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Nurturing Nascent Networks to the Top

CBS CEO Leslie Moonves and Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer needed someone to reanimate their 50/50 joint venture TV Guide Network, and Brad Schwarz certainly boasted the right resume. Schwartz, named president of TVGN in April, had already rebranded five cable networks over the past dozen years. “I know the recipe. You go through all the steps,” he says. And those steps: Build a team. Build a brand. Create content and create an emotional attachment to audiences. Sell that attachment to advertisers, forging “a business that creates attention and pops in pop culture.”

That’s not all he’s got. “We were looking at 10 different people. And Harvey Ganot [president for international ad sales at MTV] just pointed to him and said, that’s the guy,” says Weather Channel president Dave Clark, who hired Schwartz twice, the first time at MTV. “Brad’s had that thing through his whole career where he just walks into a room and people say, ‘Oh yeah, that’s the kind of energy I want.’”

“Brad is one of the brightest young executives in the business,” says Moonves, “He has the triple threat combination of programming instinct, marketing savvy and a great sense of brand development—all perfect traits for leading a network that is evolving to its next stage.”

Growing up, Schwartz thought he’d be an actor. Despite winning awards at a Toronto-area high school that also produced Michael J. Fox, Schwartz left Canada to attend the University of Pennsylvania, where acting dropped down on his list of priorities and his attention shifted to the business side of entertainment.

In 1992, Schwartz got a summer internship at Lorne Michaels’ Broadway Video, and then took a year off from Penn when a spot opened as Michaels’ assistant. In those days, Saturday Night Live was spinning off movies such as Wayne’s World and Michaels was in charge of replacing David Letterman at NBC. “Though I was low man on the totem pole, I sat in on Lorne’s phone calls. I was there late at night to look at the host candidates. So here I was, 21 years old learning how to put a TV show together,” Schwartz recalls. “It was like getting an MBA in television.”

Not one to follow a predictable path, after returning to Penn and getting his Ivy League degree, Schwartz took a job as a commodities trader. “I very quickly realized it wasn’t for me,” he says. He plowed some of the money he made into managing bands. That became a full-time business and did well enough that he partnered with Broadway Video, which was making comedy records.

Michaels had also invested in college cable network Burly Bear and made Schwartz its head of business development, where he learned about cable. “We were doing great till 9/11 hit,” Schwartz says. Instead of getting another round of funding, Burly Bear was sold to the National Lampoon.

He Wanted His MTV

That was when Schwartz went to MTV as director of global marketing, flying around the world to support MTV networks everywhere from London to Tokyo. When MTV made a deal with Globe Media to launch networks in Canada, Schwartz was picked to run what became a string of eight channels that dominated the youth market north of the border.

“He was like the king of music television in Canada,” says Clark, who lured Schwartz from his throne to Fuse, the little watched cable music network, partly by knowing Schwartz couldn’t resist a challenge in the big leagues, and partly leveraging the fact that Schwartz’s wife still lived in New York and wouldn’t move to Toronto.

“We had an amazing run and a great time at Fuse,” says Schwartz, who notes that several Fuse alumni, including We TV’s Mark Juris and Veria Living’s Eric Sherman, in addition to Clark and himself, are now running cable networks. “From the graveyard of Fuse, there are some very successful people,” says Schwartz.

Already there have been early successes at TVGN. Adding CBS’ The Young and the Restless and Big Brother After Dark to the lineup made it the fastest-growing cable network, with ratings jumping from second quarter to third quarter—off a small base. A slate of entertainment-oriented reality shows has also been announced.

“Brad is creating tremendous excitement, energy and momentum at TVGN,” says Lionsgate’s Feltheimer.  “He has a firm grasp not only of the trends shaping today’s television landscape but how TVGN should position itself in this dynamic environment.”

But there is still much to do. “The next big step is figuring out how we describe ourselves,” Schwartz says. With that brand filter in place, the idea is to use the resources of CBS and Lionsgate to write the kind of story along the lines of what History, ABC Family and AMC have to tell. “We want to have that ready for the upfront,” he says.

Clark believes there’s no question Schwartz will continue his successful run. “He’s had this history of turning lemons into lemonade,” says Clark, who talks to Schwartz every week or two and uses his former colleague as a sounding board for the changes he’s made at Weather Channel.

While facing swirling winds at work, Schwartz is looking at climate change on the home front. With his wife Karen and two young children, 22-month-old Mazlyn (they heard the name while watching VH1 Classic) and eight-week-old Fallon, he’s pulling up stakes in New York and moving to L.A. “We sold our condo and found a spot in California, and now, my wife says it’s kind of very real.” There are new stresses about nannies and cars.

That leaves little time for much besides taking the kids to swim lessons. Schwartz, who played hockey for Penn, plays basketball when he finds time, and hopes to find a place to skate on the West Coast. It wouldn’t make sense to bet against it.