HRTS Member Profile: Jeff Wachtel
Jeff Wachtel is President, Original Programming, USA Network, and Co-Head, Original Content, Universal Cable Productions. I recently had a chance to interview Jeff to discuss character, execution, and David Mamet.
Q: Can you tell us about your background and what made you want to work in entertainment?
-I started off doing theatre in New York. After a few years directing and producing off-off-Broadway, I was fortunate to have my first and only off-Broadway venture (David Mamet's "Sexual Perversity In Chicago") be a critical and commercial success. But I didn't really enjoy the business side of theatre, and TV felt like a natural evolution - a place where I could be a storyteller in a world that also made real business sense.
Q: How did you get involved with the HRTS?
-the lunches. And it still feels a little weird going from sitting in the back of the room as a junior development exec sitting to sitting on the board that plans and executes the organization's strategy.
Q: In looking at your original content, what is your development process like?
-maybe we place more emphasis on the writer's original voice, and less on chasing what has already worked - for ourselves and others. We like our shows to have a strong underlying theme, as well as the better-known filters of strong character and aspirational, more upbeat stories and settings.
Q: What makes “Burn Notice” so successful?
-execution, execution, execution! Pound for pound, it's one of the best produced shows on television.
Q: What is USA’s brand and how do you extend it across different platforms?
-of course, it's all about Character. And all of our shows have a strong sense of style - both visual and thematic. Those things work on all platforms.
Q: Where do you want your programming to be five years from now?
-my first thought is: who knows where anything will be in five years? But we're going to maintain our emphasis on quality and on constantly pushing ourselves to the next level. Over the next few years, we should be able broaden our portfolio of original programming and the platforms for viewing (and monetizing) it.
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
-have a good lunch!