Bela Bajaria’s family story truly exemplifies the American dream. When she was 8 years old, her parents, who are of Indian heritage, moved the family from London to Southern California to pursue the car washing business.
“It was a very interesting time. We were going to go build it from scratch,” the executive VP of Universal Television recalls.
Today, Bajaria’s family owns several successful car washes and other small businesses. And this entrepreneurial spirit has had a big impact on her career. “I think it is very deep-seated in me,” Bajaria (pronounced BA-jer-ee-ah) says. “I love the idea of growing and owning a business. I’ve done my own version of that.”
Her own version can be traced back to winning the Miss India Worldwide pageant in 1991. Bajaria’s title was more than just a sash and crown; she used her platform to help launch and run a nonprofit for handicapped children in Third World countries, all while still in college.
After four years with the organization, Bajaria decided it was finally time to pursue her other professional passion—a career in the entertainment industry. In 1996, she got her foot in the door as an assistant in the long-form division at CBS. By 2001, she was running the department as senior VP of movies and miniseries. Of the more than 200 projects she made there, the Emmynominated miniseries Joan of Arc was one of her biggest highlights.
By 2007, Bajaria was ready for the next challenge, so she pitched creating a cable division within CBS TV Studios to CBS Corp. President/CEO Les Moonves and Nancy Tellem, now senior advisor to the CEO. They were supportive, and Bajaria became senior VP, cable programming for CBS TV Studios, building the division while simultaneously holding her network position as head of movies and miniseries. Under her leadership, the studio produced such series as A&E’s The Cleaner and USA’s upcoming Common Law.
Bajaria had been at CBS 15 years when last summer Bob Greenblatt, newly named chairman of NBC Entertainment, asked her to run NBC’s sister studio Universal Television (then Universal Media Studios), producer of Smash, Grimm and Whitney, among others.
Along with Tellem and Moonves, whom she credits for “giving me those initial big breaks,” Bajaria also considers Greenblatt an important mentor.
“Bela is a sensational executive, and I learned that first-hand in the trenches when I was a producer of a miniseries for her at CBS,” Greenblatt says. “She is a producer at heart, but thinks like an executive.”
Her appointment at Universal reestablished the studio as a stand-alone entity, a move Bajaria embraced. “I think it works best for everybody financially and creatively when you are an independent studio,” she says.
Being the foundational exec in the new studio afforded Bajaria the opportunity to build her own team and culture and “start it from the beginning,” which happily meant tapping into her entrepreneurial drive once again.
While she recognizes NBC has content needs, Bajaria’s goal is to have a little bit of everything at different networks. She loves that great projects that aren’t necessarily suitable for NBC can find another home.
Bajaria points to the studio’s Mindy Kaling pilot that Fox picked up. “It really makes sense for it to go there because it’s such a good companion for New Girl,” Bajaria says.
Fox is also home to Universal-produced House, which after much speculation will end its run after this season. “House has been an incredibly valuable show to Universal TV and we’re extraordinarily proud of its critical and commercial success,” Bajaria says.
And Bajaria feels exceedingly confident in the growth potential of partnering with fourthplace NBC. “Fourth with great leadership is an exciting place to be. I love the Comcast culture of just being honest—here’s where we are,” she says.
While acknowledging that it likely takes three to five hits to turn around a network (a sentiment echoed by Greenblatt), Bajaria believes in the patient approach, taking it one show at a time. That said, she would love to count the six comedy and seven drama pilots NBC picked up as the first of her projects to hit the air—along with the studio’s two comedy pilots now at Fox and CBS.
When not engaged in the busy pilot season, Bajaria prefers to simply spend her downtime with her husband, three children and extended family. One thing you won’t find her doing, however, is slowing down.
“I like having one too many things on my plate,” she says. “Doing that one extra thing is where I like to live.”
E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter: @stephrobbins
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