B+C Hall of Fame 2022: Susanne Daniels

Susanne Daniels
Susanne Daniels (Image credit: YouTube)

Susanne Daniels has held executive positions at many networks and platforms in her time in the entertainment industry — ABC, Fox, The WB, Lifetime, MTV and YouTube — but her mission has remained the same: Find programming that resonates with young people.

That job has only gotten harder as those young audiences have migrated to digital platforms and social media. 

Still, Daniels managed to find a big hit for YouTube — and later for Netflix — with Cobra Kai, a sequel to the popular Karate Kid movies of the 1980s. Who knew that the kids of Gen X, who first fell in love with Daniel-san and his teacher, Mr. Miyagi, would grow up and want to see more? Well, Daniels, for one.

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Backing up a few years, when Daniels was overseeing programming for MTV, she developed a drama for the cable network called Finding Carter. 

Nobody else was willing to say to us, ‘we’re going to make an entire season,’ but she had that passion, understanding and trust in us.”

— Jon Hurwitz, EP, ‘Cobra Kai’

“It was so good, I just loved it,” she said. “But it wasn’t getting a lot of traction even though we were marketing it well. One day, out of complete frustration, I turned to our head of research and said, ‘Where are they? Why aren’t they watching this show?’ And she said, ‘They’re all on YouTube.’ I then started educating myself on YouTube creators.”

Daniels started reaching out to those creators to see if they could work together. When Robert Kyncl, YouTube’s chief business officer, discovered what she was doing, he invited her to lunch and then to work at YouTube. “He told me, ‘You’ll have better success reaching the audience where these YouTubers live,’ ” she said. “I decided he was right.” 

Back to Cobra Kai. “I knew from YouTube’s data that Karate Kid was a highly searched term with our heavy users in a positive way. The pitch was one of the best pitches I have ever heard — they even brought in Ralph Macchio and William Zabka. There was no way I was letting them walk out the door without begging them to bring their show to YouTube.”

Daniels and her team pitched the benefits of YouTube to Cobra Kai’s creative team: Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg. When they heard Daniels’s enthusiasm, they were in. 

“She saw the vision before anyone else did,” Hurwitz said. “Nobody else was willing to say to us, ‘we’re going to make an entire season,’ but she had that passion, understanding and trust in us.”

She’s always been able to see the business from a producer’s point of view, and that’s helped her lure talent to any platform she’s leading. “There’s so much risk assessment in our business, but Susanne was willing to take a bet on who we were and what we could bring,” said B17 Entertainment’s Rhett Bachner, who launched Broke-Ass Game Show on MTV under Daniels’ watch.

Part of that understanding comes from a  very personal place: her marriage to Greg Daniels, creator and EP of such shows as NBC’s The Office and Parks and Recreation. They met when she was assistant to Saturday Night Live’s Lorne Michaels and he was a writer there. 

After three years at SNL, Daniels moved to Los Angeles to join ABC as a director of reality and variety programming. She then served as VP of comedy at Fox. Her next move was to startup The WB, where founder Jamie Kellner first offered her a job as head of comedy. 

Rolling the Dice at The WB

“What I said to Jamie Kellner was, ‘I’m going to take a chance on your startup network, but I’m only going to take this job if I can oversee all development.’ He didn’t get back to me for a couple of weeks because I think he was desperately trying to find someone else during that time. But he came back and offered me the job I wanted,” she said. “I don’t think it was bravery to ask for more. I just think it was me wanting to maximize my potential.”       

At The WB, she helped develop some of the most generationally defining hits of the late ‘90s and early 2000s, including Dawson’s Creek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, Felicity and Gilmore Girls.

By the time The WB merged with UPN to become The CW in 2006, Daniels and most of the original executives had left. She went on to oversee programming at Lifetime, MTV and YouTube. 

As YouTube’s global head of original content, Daniels also worked with pop superstar Katy Perry on Katy Perry Witness Worldwide and with Barack and Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga and Lizzo on The Class of 2020 Graduation Special.

With YouTube exiting originals, Daniels left in early March. As she considers what to do next, young audiences are always on her mind. 

“I would like to build something for young audiences again and I’m giving some thought as to what that is,” she said. “I truly love the medium of TV.”  ■

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.