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The Five Spot: Michael Dunn

Two weeks into his new job as managing director of Brigham Young University’s BYU Broadcasting, overseeing the university’s radio, TV and digital stations (including BYUtv), Michael Dunn is the former general manager of the Salt Lake City, Utah, PBS station KUED. His predecessor, Derek Marquis, retired after 25 years at the university, which is owned and operated by the Mormon Church.

First launched as a noncommercial offering on Dish Network in 2000, BYUtv also is on DirecTV and some 800 cable systems, with 1,000-plus hours of original programming yearly, including more than 500 hours of live HD college sports. Digital outlets include Apple TV, Roku and Xbox One. Its best-known original show might be sci-fi drama Granite Flats, which ran for three seasons and included Parker Posey and Christopher Lloyd (it’s on Netflix). Others include Random Acts, the hidden camera show capturing acts of kindness, and a geneaology-flavored competition series, Relative Race. Dunn spoke with B&C editor Kent Gibbons; an edited transcript follows.

What’s the No. 1 reason viewers should want to find and watch BYUtv?
I think we offer, in the dreary television landscape out there, a very safe place to have the family tune in and watch. I hear that more anecdotally from people I run into in various places who just say, ‘Oh, BYUtv, I have no issues with just letting my kids watch unsupervised’ or ‘our family enjoys this show.’ I like that.

Is it hard to find the right shows to entertain viewers and fit the mission to ‘see the good in the world?’
It is a challenge and I think that’s why we produce so much of our own content, because if we are going to do that we really have to deliver. Our bar is pretty high in terms of standards and what we deem as not just acceptable but what has to be truly exceptional in terms of this landscape.

BYUtv is known partly for the quirky Cold War drama Granite Flats. You have a sci-fi show, Extinct, coming this fall that’s set after humans are extinct but are revived by aliens. What’s the message with that show?
A brilliant writer, in Orson Scott Card [Ender’s Game], has been responsible for the development of that. And I think the redeeming value is that you’re sort of going to see how humanity keeps its humanness even after the extinction of the human race. There are lessons about morality, about civility, about a lot of the values we espouse, which is a little bit tricky to do when you’re in a bit of a wild and crazy frontier, genre-wise.

Would a zombie show ever work on BYUtv?
I wouldn’t rule out anything. Who knows, maybe we get the first community-minded zombies. It seems like a hard fit, but how can you rule out anything?

Is BYUtv gaining traction on traditional cable and satellite outlets or is future growth mainly going to be on OTT and digital?
We’re definitely platform-agnostic, which is interesting for a religious institution. The landscape, the disruptive storms that are blowing through, are not going to be settled anytime soon, so we’re going to continue to not only be platform-agnostic, but also platform-embraceable. To me, it’s not so much about how we deliver things, it’s about what we deliver and why. If we create great things, kind of the Field of Dreams approach: If you build it, they’ll come, they’ll find, they’ll see it, they’ll consume it. I’m going to let smarter people worry about that and just focus on telling great stories.

This story was updated on April 24, correcting a Granite Flats reference and the KUED hometown.

Kent has been a journalist, writer and editor at Multichannel News since 1994 and with Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He is a good point of contact for anything editorial at the publications and for Before joining Multichannel News he had been a newspaper reporter with publications including The Washington Times, The Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal and North County News.