This has been a difficult year for everybody and every business, yet Pearlena Igbokwe, who was promoted this fall to chairman, Universal Studio Group, doesn’t see obstacles.
“All I see is opportunity,” declared Igbokwe, who is now responsible for all aspects of creative affairs and production for Universal Television, Universal Content Productions (UCP) and NBCUniversal International Studios, reporting directly to Jeff Shell, CEO of NBCUniversal. “The opportunity to share resources and talent across our four content production businesses; the opportunity to tell meaningful, impactful stories no matter the format; and the opportunity to bring our global teams together with the common goal of creating great television.”
Igbowke oversees production of more than 2,500 hours of programming currently airing or streaming around the globe, but it’s an extension of a role in which she has repeatedly proven her chops. For the past four years, she was president, Universal Television, with dominion over creative development, casting and production for the studio. Her tenure produced the sitcom The Good Place, the acclaimed Russian Doll and a new Dick Wolf franchise FBI.
Igbokwe said she was most proud that “we were able to grow our volume of series by 100%. We produced approximately 25 series when I first arrived in 2016 and by early 2020, we were up to 50 series at 12 different networks or platforms.”
Programming has long been a passion for Igbowke. In earlier positions she developed the top-rated new broadcast dramas for three out of her four years in the role, including The Blacklist, and This Is Us. During her 20 years at Showtime she helped shepherd into existence Masters of Sex and Nurse Jackie, among others, and was involved in developing the pilot and overseeing the first five seasons of Dexter.
Life at the top removes her further from day-to-day creative development, Igbowke acknowledged. “But I work with people who have instincts that I trust, and my job is to make sure they have all the resources they need to make hit shows,” she said. “I still watch dailies and cuts and read scripts, so I’m not too far away from the process. I can’t help myself.”
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Stuart Miller has been writing about television for 30 years since he first joined Variety as a staff writer. He has written about television for The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, The Boston Globe, Newsweek, Vulture and numerous other publications.