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No Buzz, No Problem

There’s a decided dearth of buzz from TV critics about broadcast TV’s new fall shows, and that’s how Marcy Ross, Fox’s executive VP and head of current programming, likes it.

“I’m actually more excited about these kinds of years,” Ross says. “Every network has a pulse, but I like that there’s no extraordinary buzz, because sometimes it’s a false positive. I’ve been around long enough to remember when CSI was on nobody’s radar and everyone was positive The Fugitive was going to be the big hit.”

True hits rarely come blazing out of the gate, according to BermanBraun’s Gail Berman, the former head of Fox, who also gave Ross her first job on the business side of TV. Rather, most of primetime’s enduring successes have someone like Ross growing them over time. “The current people are not the ones who have the sexiest jobs, but it’s the hardest one,” Berman says. “It’s about keeping a steady hand, understanding the vision of the show, and making sure the show gets realized on a daily basis. That’s what Marcy provides for the network.”

Current departments are often among the most misunderstood. Fox and CBS have long had them, but NBC in June restored its formerly dismantled operation; ABC, which previously merged current and development operations, was this summer moving toward a reinstatement of a current department. “It’s no small feat to keep those shows alive and well,” Berman adds, “and it’s part of the reason the Fox network remains number one.”

Ross has been at Fox for eight years, overseeing shows such as House, 24, The Simpsons and Glee. Prior to that, she was a producer and development executive after spending her 20s pursuing acting. She and Berman met years ago in New York, where their husbands were working as standup comedians and Berman was producing on Broadway. After both women relocated to Los Angeles and Ross, in Berman’s words, was “bemoaning her fate as an actress,” Berman convinced Ross to join her on the business side, at Sandollar Television.

Ross admits that later, when Berman, as Fox chief, recruited her to head the network’s current department, she didn’t even know what that meant. “I never came up through the ranks in any traditional way and had never worked at a network when I got the job,” Ross says. “Where I had worked, you did everything. When I came to the network, I took that spirit and sense of purpose and creativity.”

Ross sees her job as part producer, getting the shows out every week, and part programmer, relating every show to the next—ensuring it all helps define the network and that things like sales and marketing are in sync.

Ross puts all of her experience to work. She wanted to be an actress since she started drama lessons as a gradeschooler in Miami; her parents got her into theater because she was painfully shy, she says. Theater is her “first love,” and outside of Fox she is on the board of a children’s musical theater.

She likes to lead by example by expressing herself and encourages others to do the same. It’s crucial to speak up, she says: “I watch younger women during some meetings and it worries me that they backpedal. They get very timid about saying what they’re feeling; I’m astounded that it’s 2010 and everyone equivocates so much.”

Ross says it’s now her “number one responsibility as a mature woman in this business to be a mentor.” Rearing her own kids has propelled Ross’ career, she adds: “Being a mother enabled me to have nothing in work overwhelm me.”

When she worked in comedy development, she says she routinely changed into her pajamas at night, put her daughter to bed, then changed back into work clothes and headed out to see shows.

“You’re juggling the lives of everyone in your family and then come to work, and you can prioritize and compartmentalize,” she says. “I love the energy of the task at hand. There is no time to waste.”

Berman says if she were still at Fox, she’d keep Ross there forever. “She’s just good at it all. And not a lot of people are good at any of it,” Berman says. “Marcy could really do anything.”

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