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FX’s The Bridge is a buzzy new show that has put Carolyn Bernstein, Shine America executive VP of scripted TV, on Hollywood’s call list. But the truth is Bernstein has been working successfully behind the scenes on TV dramas for 20 years, in a career where opportunity never seems to stop knocking.
Bernstein arrived in Hollywood in 1990 as a Brown graduate in her early 20s. She interned at long-form TV producer Edgar J. Scherick Associates, then became an assistant in Creative Artists Agency’s film literature department.
After about a year and a half, Sally Wilcox, the agent for whom Bernstein worked, helped her land her first exec job: manager of development in Fox Broadcasting’s TV-movie unit. She remained for a year and a half and saw one movie through from beginning to end: Rise and Walk: The Dennis Byrd Story, about the New York Jets football player who was paralyzed and later made a miraculous recovery.
From there, Bernstein made the move into series development, landing a job at upstart network FX. There, she worked for two executives who later became well-known for running other enterprises: Anne Sweeney and Rich Ross. Years later, Bernstein’s working relationship with Ross came full circle when he was named CEO of Shine America in October 2012, five years after Bernstein began there.
Ross says of Bernstein: “Carolyn tackles every creative challenge with a keen eye for developing and producing what a network might buy, and what a TV viewer could not live without.”
Bernstein also worked with a notable young director of acquisition, Elisabeth Murdoch; they both attended the Brearley School on NYC’s Upper East Side. Murdoch, daughter of News Corp. scion Rupert Murdoch, went on to found Shine in the U.K. and hired Bernstein to run Shine’s U.S. production company… but that part of the story comes later.
After FX, Bernstein moved to Columbia Tri-Star Television (now Sony Pictures Television), where she was hired as director of drama development in 1995. While there, two important things happened: Bernstein met her husband, Nick Grad, now president, original programming, FX Networks (network buyer of The Bridge) and FX Productions— and she developed The WB’s Dawson’s Creek.
For a little insight into the glamorous life of the development executive, Bernstein tells this unique take on a wardrobe malfunction story: “Me and my boss [Sarah Timberman, who now produces such shows as Showtime’s Masters of Sex and FX’s Justified] were in Wilmington, N.C., [to shoot] the Dawson’s pilot. Sarah and I weren’t feeling like the local costume designer was getting it, so we went to the local mall and bought all of Katie Holmes’ and Michelle Williams’ wardrobes.” The experience taught Bernstein that being a “development executive” means doing whatever it takes to create the best show possible, even spending hours at a suburban mall.
While launching Dawson’s, Bernstein got to know two more key people, WB copresidents Suzanne Daniels and Jordan Levin. In 1999, Bernstein traded Columbia Tri-Star for The WB, where she spent seven years, launching shows including Gilmore Girls, Smallville, Supernatural and the unscripted series Pop Stars.
“When I started at The WB, I was 29 and pretty squarely in the demographic, so everything I was developing were shows I could really connect with,” Bernstein recalls.
Yet Another New Start
In 2006, The WB merged with UPN to form The CW. Bernstein stayed with the new network for a few months and then departed. That’s when Liz Murdoch brought her in to start Shine’s L.A. office. “I was excited to do something entrepreneurial,” Bernstein says.
That feeling, however, didn’t last very long. Soon after Bernstein started, the writer’s strike kicked in and lasted three months. During that time, Shine bought Ben Silverman’s company, Reveille. Later, Shine absorbed Reveille and became Shine America.
Over the first few years, Bernstein worked on such shows as NBC’s Kath and Kim, which was based on an Australian format, and a shortlived show for Fox called Do Not Disturb. But Shine’s first show to make a mark is The Bridge, developed in Sweden by another Shine-owned entity, Filmlance. The show was adapted by Shine America and premiered on FX in July. The Bridge is bringing Bernstein’s talents that much more to light.
“Carolyn really cares about the creative process and is indefatigably upbeat, no matter what snags production throws her way,” says Elwood Reid, The Bridge executive producer.
Shine has an adaptation of BBC America’s Broadchurch coming up for Fox and other new productions on the way, Bernstein says.
“The Bridge has been transformative for Shine America,” she says. “With The Bridge, we’ve gotten the ability to deficit-finance productions. We’re very much masters of own destiny and no longer just producers for hire.”
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