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Pushing the Edge in Network Programming

Craig Erwich's rise through the network ranks has been a rather rapid process. At 36, he is in charge of all of Fox's programming, reporting directly to Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman.

"Craig is one of the most talented young executives working in television today," Berman says. "He has demonstrated a unique grasp of the creative process as well as tremendous leadership of our staff. Having one of those skills is a talent; having both is blessing."

When Erwich hit Hollywood after graduating from Northwestern University, he got a job as a temp worker and then as an agent's assistant at Creative Artists Agency, a path taken by many wannabe Hollywood executives. After three years at CAA, he got a break when Kim LeMasters and Stephen Cannell saw his potential and hired him at Stephen J. Cannell Productions, famous for such classic TV shows as The Rockford Files, 21 Jump Street, Hardcastle & McCormick, Baretta
and The A-Team.

While at Cannell, Erwich worked on such shows as USA Network's Renegade
and Silk Stalkings
as well as Fox's Profit, a show that many in Hollywood loved but that didn't stay on the network for long. At the production company, he learned "storytelling, how to work with writers, the importance of post-production and showmanship," he says, and he took all of that with him to Fox.

His work on Profit
brought him in close contact with Fox executives, who lured him over to the network.

"I was told by Stephen Cannell that Craig was one of the smartest, most committed, remarkable young men he had met and that I should keep my eye on him," says Peter Roth, now the president of Warner Bros. Television in Los Angeles but earlier Fox's top programmer. "Craig is smart, sensitive, devoted and intuitive. Not everyone is as smart and creative as he is or works as hard as he does."

Erwich cut his teeth at Fox on hit nighttime soap Beverly Hills 90210. In his job as director of current programming, he served as the network's liaison to 90210's producers, including TV great Aaron Spelling, working with them on everything from day-to-day operations to marketing, scheduling and promotion.

"Craig's middle name should be 'cares,'" says Spelling. "I think caring is the main force that has allowed Craig to go so far at his young age. He not only cares about the projects he is working on, but he also cares about the people who are presenting those projects to the networks."

After his first promotion to vice president of current drama programming, Erwich began managing people rather than shows. He turned out to be capable manager, rising through the ranks to overseeing Fox's drama and comedy development as well as all of Fox's current stable of shows.

With broadcast-network prime time development turning into a year-round venture, running a network programming department is a more challenging job than ever. "The TV business traditionally isn't developed like this," Erwich explains. "Right now, we are in production on three pilots at a time when we are traditionally buying scripts. But we aren't going to be beholden to that traditional schedule. We're going to take shows when they are ready."

Developing shows for Fox also adds a factor of difficulty to the job, because Fox is always looking for television shows that push the network edge.

"His enthusiasm for a project is contagious. More importantly, at a time when networks are being accused of a certain sameness in terms of the shows they order, Craig is adventurous," says Gary Newman, president of Twentieth Century Fox Television. "It's no coincidence that distinctive, breakout shows such as 24
and Wonderfalls
were developed under his watch."

Says Erwich, "I think the audience expects something unique from us every time out. There's no room for complacency."

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.