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Building Networks From the Bottom Up

At 16, Dawn Ostroff got her first media job the old-fashioned way: She followed the radio station's van to the station's door and sat there until she was given an internship answering the call-in lines at WMJX Miami. She got her second job that way, too. She sat outside the news director's door at WINZ-TV Miami until she was allowed to anchor the weekend news.

Ostroff, then Tarnofsky, has always been a go-getter. She entered college at 17 and finished at 19, immediately landing a full-time job in the promotions department at CBS affiliate WTVJ-TV, also Miami.

It was that determination that caught the attention of Leslie Moonves, now CEO and chairman of CBS but then head of movies and miniseries at 20th Century Fox Television (TCFTV) when Ostroff was starting out as an assistant.

"I'd always be surprised when I would see her in the hallway and she'd have a comment on some script she had read. And the comments were usually pretty good," Moonves says. "I was impressed that she had the gumption to read all those scripts and enough courage to pipe up to the head of the department."

Moonves and Ostroff left TCFTV and went their separate ways. Moonves headed to Warner Bros. Television and then to CBS. Ostroff went to work at production company Kushner-Locke and then ran Michael Jacobs Productions before returning to TCFTV as senior vice president of creative affairs.

Through all those jobs, she has had a hand in developing some of the most popular shows on television, including ABC's Boy Meets World, The WB's (and later UPN's) Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ABC's The Practice
and Fox's King of the Hill.

In 1996, Ostroff returned to her native New York to develop original programming for Lifetime Television. She and Lifetime Television President and CEO Carole Black worked hard to brand Lifetime, giving the network a clear identity as "television for women."

"Working at Lifetime was an opportunity to figure out another side of this business that financially makes more sense," Ostroff says. "The most exciting thing is to come in as an underdog with a company that has to be built from the bottom up."

At Lifetime, Ostroff developed the series Strong Medicine, Any Day Now and The Division, the last ranking as Lifetime's highest-rated premiere ever. Those shows lifted Lifetime from the No. 6-rated cable network to No. 1 in prime time, an honor that recently has slipped from Lifetime's grasp.

Ostroff never intended to return to Los Angeles, but, when the call came from old mentor Moonves, she found the opportunity too exciting to refuse.

"Leslie Moonves is the one person I have always wanted to work for," Ostroff says. "Taking a network like UPN under his auspices was too good to say no to."

So Ostroff and her husband, Mark, packed up and moved back across the country.

Now at UPN, Ostroff faces a similar challenge to the one she had at Lifetime: taking a small network and developing the right shows to build its brand while attracting a larger audience.

Her first effort at development for UPN was hip-hop show Platinum, which premiered last week to reasonable ratings. She's following that up with the premiere of UPN's first reality show, America's Next Top Model, executive-produced by supermodel Tyra Banks, on May 20. From there, Ostroff has a strong slate of shows from top talent to pick from for fall.

"The challenge is building and broadening UPN and then starting to tie it together," Ostroff says. "The thing that's exciting to me is that I really see where this network could be."