YouTube's Susanne Daniels on 'Gilmore Girls' Jealousy and Her Worst 'SNL' Experience
Twenty years after bringing 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' to The WB, Daniels — one of NATPE's 2017 Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award recipients — talks to THR about working with Lorne Michaels, her new role and why she wanted to adapt 'Step Up.'
Susanne Daniels has devoted her career to drawing (and keeping) the attention of young viewers, first at The WB with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Gilmore Girls and later at MTV with Faking It and Finding Carter. So when teen eyeballs shifted their focus online, so did Daniels — she is now YouTube's global head of original content. As Daniels, 51, challenges Hollywood to reimagine how to attract younger audiences, the National Association of Television Program Executives will honor her with its Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award — alongside Fox TV Group chairmen and CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman, actress Eva Longoria, AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan and Univision CEO Randy Falco. Before receiving her award, which is set to be handed out Wednesday in Miami, Daniels reflects on her career, which started with her big break as Lorne Michaels' assistant at Saturday Night Live (where she met her husband, The Office writer Greg Daniels, with whom she has four children), her professional "aha" moment and how she feels about the return of Gilmore Girls on Netflix.
What was it like working for Lorne Michaels?
There was one [SNL] host, who shall remain nameless, who was kind of obsessed with Lorne. They wanted to just hang with Lorne, and it was driving him crazy. I remember Lorne calling me in and saying, "Keep this host away from me." I didn't know what to do. I was at 30 Rock, so I called Tom Brokaw's assistant and said, "This host really likes Tom and would like a tour of the NBC news station." I totally made it up. Then, I went to the host and said, "Tom Brokaw just called. He's a huge fan of yours and wants you to come up so he can meet with you and show you around." I had to spend the week making up shit like that.
When was the moment you realized you could make working in television your career?
During my three years at SNL, I kept trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. There was this woman who showed up every Saturday; I assumed she was somebody's friend or family. One day, I asked who she was with. She said, "I work for NBC, I'm the current executive on the show." She explained what she did, and it was like my Oprah "aha" moment.
Did you watch the Gilmore Girls revival?
I loved it. I was jealous it was on Netflix and not YouTube. My 15-year-old is watching it and really enjoying it, which is bringing me a lot of pleasure.
MTV has had a rough couple of years. What was the biggest challenge at that network?
One of the things that I was impressed with when I got to MTV was that the median age was 24. It's really difficult to keep a median age of 24. All the research we did indicated that young people still thought of MTV as a cool brand, but they didn't think about it as a fresh brand. They thought about it like their mom and dad's cool brand. At one point I had a conversation with my head of research and said to her, "When they're not watching MTV, where are they?" I realized they were on YouTube.
You've wanted to adapt Step Up for television for a long time, so why was YouTube finally the right home?
Step Up is a really unusual success story. It's international, very appealing to men — in addition to women. Dance is a hugely successful genre on YouTube, so it's the perfect fit.
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