Within a two-week period in July, Warner-owned TNT greenlighted upcoming series “The Line,” Viacom-owned Showtime added a second season of “!Huff” months before the series even debuted, and Fox-owned FX premiered the critically acclaimed series “Rescue Me.” Sony Pictures Television’s Senior VP of Development and Cable Programming Zack Van Amburg was at the center of the deals for all those Sony-produced shows.
As an executive at an independent studio in an integrated business, Mr. Van Amburg said he takes pride in the studio’s ability to navigate the industry and serve network, cable and syndication with “fairly equal weight and volume so we are not limited to just one outlet.
“That’s the advantage Sony has found as an independent. We can, by design, go and sell to anyone,” Mr. Van Amburg said. “As cable channels continue to bloom and look for signature shows that they can establish a brand with, all of them can turn to us to provide that, because everyone else serves only their own broadcast or cable network, and there are creative limitations to that.”
From the Discovery Networks to VH1 to Lifetime, Sony has in recent years repositioned itself as a stop for both established and growing cable networks to find first-run programming. During his tenure, Mr. Van Amburg has been involved with developing and producing such prime-time cable series as FX’s Emmy Award-winning “The Shield,” TBS’s “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” Discovery Health Channel’s “The Residents,” VH1’s upcoming reality series “The Partridge family” and Showtime’s “Street Time.”
Among the series he said he’s most particularly proud of are “Ripley’s” and the upcoming series “!Huff.”
“`Ripley’s’ was reality before reality was hot, and not only helped define the genre but helped define TBS as a network,” he said. “With `!Huff,’ I fell in love with the possibilities immediately and knew I would fight as hard as I needed to in order to get it done.”
Producers working with Sony are quick to praise Mr. Van Amburg and his open-minded approach to material.
“As a producer you look for somebody who will be a collaborator, somebody to bounce ideas off of and somebody to sound us out,” said Jim Serpico, executive producer of “Rescue Me.” “We immediately hit it off with Zack. He supported our vision of the company in bringing dark, edgy material to the screen and seemed eager to form a partnership beyond this show.”
Mr. Van Amburg was appointed to his position in 2002, originally joining the studio in 1997 as director of development. Previously, he was director of development for Sony’s Game Show Network and also helped launch a cable network for NBC. He has served as executive producer for several series for CNBC and was a consultant to many series for Paramount Domestic Television.
“For me, television is a business about telling stories, about people and about character,” he said. “I was drawn to this side of the business by seeing what cable has become and seeing the types of stories that can be told in cable but not on broadcast. That was not only attractive but magnetic, because it opened up new avenues of storytelling,” he said. “I finally get to be that executive who got to tell those stories, and it’s satisfying on every level.”