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Rainbow’s Image-Maker

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About six weeks ago, Ed Carroll was in Bloomingdale’s considering the idea of buying a certain suit. The eager sales clerk thought he knew the way to push him over the edge, by telling him the cut was very “in” because it was like the suits on Mad Men. About the same time, Carroll got a similar Mad Men pitch from an antiques dealer in downtown Manhattan when he was looking at some furnishings from the mid- 20th Century, the period in which the series is set.

Carroll remembers both incidences with humor and delight, because they are but two small indications of the branding bonfire that Rainbow Entertainment Services is experiencing these days. As COO of the company, Carroll oversees the branding efforts at AMC, IFC, Sundance Channel, WE tv and Wedding Central.

Under his watch, AMC has enjoyed its greatest period of viewership gain and critical acclaim. Mad Men scored Golden Globe and Emmy awards for three consecutive years—a total of six major awards. Both were recordbreaking achievements.

The network’s Breaking Bad series is on a three-year winning streak as well, with Emmys for its lead actor, Bryan Cranston. Adding to the glory: AMC’s most recent hit series, The Walking Dead, became the most- watched drama series ever in the 18-49 category among basic cable shows, according to Rainbow.

Carroll’s boss, Josh Sapan, notes that it took many people to garner those accomplishments, but Carroll played an instrumental role. “Ed has been able to utilize the strength of shows to build network brands. And he created an environment in which the shows were developed and prospered. That’s his single greatest accomplishment,” says Sapan, president and CEO of Rainbow Media Holdings.

“Ed combines some unlikely traits in an executive,” Sapan adds. “He has really great creative instincts and intuition. He has a very disciplined approach to business, and the wit of a standup comedian.” Sapan should know. The two executives have worked together at Rainbow for 24 years.

Char Beales, president and CEO of the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing, notes that Carroll “lives and breathes” the Rainbow brands. “As emcee of the Mark Awards event, during the height of Mad Men fever, he created and played a role in a video with [Mad Men actors] Jon Hamm and John Slattery, spoofing cable marketing. People still talk about it. That’s brand building.”

It’s not just at AMC where that’s been the case. With Carroll’s guidance, WE tv has become one of the fastest-growing networks in a very competitive arena: channels catering to the interests of women. That’s thanks to such shows as Bridezillas, Downsized and Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?

Carroll also helped burnish Bravo’s reputation before it was sold off to NBCUniversal by developing shows like Inside the Actor’s Studio and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

And then there’s IFC. “When we launched it in the mid-’90s, the term ‘independent film’ was strictly in the trade vocabulary,” says Carroll. “I think we helped create a new consumer category and a new way for people to think about film. And that category turned out to be big enough for two channels.”

When Rainbow bought the other network devoted to that genre, Sundance, Carroll took it on as well. “When I see independent research about the relative integrity and value of brands, Sundance tends to score very high on most of the measures. But we are investing more in the channel to better exploit those brand qualities in both the scripted and non-scripted areas,” he says.

Carroll noted Sundance’s Golden Globe for the miniseries Carlos, about an infamous terrorist of the ’70s, and he’s also very enthusiastic about the eight-part docu series All in the Line, which stars the editor of Elle magazine, Joe Zee, and follows fashion entrepreneurs. It’s “more authentic and real world” than the traditional take on fashion in reality series, Carroll says.

Carroll gives a big tip of the hat to his team. He says that among the greatest lessons he’s learned is “having the right people and giving them the freedom to pursue ambitious goals.” He extends plenty of credit to the networks’ top executives, among them: Kim Martin, president and general manager of WE tv and Wedding Central; Evan Shapiro, president of IFC and Sundance Channel; and Charlie Collier, president and general manager of AMC.

Another important lesson: “You have to be careful of not changing just for change’s sake,” Carroll says. “Consistency in marketing is important in building brands.”

He is likely to learn some more from new a challenge: Rainbow’s parent, Cablevision Systems Corp., is spinning off the programming unit into a publicly traded company, AMC Networks. That is expected to occur on June 30.

“The goal will be to continue to grow the value of the networks, to our affiliates and our viewers. But we’ll also be looking at long-term shareholder value,” Carroll says. “The key to that is continuing to invest in original programming.”

Despite his long track record at Rainbow, Carroll has dabbled in other vocations. He made a stab at writing a film and then produced an independent movie that his wife wrote. He calls the film experience “humbling and educational.”

In some regards, that has informed his work at Rainbow. “A lot of programming executives are frustrated producers,” Carroll says. “But they realize that you can have more impact on culture being on this side of the desk.”