Title: President, Universal Media Studios
Date of birth: Oct. 2, 1972
Place of birth: Chicago
Big break: Tapped for NBC’s Associate Program
Who knew?? Ms. Pope got her first television job as an intern for Andrea Wong.
When showrunner Tim Kring was mapping out the first season of “Heroes,” he got a call from Katherine Pope, then an NBC drama development exec, who had a problem with his pilot.
The call was one of Ms. Pope’s self-described “bad cop” duties, when she informs a writer that something in his show isn’t working. Ms. Pope said Mr. Kring does an impression of such conversations that goes something like this: “I love the script, I’m completely blown away, it’s fantastic — I just think the ending, the protagonist and the dialogue need some work.”
In this case, Ms. Pope took issue with Mr. Kring’s villain, the reclusive watchmaker Sylar, who murders heroes and steals their powers. Ms. Pope loved the character — really. There was just one thing: She wanted Mr. Kring to hold off revealing him to viewers … for nine episodes.
Mr. Kring was stunned. To not reveal the villain in the pilot seemed absurd. To hold off for nine episodes — longer than most new shows stay on the air — seemed an enormous risk.
Ms. Pope “was pretty adamant about it,” he said. “She does not lack for strong opinions.”
He reluctantly made the change, and a funny thing happened. By having Sylar appear only as a shadowy threat for several episodes, viewers became fascinated with him. When he was finally introduced, the payoff was dramatic. “She turned out to be really right,” Mr. Kring said.
Moreover, it added credibility to the series: While viewers of ABC’s “Lost” and Fox’s “24” were complaining the writers were clearly making up twists as they went along, here was a major element of the “Heroes” mythology manifesting in midseason that was clearly part of the show’s design from its conception.
Making the right creative calls has served Ms. Pope well and fueled her desire to return to working at NBC’s newly named Universal Media Studio. Last month she became embroiled in the dramatic shakeup that saw the ouster of her then-boss, Kevin Reilly, and the arrival of Co-Chairman Ben Silverman, who was given oversight of the network and the studio.
During a week of chaos, Ms. Pope quietly negotiated a new position to lead the studio while the press speculated whether the “rising star of NBC” would jump ship. Without speaking on the record, Ms. Pope received more press during that week than in the rest of her career combined.
When discussing that transition and the coverage, she gets wary and still. “I don’t like to be part of the story, I don’t like to be in the spotlight,” she said. “I get more joy being behind the creators — that’s really where I live.”
Ms. Pope got her start in TV working as an intern at ABC News, then jumped to a production position at CBS News.
Initially she was wary about leaving news for entertainment. “I thought news was weightier, and I couldn’t quite face the fact I loved TV and storytelling,” she said.
She got over her trepidation, moved to L.A. and applied to NBC Studios’ Associate Program, which grooms creative executive talent.
As she moved up the ranks at the studio, Ms. Pope garnered a reputation among writers as a suit with creative chops. She gave brutally honest notes, but her criticisms always were offset with suggestions for improvement.
“She could be a writer,” Mr. Kring said. “I think the only reason she’s not is she likes to be involved in too many things.”
Ms. Pope said returning to the studio after her yearlong stint at the network felt like coming home. Her mandate is to continue the studio’s output of high-quality shows (while also finding a hit or two), and to keep finding new digital extensions for content. For her, this means continuing to help writers “get their vision out.”
“You have an initial conversation and they say, ‘Well, I had this idea,’ and you help them make the very best version of their show, you help them pull it out,” she said. “When you see it come to fruition, you see this creative person did the story they wanted to make, it’s the most satisfying experience in the world.”
With Mr. Silverman having oversight of the studio, the strong-minded Ms. Pope now has an equally strong-minded new boss. “He doesn’t feel tethered to anything, which is incredibly liberating,” she said. “He really did bowl me over with his endless enthusiasm.”
She sums up Mr. Silverman as “fearless” — a great quality if your boss has similar creative instincts. If not, well … Ms. Pope said she has no fears about their working relationship.
“We were in sync from moment one.”
- Hot List 2007: Introduction
- Josh Barry, ABC
- Sean Cohan, A&E
- Janus Friis, Joost
- Alexis Glick, Fox Business Channel
- Chris Grant, Reveille
- Silvio Horta, ‘Ugly Betty’
- Ron Lamprecht, NBC Universal
- Maria Menounos, ‘Access Hollywood’
- Andrea Ross, Agent
- Hot List 2006: A Look Back