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TV Exec Revels inLionsgate’s ‘Mad’ Triumphs | @tim_bays

When Kevin Beggs decided to join a small, independent Canadian
studio called Lionsgate in 1998, tasked with leading its new TV operation, he did so knowing it wouldn’t be easy building
a scripted drama division out of a studio
known for its edge indie film fare.

“Looking back on it, I would’ve told my
then-self, ‘Self, you’re crazy, don’t take that
job,’” he jokes, recalling those early years were
more about building character than characters.

“We were in the trenches, just lucky to get
in rooms,” Beggs remembers of some early
meetings with network executives. Eventually,
the company started to make some
headway, selling the cult hit series The Dead
to USA, which premiered in 2002, and
following up with the likes of Weeds, which
premiered on Showtime in 2005. “We had
a couple of shows and we got them made—
and we felt really good about them,” he says.

Beggs wasn’t alone in that regard, and those
turned out to be just the foundation. Lionsgate’s
bustling TV business has since soared
from $8 million in revenue in 2000 to nearly
$400 million last year. And the exec was rewarded
for that success in September with a
new multiyear contract that included a title
bump to chairman of the studio’s TV group.

“Kevin has been a driving force in the
growth and diversification of our TV business.
We have more than 30 TV shows on 20
different networks, and Kevin has played a
key role in growing the business in the right
areas at the right time,” says Lionsgate CEO
Jon Feltheimer. “He has a keen grasp of the
changing TV landscape.”

Beggs is happy to spread the wealth of
credit; he’s quick to point out that when Feltheimer
came aboard in 2000, his reputation,
from successful, risk-taking exec turns at New
World Television and Sony TriStar, carried a
lot of weight within the industry. Beggs also
credits the relationships built during those early
series, including one that opened the door
for Mad Men, the show that forged Lionsgate’s
reputation for creating intense TV drama.

An early Lionsgate series, Higher Ground,
may have aired for only one season on the then-
Fox Family Channel (now ABC Family), but it
found Beggs working with Rob Sorcher, who
was executive VP for the network at that time.
Years later, while working as a development
exec for AMC, Sorcher called Beggs, wondering
if the script that had crossed his desk about
1960s advertising executives wouldn’t be a
perfect fit with Lionsgate’s sensibility.

Mad About Men

“[He] called me and said, ‘I’ve got this
amazing script on my desk called Mad Men
and we need a studio partner; will you consider
it?’” Beggs recalls of Sorcher (who is
now executive VP and chief content officer at
Cartoon Network). “We could never underestimate
or ever minimize how big this show
has been for us,” says Beggs. “It’s led to so
many other opportunities.”

The same can be said for Lionsgate’s relationship
with Weeds creator Jenji Kohan.
“There was a fanbase in Weeds…who were
looking for Jenji’s next show,” Beggs says.

That show has dovetailed into another recent
triumph: Lionsgate became one of the
first companies to partner with streaming service
Netflix; Kohan’s “next series,” the prison
drama Orange Is the New Black, has grown to
become Netflix’s most-watched original.

Since being elevated to TV chairman, Beggs
has been able to take a more “90,000-foot
view” than he used to, giving him a better
read on the constantly shifting TV landscape.

“You can’t be blind to changes that could instantly
subvert the entire business model and
make all of us look at each other and go, ‘what
happened?’ like the music business,” he says.

It’s All Academic

Similar sea changes came early for Beggs,
who graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a
double major in politics and theater arts and
headed straight into a two-year grade-school
teaching gig in Pasadena, Calif. He wasn’t,
however, entirely out of the loop, moonlighting
on student film work for UCLA.

“[I was] just doing anything and everything
to try to get noticed or get my foot in some
door somewhere,” Beggs recalls. He eventually
secured a PA job on ABC’s nonfiction
series FBI: The Untold Stories. At the same
time, Baywatch was being reconstituted after
its cancellation from NBC more than a year
earlier. Beggs moved over, initially working as
an assistant to the executive producing team,
before rising up to the producing ranks in his
eight seasons with the popular lifeguard series.

That’s about when the ever-edgy Lionsgate—
building a film rep with the likes of Gods
and Monsters
and Affliction—was launching
its scripted TV drama business. And through
a heady mix of skill and Luckies puffed constantly
on Mad Men, Beggs has watched the
Lionsgate brand smoke the competition.