Big Fish Entertainment

Each year Variety’s New Leaders feature profiles the most prominent up-and-comers in the entertainment business. To determine this year’s worthies, Variety looked for go-getters across disciplines, from television, digital, music and film, to law and finance, as well as content creators. They were proposed by their bosses and peers who have worked with them and seen their rise. All are age 40 or under, and Variety has measured them by the progress of their career trajectories: do they take calculated risks? How fast have they risen in their companies? Are they innovative and employ solutions to problems that are creative? While it’s hard to pinpoint the “it” factor, these folks embody that intangible. The people on the list have helped build the brilliant careers of their clients, shepherded hit television shows and successful movies, created small-screen series, films and animated shows, launched digital platforms, fostered hit music, counseled top dealmakers and financed them, and are some of the leading lights in the wildly expanding digital delivery and content world. As part of the salute to the qualities that keep the town humming, NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt is also being honored with Variety’s Creative Leadership Award. The New Leaders, Variety’s 10 Assistants to Watch as well as Greenblatt will be recognized Oct. 18, at the Jeremy Hotel rooftop in West Hollywood.

Dan Cesareo
Founder and president, Big Fish Entertainment; 39
Cesareo managed to break through the unscripted clutter on cable with “Live PD,” which earned A&E huge ratings this summer. People didn’t just watch it live, either, turning in for “Live PD: Police Patrol” and also watching on the A&E app. The phenomenon returned Oct. 6, and A&E has put in a 100-episode order with Big Fish. “I want to reinvent television genres. I want to create programming that’s provocative and arresting and promote transparency and change the way viewers relate and interact with the content,” says Cesareo. Two of his series, “Live PD” and “Date Night Live,” use technology in innovative ways. “[We] find the gaps in the creative marketplace and take genres and worlds that previously worked and reinvent them and bring something entirely new to the marketplace,” he says. “Our philosophy with developing shows is that we don’t want to hit singles and doubles, we only want to hit home runs.”

Meghan Hooper White & Devon Graham Hammonds
Hooper White: SVP, original co-productions & acquisitions, Lifetime and Lifetime Movie; 37; Graham Hammonds: VP, non-fiction and alternative programming,
A&E Network; 36

The antiquated perception that Lifetime’s programming is about “women in peril” has been diluted further thanks to White, who oversaw the development of the critically-acclaimed series “Mary Kills People.” “Our goal hasn’t been to tell people how to feel about assisted suicide, White says. “The show gives people a glimpse into why people (want to) die.” Hammonds has diversified A&E’s lineup by making bold programming choices, such as spearheading the controversial and award-winning series “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.” “It’s an extremely hard show and time-consuming,” Hammonds says. “We are dealing with people’s personal stories; they’re bravely stepping forward sharing moments of pain.” Hammonds says she learned great advice from her dad who once said: “Own your mistakes.” White stresses the importance of mentors, and cites one he told her to always “remember that everyone’s a human being.”

Patrick McDonald
VP, original programming, Starz; 31
McDonald is the lead on new development and current productions including “American Gods,” “Survivor’s Remorse,” upcoming documentary film “Nude,” past series “Flesh & Bone,” “Blunt Talk” and “The Chair.” He won the bidding war for “Sweetbitter,” the half-hour drama series based on the national best-seller by Stephanie Danler, Plan B and Stu Zicherman (“The Americans”) and will exec produce with Danler. He’s also overseeing action-drama series (working title “Black Samurai”) with Jerry Bruckheimer Television, starring Common, who will exec produce under his Freedom Road Prods. banner. RZA and Mitchell Diggs will also exec produce for Wu Films. “My dad gave me this advice: The only thing holding you back is that you’re worried about what other people have to say.”

John Pollak
President, worldwide television and international, Electus; 40
Pollak helped build production shingles Reveille and Shine Intl., and now with Electus, he is creating a healthy distribution operation with CEO Chris Grant and their team. Electus Intl. distributes more than 4,000 hours of content to some 220 countries, including such hits as “MasterChef, “Running Wild With Bear Grylls,” MMA franchise “Bellator” and “Jane the Virgin.” He also oversees Electus’ scripted projects through deficit financing and international co-productions. Ahead of Mipcom, Pollak sees a trend not so much in content, but in broadcasters and producers working across borders, and creating unconventional partnership models. “Everybody’s working with everybody. People are looking for partnerships. Distributors are looking for partnerships,” he says, noting that he and Grant are connected with many international producers and sellers; “It should always be a two-way street — they pitch to us, we pitch to them.”

Katy Rozelle & Max Taylor
Rozelle: SVP, development, Paramount TV; 35; Taylor: VP, development, Paramount TV; 31
Rozelle and Taylor have more in common than Paramount — each started their career working as an assistant at major agencies where they learned lessons and developed relationships that prove invaluable to this day. When Rozelle wanted to help secure the rights to Anne Rice’s “The Vampire Chronicles” for Paramount, she returned to CAA — where she had started out — for a series of successful meetings. “We told Chris Rice [Anne’s son] why we should be the people to work with,” Rozelle says. Taylor, a self-proclaimed lover of sci-fi, is helping develop the TV adaptation of “Galaxy Quest” and recently helped bring the Neal Stephenson novel “Snow Crash” to Paramount. He says he’s received the same great advice from Ari Emanuel and Aaron Sorkin: “Don’t celebrate or dwell too long on the ups and downs of the business. Instead, ask, ‘What’s next?’”

Brenda Vogel
VP of television, FilmNation; 35
Brought onboard FilmNation in January 2016 to build its TV slate from scratch, Vogel discovered Jardine Libaire’s novel “White Fur” as a manuscript, won a bidding war to acquire it, and developed and packaged it as a series, which recently sold to Amazon with Drake Doremus attached to direct. FilmNation is also developing a Latino family drama based on the novel “Book of Unknown Americans,” with Christopher Peña penning the script; Peter Paige and Bradley Bredeweg (“The Fosters”) are executive producing. “I’ve learned to follow my gut,” says Vogel, who previously served as VP of development at Groundswell Prods. “It’s great to get other people’s advice and sense of people want, but I think having a distinct idea of what you like and why you like it has sort of guided me.”

Ben Wasserstein
VP, programming, HBO; 36
Wasserstein joined HBO comedy department as VP in 2016 from HBO-based producer Sarah Condon’s office, where he shepherded projects including HBO’s “Looking” and “Bored to Death.” He quickly showed an aptitude for identifying new talent and forging relationships with showrunners on such high profile and acclaimed series as “Veep,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Divorce” and the upcoming comedy series “Barry” from Bill Hader and Alec Berg (“Silicon Valley”). “I feel very fortunate to work with the TV creators I most admire on the shows I most enjoy.” He cites his best advice as coming from HBO exec Amy Gravitt: “Make the tough calls.”