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Exec Interview: Rob Sharenow, A&E's SVP Non-fiction Programming

Faculty Note: As we will do from time to time, we've invited Rob Sharenow, newly named SVP of Non-Fiction and Alternative Programming at A & E to share some professional and personal thoughts in this edition of the CableU Interview.

Here are Rob's responses to the CableU Fearless 14 Questions!

What is the key element that makes a program right for your network?
The answer to that question is constantly changing. I think as soon as you get too fixed a notion of what can or can't work for your network, you filter out all of the most revolutionary and exciting ideas. That said we definitely gravitate towards shows that have real people in authentic and organic situations.

What programs and/or genres are you looking for in the next year?

We cover a wide range of non-fiction genres, from our signature Real Life series to Crime and Justice to Lifestyle to traditional documentary. One of the nicest aspects of working for a general entertainment network is our ability to do almost anything.

How important are other platforms like broadband and mobile applications in the initial pitch?
This is certainly a highly important area for all media companies and we are focusing a tremendous amount of attention and resources developing our content for new media platforms. However, we're still looking for shows that first and foremost will work as great television.

What's the best way for a producer to pitch you?
Passion is the key. If you don't care, I don't care. I want to hear pitches for shows that producers have to make.

What do you look for in a first-time producer besides a great idea?

Nothing matters more than a great idea. We are very open to working with novices who have talent and passion. It helps to be aligned with a credible production company or agency, but we do accept submissions from individuals provided they sign a release.

What mistakes do producers make when pitching you?
Lack of passion. Assuming too much about our brand and withholding exciting ideas as a result. Also - I can't stand multiple pitches in one sitting. Please don't bring me 15 ideas and make me decide which one is the good one (3 or 4 ideas max per meeting). Producers should also be aware of our channel. It's very annoying to be pitched something you already have.

What can global programmers learn from the US cable network market and from your network in particular?

Mimes, Cricket, and Rugby are very hard to program for the US market.

What's the best advice you've ever received?

Don't be afraid to fail.

Ever given?
This is a passion-driven business. If you don't care, no one else will either. You've got to be willing to put yourself out there for the ideas you believe in.

Who in this industry do you most admire and why?
I started out as a writer, so I grew up admiring people like James L. Brooks, Steven Bochco, David Mamet, and Rod Serling who evolved from being writers to producers. At the risk of sounding like the most grotesque suck up in the world, I've had an extraordinary group of leaders during my time at A&E, Nancy Dubuc, Bob Debitetto, and Abbe Raven. If you hired Dr. Frankenstein and grafted those three together, that monster could run anything.

What's the smartest programming decision you have ever made?
Two stand out. Pushing hard for DOG THE BOUNTY HUNTER to go to series when most at the network did not think it was the right move and deciding to go forward with CRISS ANGEL MINDFREAK even though I had just flopped with another magic series.

I've learned far more from my failures than my successes. For instance, the lessons I learned from the short and unsuccessful run of my first magic series, MONDO MAGIC, definitely informed the creative decisions for CRISS ANGEL that has become one of our biggest successes.

In all of television, which classic program should be revived?
BATTLE OF THE NETWORK STARS. I'd love to see the cast of DOG THE BOUNTY HUNTER do a relay race against the guys from AMERICAN CHOPPER and the Fab Five from QUEER EYE. Dog and his posse would win.

Should NEVER be revived?
THE TWILIGHT ZONE because the original was so good and PINK LADY AND JEFF because the original was so bad.

Rob Sharenow, Senior Vice President, Non-Fiction and Alternative Programming, A&E

Robert Sharenow was appointed Senior Vice President of Non-Fiction & Alternative Programming at A&E Network in January 2007. Sharenow is responsible for supervising the development and creation of all of A&E’s non-fiction programming including the network’s signature real-life series; justice franchises, critically-acclaimed documentary series, A&E IndieFilms, Biography, and marquee specials.

Sharenow joined A&E in March of 2003 as Director, Non-Fiction & Alternative Programming and most recently held the position of Vice President of Non-Fiction & Alternative Programming. He has served as executive producer on several critically acclaimed and hit real life series, including Dog the Bounty Hunter, Criss Angel Mindfreak, King of Cars, Driving Force and Gene Simmons Family Jewels. He also developed the hit series Growing Up Gotti and Intervention. In addition, Sharenow has executive produced several highly rated specials for A&E Network, including Star Wars: Empire of Dreams, Saving Private Lynch, and Playboy’s 50th Anniversary Celebration. Sharenow also developed A&E Network’s hit lifestyle series Sell This House and co-created Find & Design.

Prior to A&E, Sharenow served as Executive Producer of The History Channel’s award-winning weekly series, This Week in History. While at The History Channel, he also co-created and launched the series, Extreme History with Roger Daltrey. In addition, he served as Senior Producer of a special commemorating the anniversary of 9/11, Relics From the Rubble. His other television writing credits include Michael Moore's Emmy-award-winning TV Nation and the Emmy-award-winning children’s series Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego. Sharenow’s screenplay, Stephen Crane's The Monster, was bought by Hallmark Hall of Fame

He is a graduate of Brandeis University. He received his Master's degree from New York University where he held a fellowship in the American Studies department.