Cartoon Network Worldwide General Manager Jim Samples loves the attitude of Marc Buhaj, VP of programming and scheduling for Cartoon Network and Boomerang.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen the guy in a bad mood once,” Mr. Samples said. “Being in a network environment sometimes is a pressure cooker and he just doesn’t show it. He’s always in a good mood.”
That may be because fear is something that Mr. Buhaj likes about the television business. He began his TV career on camera in Australia as host of a local kids show and eventually became a presenter on “Disney Sunday” there. While he said being in front of the camera is probably the most enjoyable part of the TV business, he moved behind the camera with jobs in production, then programming, because presenting “didn’t give me the sense of fear that I love about TV,” he said.
He calls programming “potentially the worst job in television because everyone’s a programmer. Everyone will tell you what to buy, what to make and where to put it. And they’ve all got extremely valid opinions. The trick is just trying to find a place where people are less angry at you every day.”
Mr. Buhaj was working for Turner Broadcasting in Asia, where he was responsible for the launch of the family entertainment network Pogo in India, when he caught Mr. Samples’ eye in worldwide meetings of Cartoon Network general managers.
“He stood out among the crowd as someone who was able to very quickly grasp the challenges each of the regions were facing and come up with good suggestions,” said Mr. Samples, who offered Mr. Buhaj a job in the United States.
As a student of TV, and of programmers such as Mike Dann, Fred Silverman and Brandon Tartikoff, Mr. Buhaj wanted to try the U.S. television environment. “It’s a great place to program television,” he said.
Since making the move in November to Cartoon Network’s Atlanta headquarters, Mr. Buhaj has had a hand in launching original shows such as “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends,” “Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi” and “Krypto the Superdog.” He also updated the channel’s Miguzi and Toonami blocks.
Mr. Samples said Mr. Buhaj has programming in his bones. “It’s attention to detail every single day to the programming schedule, understanding the way that kid viewing behavior occurs. Understanding how to lead kids from one program to another and which programs are likely to be the best lead-in for others,” he said. “He just gets that. It’s a hard thing to learn and most people who do that well have a natural talent there-and he does it well.”
Mr. Samples said Mr. Buhaj is “not afraid to make changes if necessary at the drop of a hat.”
Those changes often create problems for other departments, including production and on-air, but Mr. Buhaj has proved to be the best Mr. Samples has seen at getting everyone at the network to work together. “He has been able to cross the bridges of the various departments of what is now a fairly large organization and string all of that together and do it with a smile,” Mr. Samples said.
Mr. Buhaj says programming is “part science, part art, and sometimes it’s a black art. It’s looking at the numbers and reading the analysis and then at the same time providing creative solutions.” Another key is listening to the viewers, which can be humbling, especially when dealing with kids.
“The feedback from the audience isn’t masked at all. It’s not subtle. It’s as subtle as a sledgehammer. ‘We love it.’ ‘We hate it.’ And that provides a challenge,” he said. “If we’re going to be in this business, what better audience to serve?”
Mr. Buhaj doesn’t have children (“I’m the only one here who’s too immature to have them”), but talks to his nieces and nephews and sometimes baby-sits for colleagues. He also spends a lot of time watching TV, especially “crass reality,” to be alert for new formats and structures.
“I watch in dog years. In 32 years I’ve probably watched 224 years’ worth of TV,” he said. “It’s sort of like a classroom, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And I’m happy to be in doing homework seven days a week.”
With Mr. Buhaj’s varied background, Mr. Samples said he sees him becoming a general manager someday. “He’s a good candidate to, at some point or another, run a network,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s next for him, but I certainly would say that’s the destiny for him.”
Title: Vice president of programming and scheduling, Cartoon Network and Boomerang
Date of birth: May 5, 1973
Place of birth: Red Cliff, Queensland, Australia
Big break: Being selected as
a presenter on Australia’s “Disney Sunday.” He chose to work in commercial television rather than pursue a double degree in Japanese and law. “At the time, it seemed like the easier and smarter thing to do. But I don’t know if that’s the case all these years down the track,” Mr. Buhaj said.
Who knew? Mr. Buhaj has had a lucky pair of underwear since 1988. He still puts on the red briefs once in a while, sometimes to wear to the launch of a big show. “I think that’s the key to the network’s success this year and going forward,” he said.