PRESIDENT NBC UNIVERSAL CABLE ENTERTAINMENT & UNIVERSAL CABLE PRODUCTIONS
FOR NBC UNIVERSAL CABLE ENTERTAINMENT AND UNIVERSAL
Cable Productions president Bonnie Hammer, the key to success is being
ready to embrace opportunity when it is presented.
Certainly, Hammer has made the best of every opportunity that has
come her way in her television career, whether it was serving as a photographer
for a PBS series, producing television series or running a
major cable-television network. Hammer has accumulated lessons
learned from each work experience to become one of the industry’s
most successful cable-network executives — and recipient of this
year’s Distinguished Vanguard Award for Leadership (Woman).
“I’m one who zigged and zagged throughout her entire career, with
each moment building upon another,” she said. “I didn’t have a singular
path — I’ve experienced the entire gamut from the lowest of the lowest
jobs to managing others.”
Hammer’s introduction to the communications industry was virtually
by accident, having taken a photography course as part of a liberal
arts and psychology studies at Boston University.
“I would love to tell you there was a defining ‘eureka’ moment in my
career, but I wasn’t a kid who knew at an early age what I wanted to do,”
Hammer said. “I kind of fell into communication after stumbling on a
photography course in college, but for me there was purity in photography
that it was really your eyes and soul that creates a piece of art or
a moment in terms of news that you capture.”
After college, her first introduction to television was a freelance photography
gig for a PBS show called Infinity Factory in the late 1980s.
She eventually would become a producer for the series, but that often
meant having to clean up the droppings of its sheep dog star.
“I certainly paid my dues, but I couldn’t get enough of TV. I just fell
in love with it the first day on the set and I never thought about doing
anything else ever again,” she said.
She would go on to produce the show, as well as other PBS series,
such as This Old House and Zoom. After a short stint at Lifetime as an
original programming executive, Hammer returned to Universal Television
in 1989 as a producer for USA Network.
Hammer developed several shows for USA but got her big managerial
break when then-USA president Barry Diller tapped Hammer to
run a fledgling network called Sci Fi Channel in 1999.
“I loved the idea that Sci Fi was under the radar,” she said. “I learned
how to manage by doing and learned how to program and schedule, so it
was a fabulous education on the job with a lot of freedom and support.”
That freedom included experimenting with scripted fare, which at
the time was mostly the purview of the broadcast networks. Hammer
and Sci Fi teamed with producer Steven Spielberg to create the 20-
hour science fiction/suspense mini-series Taken, which earned the
network an Emmy award.
“At the time for Sci Fi, the only way to differentiate ourselves was to
go into the original fiction business,” she said. “[Taken] brought in a
family viewing audience where grandparents what their grandchildren
watched this thing together — it was really the beginning of the
network’s scripted success.
Hammer would continue to oversee the network’s brand transformation
to Syfy and the development of such franchises as Battlestar
Galactica and Warehouse 13.
Never content to sit on her laurels, Hammer returned to USA in 2004 to
resurrect the general entertainment network’s fortunes. Th ere, she would
team up with a former client content company friend in the World Wrestling
Entertainment to help drive the network’s ratings and brand fortunes.
Hammer worked with the then-World Wrestling Federation during
her first stint in the 1990s, helping the popular pro-wrestling outfit build
its presence on television. Nearly a decade later, World Wrestling Entertainment
its band of colorful, athletic superstars would serve as the
building blocks to USA’s successful “Characters Welcome” brand.
The Characters Welcome moniker has helped the general entertainment
network better identify itself with viewers, who have in turn sung the praises
of the network’s slew of popular shows as Monk, Burn Notice, Psych, Royal
Pains and the WWE’s Monday Night Raw. Under Hammer’s reign, USA has
garnered yearly cable network ratings wins in 2006, 2008 and 2009.
Hammer’s programming, marketing and leadership skills are what
make her a cut above other executives, according to WWE chief operating
officer Donna Goldsmith.
“Bonnie has a tremendous track record for identifying high quality
and entertaining programming that brings large, desirable audiences
to USA Network,” Goldsmith said. “She is a first-class partner that understands
and recognizes the value that WWE programming delivers
to viewers 52 weeks a year.”
Hammer still has aspirations of producing “one blockbuster — an
aspiration upbeat film,” and to invent a product “to make people’s life
more fun and win with it.”