliate in Fort Myers, Fla., a jumping-off point she calls "incredibly useful. It was such a small market, such a small budget -- I spent about 16 hours a day at the station. By the time I left there, I'd done directing, been a producer of the noon news, had edited, written … I knew how to shoot, how to do graphics -- the whole shebang."
Gibbons, 51, calls risk-taking an important part of her job. "You need to find something that's arresting," she says. "Our audience wants something provocative, something idiosyncratic -- and the marketing has to follow suit."
Since her 2005 stint on NBC's The Apprentice, Frankel has become emblematic of reality television's holy grail. After a meteoric rise to fame on Bravo's The Real Housewives of New York City, Frankel landed her own spinoff in 2010, Bethenny Getting Married?, documenting her pregnancy and marriage to businessman Jason Hoppy (the show became Bravo's highest-rated series premiere, attracting 2.1 million total viewers).
Frankel has gone from single, starving small-business owner to television mogul, wife and mother who sold her Skinnygirl cocktail line to Beam Global this year for an astonishing $120 million. "Not too long ago, I didn't have anything at all," says Frankel, who has expanded her Skinnygirl brand into weight-loss supplements, shapewear, publishing and a speaking tour. "It's been abrupt: fame, marriage, baby, success."
As filming wraps on the third season of her series (now titled Bethenny Ever After, which averaged 1.4 million viewers in season two), the mother to 19-month-old Bryn is contemplating her next steps. "I have a couple things on the fire, probably three or four, including a few project possibilities with Bravo. We've been great partners," says The New York Times best-selling author, whose debut fiction novel, Skinny Dipping, hits stands in May 2012.
Although a syndicated talk show produced by Telepictures and Ellen DeGeneres came to nothing (though additional development deals are in the works), Frankel, 41, hints at the possibility of one day taking her life story to the big screen: "I've been approached, but you have to make the right choices. I'm not going to force anything."