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Bringing Top Talent to Streaming

NAME: Julie McNamara
TITLE: Executive VP, Original Content
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Launched original programming for CBS’s SVOD service, which is experiencing 60% growth in subscribers streaming originals year-to-date. Spearheaded the rebirth of the Star Trek franchise with the first series in more than a decade, Star Trek: Discovery. As head of drama development at CBS Studios, shepherded hits including The Good Wife, Hawaii Five-0, Elementary, NCIS: LA, Blue Bloods and Jane the Virgin. At ABC, developed Desperate Housewives, Lost and Grey’s Anatomy.
QUOTABLE: “Great and confident artists want real collaboration to bring out what the best of their vision can be.”

Julie McNamara

Julie McNamara

Julie McNamara, executive vice president of original content at CBS All Access, has leveraged her extensive relationships in Hollywood to establish the direct-to-consumer platform as a place for elite producers to bring their passion projects. The lineup of auteurs doing shows for CBS All Access, which launched in the fall of 2014, includes Jordan Peele, Marc Cherry, Kevin Williamson and Michelle and Robert King.

“What’s so great about Julie is that she has such broad experience,” said Marc DeBevoise, president and chief operating officer, CBS Interactive. “She knows so many people in the industry and has such good connections.”

McNamara came on board at the streamer in 2016, after spending the previous decade at CBS Television Studios, departing as executive vice president, drama development. Her projects while at the studio included the Kings’ drama The Good Wife, Jane the Virgin, Blue Bloods and Madam Secretary.

Prior to her time at CBS, McNamara was VP, drama development at ABC, where she worked on Desperate Housewives, with Marc Cherry, and Grey’s Anatomy, among other shows.

She was intrigued by the opportunity to work at what was essentially a startup, albeit one with a big backer. “It felt like a really good time to transition to a new learning curve,” said McNamara. “It seemed like a challenge and an opportunity to start something new and be entrepreneurial, be nimble.”

Original Thinking

With McNamara overseeing original content, CBS All Access expanded from three original series to what aims to be a dozen next year. “Original series have been a huge driver for us,” DeBevoise said, “and Julie has been responsible for all of that.”

CBS All Access offers current CBS series on-demand, as well as the network’s library of content, which includes Cheers and Perry Mason, and original shows. Those include a batch of Star Trek projects, including well-regarded Star Trek: Discovery, which will premiere season three later this year, and Star Trek: Picard, starring Patrick Stewart. The Picard trailer debuted at Comic-Con and has tallied more than 25 million views. The show begins early next year. Also in the works is Star Trek: Lower Decks, an animated comedy about the support crew on a lowly Starfleet ship. That comes from Rick & Morty executive producer Mike McMahan.

The Good Fight, spinoff of The Good Wife, has gone for three seasons. All Access ordered a second season of Peele’s Twilight Zone reboot. Coming up are Cherry’s comedic drama Why Women Kill, which launched Aug. 15, and season two of Williamson’s fairy tale thriller Tell Me a Story.

CBS All Access will also premiere a series based on Stephen King novel The Stand, with James Marsden in the lead, and King himself writing the final episode.

Comedy No Activity debuts season three in November. McNamara is keen to add more comedies — single-cam, multicam — to the All Access lineup.

The service costs $5.99 monthly with commercials and $9.99 without. For McNamara, the calculus is simple: Every original series must do its part to convince customers to shell out cash. “The originals need to be a driver of subscribers,” she said. “Everything we put out — we believe it merits additional expense and will drive people to come to the service.”

DeBevoise noted at the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour earlier this month how stellar originals begat more stellar originals. “We’re finding that once subscribers try an original series, they typically engage with [others],” he said. “These become their top-viewed shows and we retain them at a much higher rate, creating a virtuous cycle for us as we grow our slate.”

Up Stream

McNamara said top producers who have made their name on traditional TV are keen to give streaming a shot. “It’s helpful to have a built-in relationship and built-in trust, but people are excited about being on a newer platform,” she said.

Marc Cherry shared his thoughts on streaming at press tour. “To get the freedom of more time, more money, less episodes, it leads to a different kind of storytelling, a richer kind of storytelling,” he said.

McNamara singles out Nina Tassler, former chair of CBS entertainment, and David Stapf, president of CBS Television Studios, as mentors. She described Tassler as “a fierce, powerful person” and a “loving teacher.”

“In the early days of my time at CBS, I called her about everything,” she said. “She never failed to be kind, never made me feel bad about things I didn’t know.”

She refers to Stapf as “a boss, a rabbi, a therapist,” and a “constant champion for people who work for him.”

McNamara is elevating to a mentor role at CBS. DeBevoise said he constantly learns programming nuances from his originals chief. “Julie is one of the most thoughtful and caring executives I’ve known,” he said.

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.