He’s Psyched About Drama Series

Aug 4, 2003  •  Post A Comment

While a psychology degree may not be required to be a television development executive, Michael Thorn’s got one.
The original plan was to leave upstate New York and head to graduate school in San Diego to get his Ph.D. in psychology. “Literally, my car was packed. I had my Triple A maps to drive to San Diego, and the school called me and said we lost our accreditation,” said Mr. Thorn, 33, who joined NBC Studios as VP of prime-time series earlier this summer.
Mr. Thorn rebounded by heading to Los Angeles instead and getting his master’s degree in psychology before realizing he would rather have a job than spend a few more years in school.
The first job he was offered was in media buying at Western International Media. “I went to the upfront presentations,” he said. “When I was sitting there I was like `Aha!’ I saw Warren Littlefield and Les Moonves and that’s when I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
After stints at a production company in London and with Big Ticket Television, he signed on as director of series development at USA Network, where he developed the hit drama “Monk” and the western “Peacemakers,” which debuted last week.
Angela Bromstad, executive VP of NBC Studios, said it took only a half-hour interview to know that Mr. Thorn was the right person for the NBC job, so she hired him the same day.
“He worked for a company that doesn’t have the kind of money that NBC does, yet he was creating with people over at USA the type of programming that we’re interested in,” she said. “All those shows that he had done had the qualities that we look for in high-end drama.”
Mr. Thorn said he jumped to NBC from cable because the network has a history of great drama series and he wanted to be a part of it. Mr. Thorn oversees all drama development for NBC Studios, including current dramas “Boomtown,” “American Dreams” and “Las Vegas.”
“I tend personally to like to zig where they zag,” Mr. Thorn said. “Everywhere you look in the dramatic landscape right now are procedural cop shows, and they’re doing well. At some point there has got to be room for character-based dramatic series, whether they are cop shows, relationship dramas or new franchises.”
That approach is what led Mr. Thorn to develop “Peacemakers,” a western starring Tom Berenger. “I had always wanted to do a western and no one was doing that at the time,” he said. “It started out as a personal passion and [then I] figured out a way to do it that would work for USA.”
While his day job is developing scripted television, Mr. Thorn admits to having a weakness for watching reality shows. “I’m a sucker for a good reality show event, whether it’s Shark Week or `Survivor’ or a really gross episode of `Fear Factor,”’ he said. “If I wasn’t in this business, I think I would be trying to get on `Survivor.’ Even if it wasn’t televised, I think I would want to do it anyway. It just looks like it’s a camp for adults.”
Name: Michael Thorn
Date of Birth: Aug. 8, 1970
Place of Birth: Albany, N.Y.
Title: VP, prime-time series, NBC Studios
Big Break: Big Ticket Television executive Laura Schrock’s giving him a job as manager of development at Big Ticket.
Who Knew? He’s an avid certified scuba diver who goes on shark dives. “I got married in Maui,” he said. “My wife was freaking out because I went scuba diving the day before we got married. She was like, this is one of those things you see on the news: ‘Fiance gets eaten by great white shark 24 hours before wedding.'”
Favorite TV Shows: “The Wire,” “Boomtown,” “Friends,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “The Shield,” “The Simpsons”