Susan Rovner has an enviable track record. In her capacity as executive VP of development at Warner Bros. Television (WBTV), Rovner has worked with—and brought success to—writers on some of television’s most original dramas, including Bruno Heller (The Mentalist), Ryan Murphy (Nip/Tuck), J.J. Abrams (Fringe) and Josh Schwartz (Gossip Girl). But she started her Hollywood career on the other end of the development process—as an agent.
“I absolutely hated it,” she admits. “It was a lot of begging and a lot of game-playing.”
It was her first job after moving to Los Angeles from her childhood home of Roslyn, Long Island, in 1991. Rovner bounced around several agencies before landing a junior agent position in ICM’s TV-movie department. But her stint as a 10-percenter led to a development job at Hill/Fields Entertainment, a small shop that specialized in TV movies. “It was really like a boot camp because it was such a small company,” Rovner says.
From there, she went to ABC, where she was a development executive in the network’s TV-movie group. Her two-year stint there straddled the decline of the genre. “When I got there, they were making 34 TV movies, and by the time I left they were at eight,” she remembers.
Getting to WBTV in 1998, she says, “saved me from the death of TV movies.” But it also gave her an opportunity to find her calling.
“Because [WBTV] is not directly affiliated with a network, we have a lot of freedom,” Rovner explains. “What we try to do is pick the writers we really believe in. I get to know them—what are their passions, what do they love to write about—and work with them to find an idea that they can see themselves writing for the next six years, hopefully.”
That philosophy has worked well of late— thanks in part to Rovner’s infl uence. WBTV will have a whopping 26 series on the broadcast networks next season, and has landed new shows on four of the five nets, including Abrams’ Undercovers, Chuck Lorre’s Mike & Molly and The CW’s Nikita.
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