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Soaring out of the mailroom

Jul 15, 2002  •  Post A Comment

The William Morris Agency’s mailroom claims a long list of graduates who found their way into leadership positions at studios and networks.
It’s time to add another name to that list: Allison Wallach, VP of original programming at Lifetime, who developed much of the original programming that has helped elevate Lifetime to the No. 1-rated basic cable network.
Her start in the mailroom was no accident. “The reason I went to the William Morris agency isn’t necessarily because I wanted to be an agent,” Ms. Wallach said. “It’s because a producer who I interned for right after college gave me the advice that if you want to learn the business the best way to do it is through a talent agency.”
That advice started her on the road to success, which has taken her from New York to Los Angeles and back again. After working for a TV literary agent she was a writer’s assistant on “Murphy Brown” and then director of development on “The Show.”
According to Ms. Wallach, 33, her biggest break came with the move to Lifetime as West Coast director of scripted series. There, she shepherded the birth of Lifetime’s original dramas “Strong Medicine” and “The Division,” while also playing a hand in the critically acclaimed series “Any Day Now.”
“She is one of those people who not only has incredible talent, but also somebody who is well liked by the creative community, the executives and the agents,” said Dawn Ostroff, who gave Ms. Wallach that break at Lifetime and is now president of entertainment at UPN. “That combination is very hard to find.”
Another opportunity landed her in charge of Lifetime’s “Intimate Portraits” and “Wedding of a Lifetime” franchise. The move from scripted series to reality provided new challenges. “In terms of the way you work with producers, it’s much more hands-on in the reality world,” Ms. Wallach said. “You’re working very closely, and you have more input because you’re sort of functioning as the studio and the network at the same time.”
The audience for “Intimate Portrait” continues to grow-averaging more than 735,000 households watching each week this year, up 25 percent from two years ago and up nearly a million viewers, or 33 percent, from 2000.
“She’s what you would call a natural,” said Carole Black, president of Lifetime Entertainment Services. “She just understands the art of storytelling and what works on television.”
Ms. Wallach has been extraordinarily successful in drawing in that very desirable 18 to 34 group. “She has the real touch for that audience and what they like,” Ms. Black said.
That demographic group has been the fastest-growing segment of the “Intimate Portrait” audience, up 50 percent from two years ago. Among women 18 to 34 and women 18 to 49, “Intimate Portrait” has earned ratings 200 percent better and 100 percent better, respectively, than A&E’s “Biography” so far this year.
Ms. Wallach said she has received a lot of good advice from people in the industry. Now she’s finding herself doing the same for other up-and-comers. “I think it’s important for people to have mentors and to have doors opened for them,” she said.