Scheduling Pro Gets Turn in the Upfront Spotlight

Andy Kubitz, ABC’s top scheduler, was lucky to have figured out by the time he got to college that he wanted to pursue a degree in communications and work in television. It was the minor he earned in computer science, however, that may have played an even bigger role in his professional success.

While studying at the University of Wisconsin- Stevens Point, Kubitz started working on computers to edit film and, recognizing that as the future of the medium, he decided to work toward the computer science minor. “It’s the only reason I am where I am, I think,” he says.

The 42-year-old Kubitz joined ABC last September as executive VP of program planning and scheduling after spending 18 years at CBS. He started his career there as a page in 1994 and stood out by knowing how to use Excel at a time when typewriters were still on desks. He used those skills to generate formulas calculating the number of repeats and originals on the schedule, which was his first introduction to the department. As an assistant, he helped develop CBS software that automated the entire schedule and communicated changes throughout the company, serving as the liaison between the entertainment division and the computer programmers.

“Andy upholds the unique combination of understanding the nuances of our business with an eye to the future,” says Nancy Tellem, former entertainment president at CBS and now entertainment and digital media president at Microsoft.

Kubitz calls his nearly two decades at CBS “a master’s degree in stability and television programming,” where he learned from seasoned executives such as CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves and Kelly Kahl, senior VP of CBS primetime (and fellow Wisconsinite). Ultimately, it was the challenge of a different schedule at ABC that convinced him to leave CBS, where his career path had topped out, given the stability within the executive ranks.

Fox executive VP of scheduling Dan Harrison, who has known Kubitz for years and briefly worked with him at CBS, says it’s no surprise ABC would tap the well-groomed executive to replace Jeff Bader, who jumped to NBC. He notes that while the move to ABC was a bit of a culture shock for Kubitz, he has adapted well.

All Eyes on the First Schedule

“It will be interesting to see his first schedule,” Harrison says. “We all deal with whatever cards development deals us. He’s been the No. 2 closest to the fire for a while, so it’s great that he’s getting this opportunity.”

Of course, the demand for programming on ABC’s schedule is much greater than at CBS— ABC picked up 10 new scripted series last upfront and has 24 pilots in contention this year. Its short cycle of Dancing With the Stars and emphasis on serialized dramas (that don’t repeat well) creates gaps in the schedule in need of alternative solutions.

Heading into next fall, Kubitz says, one of his main priorities will be bringing stability back to Tuesday night, where an attempted comedy block of Happy Endings and Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 floundered this year and saw weak seasons for Dancing With the Stars and third-year drama Body of Proof. Another priority is finding more family comedy—an important piece of the network’s business model —though he notes that all depends on how ABC’s 12 comedy pilots turn out.

“The only thing we can do as schedulers is give the opportunity for a show to be successful, and that’s what I’m looking for,” Kubitz says. “I can’t write it, I can’t produce it and I can’t direct it.”

ABC colleagues praise Kubitz for bringing a fresh perspective and making the schedule more of a discussion and debate among all the members of the team.

“It feels like it’s a much more open dialogue about scheduling, where things should go and how we should launch them, and it’s nice to have someone who’s so collaborative in that role,” says Channing Dungey, senior VP of drama development at ABC.

Kubitz grew up in Clintonville, Wis., a small farming community of 4,500 people outside of Green Bay. His father worked at a cheese factory; his grandfather was a farmer. Now a married father of two, Kubitz devotes much of his free time to sports—watching college basketball and football (he roots for his home-state Wisconsin Badgers) or the NFL (Green Bay Packers) and spending weekends cheering on his sons (ages nine and five) at baseball practices and games. Also an avid outdoorsman, Kubitz hikes near his home in Los Angeles and fishes and hunts in Wisconsin (where he’s apt to post pictures on Facebook of deer he’s bagged, to freak out his Hollywood friends).

Though he has spent nearly his entire career in scheduling, he went back to school three years ago when, after once again sensing a shifting tide in the industry, he decided to earn his M.B.A. to be better prepared for whatever form television’s future content may take.

“In five to 10 years, I don’t know if scheduling will be that important,” Kubitz says. “But I think content strategy and finding how to play or show programming across multiple platforms will continue. And if that job is not considered a scheduler, then I’d like to evolve to whatever job that is.”

For now, however, stabilizing ABC’s primetime is keeping him plenty busy in his first upfront as the top scheduling guru.

“I’m very happy in what I’m doing,” he says. “And right now, since I’m so new to this job, the thought of moving anywhere in any direction is overwhelming.”

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