Hot List: Tal Rabinowitz
VP of comedy development and head of digital programming and development, Sony Pictures Television
Developing half-hour comedies for network television is a pretty thankless task these days. Not many make it past the pilot process, and if they do, the odds of success seem longer every year.
Thankfully, Tal Rabinowitz has a job that lets her multitask.
She’s vice president of comedy development at Sony Pictures Television, a studio that not only pitches to all the broadcast networks but also has carved out a solid business model for producing half-hours on cable channels. So while shows such as CBS’ “Rules of Engagement” and Fox’s “’Til Death” get lots of ink, Ms. Rabinowitz focuses almost as much energy prepping potential properties for cable, including TBS success stories “Ten Items or Less” and “My Boys.”
The fact that Sony isn’t tied to any specific network has allowed the studio to do well in comedy at a time when the genre is as challenged as it’s ever been. Ms. Rabinowitz said that lack of network ties forces Sony to step up its game.
“If an idea for a show is too down the middle, the network is going to get it from their own studio,” she said. “For us, it’s all about the writer and the vision. Only after we have that do we try to find a home” for a show.
Ms. Rabinowitz’s portfolio isn’t limited to TV. In addition to her development VP title, she heads digital development and programming for Sony. It’s a part of the business that has become increasingly important for the studio, which has a stake in online comedy site Crackle.
The broad parameters of her gig make it easy for her to cross platforms. Brad Garrett, of Sony’s “’Til Death,” also is starring in “Dating Brad Garrett,” an online comedy she developed.
Ms. Rabinowitz—whose first name means “dew of heaven” in Hebrew—took an untraditional path to the comedy arena. Her TV career began a decade ago when she landed a job at reality factory Bunim-Murray Productions after graduating from Tufts University outside Boston.
“I wasn’t sure what to do. I was an international relations major, and I had done things like intern for Parliament in London. But my heart wasn’t really in it.”
She was forced to make a decision. At the same time she got the Bunim-Murray gig, she also had lined up a position teaching in Japan. “It was my crossroads,” Ms. Rabinowitz said.
She chose TV, and soon found herself doing a “little bit of everything” at Bunim-Murray. Her heart was in scripted series, however, so she got a job as an assistant at NBC Studios. (“I wasn’t very good,” she admitted.) She then worked with producer Michael Hanel (“Reba”) at Acme Television before landing her first big executive job at The WB, working in comedy development for the network. She got the job by admitting her love of “The Golden Girls” repeats on Lifetime.
Ms. Rabinowitz worked “What I Like About You” and “The Jamie Kennedy Experiment,” staying with The WB until about a year before its 2006 demise. After taking time off to travel to Vietnam and France, she joined Sony in 2006, in part because of its unaligned status.
“I wanted to be a real part of the creative process and be able to sell everywhere,” she said. “And we do everything here, across the board. Because we love watching everything, we develop everything.”
Comedy development isn’t the growth industry it was in the 1980s and ’90s, but Ms. Rabinowitz doesn’t seem too worried about the state of the genre.
“Comedy is difficult right now, but that’s an opportunity,” she said. “It’s what gets us excited and motivated.”
Besides, she adds, “We get to work in TV. It doesn’t get more fun than that.”