People

Making Deals and Breaking Barriers

MCNWW 2017: Turner’s Sandra Dewey aims to clear a path for the women who will follow 1/30/2017 8:00 AM Eastern
Sandra Dewey, president, TNT and TBS Productions and Business Affairs, Head of Studio T, Turner

SANDRA DEWEY

TITLE: President, TNT and TBS Productions and Business Affairs, Head of Studio T

COMPANY: Turner

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Early in her career, Dewey was an associate at the law firm Greenberg Glusker. She joined Turner in 1994. Prior to her last promotion in 2015, she was executive vice president, head of business affairs for Turner Entertainment Networks and Cartoon Network Originals.

QUOTABLE: “I have gone at my job, starting from when I was a junior person until now, in a way that is without artifice — in a way that doesn’t involve a lot of posturing, and is direct and truthful.”

 

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Sandra Dewey makes no bones about her “most pressing” personal and professional challenge right now.

 

“I’m absolutely determined to make every effort to help break through the obstacles that still prevent women from moving forward in our business in the way they should,” said Dewey, who is president of TNT and TBS productions and business affairs, as well as head of Turner’s original programming unit, Studio T.

 

“I’m really motivated to be an agent of force and change. That’s at the top of my agenda,” she added.

 

It’s an agenda with a whole lot of other responsibilities and challenges, not the least of which is raising two teenage girls as a single parent. One of her biggest at Turner is preparing TBS and TNT for the future, alongside Kevin Reilly, president of the two channels. “Our industry is extremely challenged to find out our next iteration of the entertainment model,” Dewey said. “I spend a lot of time thinking about that. It’s daunting but exciting.”

 

CULTURE SHIFT AHEAD

Part of that future-building involves Time Warner Inc.’s pending merger with AT&T, and how Turner’s parent will meld into the telecommunications giant, noted Brett Weitz, executive vice president of TBS original programming. Culturally, AT&T is quite different than Time Warner and its Turner programming unit.

 

“She’s got a lot on her plate, but when you sit down with her, you’d never know that any of that exists,” said Weitz, who has worked with Dewey for about eight years and admires her coaching skills.

 

“She’s an inspiring leader to everybody, from the receptionist, to the guy that restocks the toilet paper, to executive vice presidents in the company,” he added. “There’s a lot of superficial conversations that occur in this business, but every time you have a conversation with Sandra, it’s a real conversation. You’re left feeling moved, inspired and ready to roll.”

 

One of Dewey’s biggest accomplishments in recent years has been creating Studio T, which currently has 15 shows in production. “It’s become one of the most prolific studios in the entire business,” Weitz said. “Three or four years ago, TNT and TBS weren’t producing any of their own content.”

 

Sarah Aubrey, TNT’s executive vice president of original programming, described Dewey as an agitator. “She’s always pushing us to keep our eyes constantly on the horizon.”

 

There’s a running theme in how Dewey is described by agents and other people who do business with her, Aubrey said: “Sandra’s tough but fair, and always keeps the big picture in mind about what we want and need. She’s a hardnosed negotiator, but at the same time, she’s someone that people enjoy talking to.”

 

As Turner’s lead dealmaker, Dewey has created ongoing relationships with the likes of Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard and Conan O’Brien. She oversaw deals with Samantha Bee and Jason Jones for their two series, Full Frontal With Samantha Bee and The Detour, as well as for Steve and Nancy Carell’s Angie Tribeca, which is also produced by its star, Rashida Jones. Those shows, among cable’s top-ranked new comedies, are key to TBS’s rebranding.

 

On the TNT side of the house, Dewey oversaw deals for the series Animal Kingdom from John Wells Productions and an upcoming international coproduction with the U.K.’s Channel 4, Foreign Bodies.

 

Dewey said she doesn’t carry around any of those accomplishments as a “badge of honor.” But she’s particularly proud of her promotion to president, which occurred about two years ago — around 20 years after she joined Turner.

 

“I’m really keenly aware of what it takes to make that happen,” she said. “It is a really long and difficult road, particularly for women.

 

“I know that if I sit on that perch, I can talk to other people about what it means to be there. And I can think of it as a place where I can help and lead and encourage other people to be there too. And that means a lot to me.” One of her outlets for doing that is leading the Los Angeles division of a mentoring program called Turner Women Today.

 

The people aspect of running a business tends to get glossed over, Dewey said. Oftentimes, profits and losses, not exceptional staff members, are the focus of attention when measuring success. Dewey said she takes pride in getting the best people and encouraging them to do remarkable work.

 

“It takes a real eye and understanding to bring that out in people,” she said. “I pay a lot of attention to that. It’s a hugely satisfying part of my job.”

 

LEARNED FROM FIELDS

There was nothing about her childhood that suggested Dewey would become president of an entertainment company. She was raised in a small town in Northern California in the foothills below Lake Tahoe. But she ended up going to law school, and eventually worked for Bert Fields, the well-known entertainment lawyer.

 

Fields taught her some profound lessons. “He never was ill-mannered, under any circumstances,” Dewey said. “He won his cases and arguments by being well-prepared and well-spoken and presenting the right arguments.”

 

Women are often underestimated at the negotiating table, she noted, especially when they are well-mannered or gentle. She doesn’t do as much direct deal-making today as she once did, but in earlier years, “I could always tell when people were underestimating me. It was really easy for me to tease them along until the moment when I would be able to show my hand,” she said.

 

“You can’t confuse politeness with strength,” Dewey added. “But now I’ve been around a long time, and everyone knows me. There’s no mystery.”

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