HRTS Member Profile: David McKillop
David McKillop is Executive Vice President and General Manager of A&E Network. I recently had a chance to interview David to discuss business models, Duck Dynasty and original programming.
Q: Can you tell us about your background and what made you want to work in entertainment?
-I got my start in documentaries; I was weaned on TV (that was the defining influence of my generation) but I also had a lifelong interest in Science and History. They came together nicely after college when I got my first job on a PBS TV series based on the Smithsonian’s collection. Now 30 years later I find myself running a top entertainment network. It proves that if you really love what you do then you will succeed.
Q: How did you first get involved with the HRTS?
-I’m slightly embarrassed to say that I only recently became a member of HRTS. Being based in NY, I haven’t had many opportunities to attend HRTS events. Now that I have experienced so much enthusiasm from my peers about the work of the organization, I can’t wait to get more involved.
Q: Who are your main competitors and how is your programming/brand different from them?
-My main competitors are the other general entertainment networks (USA, TNT, FX). The biggest difference is that my prime schedule is 100% original programming. My brand is known for innovation and quality; we create massive reality franchises and attention-getting, talked-about scripted television.
Q: What are some of the keys to the ongoing success of DUCK DYNASTY?
-Duck Dynasty’s success is its simplicity - at its core it focuses on a family. We challenged one of the basic rules of reality that implied that only bad behavior made good television. We created an exception to that rule with Duck. People in America and around the world identify with the core family dynamic that is the DNA of the series.
Q: What do you look for when developing a new show?
-The basic building blocks are: unique environments or situations, strong characters, and relatable stories. The secret to being a great programmer is honing your ability to see a diamond in the rough. Very few pitches are spot on, so never take a pitch at face value. Instead, look for a gem hidden in the pitch that you can build on.
Q: What are some of the ways in which the industry has changed since you first started out?
-Well, first off we shot on 16mm film, cut on flat beds, cut the negative and then transferred them to 1 inch tape for broadcast … today my teenage sons do all of that with a GoPro and a laptop, and the amazing thing is that their shows are better! So the technology has changed dramatically, but that’s good because it has allowed younger creatives to really focus on storytelling. Good storytelling never ages and the exciting thing about the future is that all this new technology and the emergence of social media has made quite a positive impact.
Q: How do you see the industry changing over the next few years?
-The biggest change will be how we consume entertainment; all the old models are fading away and being replaced with new means of experiencing and sharing information … I think storytelling will become even more embedded in the technology and as McLuhan predicted the “medium will be the message”. I don’t worry about the business models because somebody smart will always find a way to make the money work. The truly exciting part for me in all of this is being able to actually see and take part in the revolution that is taking place around us today.