CableU is proud to present Marc Etkind, vice president of development for Animal Planet. In this role, Marc oversees program development for the network and is responsible for the conceptualization and creation of series, stunts, specials as well as other programming initiatives for Animal Planet. In this exclusive CableU Executive Interview he candidly shares his insights on what Animal Planet is up to.
CU: What is the key element that makes a program right for your network?
ME: Story. We need channel-stopping, visceral visuals but what defines the new Animal Planet is great stories and great storytelling.
CU: What programs and/or genres are you looking for in the next year?
ME: We are always looking for real people doing real things (like WHALE WARS, JOCKEYS and COWBOYS).
CU: How important are other platforms like broadband and mobile applications in the initial pitch?
ME: We are always thinking 360 but it’s got to be a great television program first.
CU: What’s the best way for a producer to pitch you?
ME: Nothing beats face-to- face meetings, but if you can’t come to NYC, our Producer’s Portal is a fantastic first step. We have a dedicated team devoted to evaluating and responding to every pitch that comes in through the Portal (http://producers.discovery.com).
CU: What do you look for in a first-time producer besides a great idea?
ME: I like to look at the entire team. If you’re a new producer, can you bring on a show runner or an EP who can give you some extra guidance (and the network some extra comfort)?
CU: What mistakes do producers make when pitching you?
ME: The biggest mistake is that producers think we’re the old Animal Planet and pitch us ideas that no longer fit with our new brand. Check out WHALE WARS, RIVER MONSTERS, UNTAMED AND UNCUT, LOST TAPES and you’ll get a sense of the new Animal Planet.
CU: What can global programmers learn from the US cable network market and from your network in particular?
ME: I know that this is not answering the question, but I’m really eager to hear what’s working on other networks around the world. If you’ve found a hit in another country and it hasn’t come to the U.S. yet, bring it on.
CU: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
ME: Make sure there are at least two YouTube moments in every act.
CU: What’s the best advice you’ve ever given?
ME: Wear comfortable shoes and take care of your feet.
CU: Who in this industry do you most admire and why?
ME: This is going to sound like sucking up, but we LOVE LOVE LOVE our GM, Marjorie Kaplan. She is willing to take big risks and place big bets. She doesn’t want to be following all the other networks, but wants us to be trailblazers.
CU: What’s the smartest programming decision you have ever made?
ME: Partnering with creative producers. You seldom go wrong when you’re working with good people.
CU: What’s the dumbest programming decision you have ever made?
ME: I made a lot of dumb decisions—usually the result of trying to copy other networks. Luckily all those mistakes happened when I was at History.
CU: In all of television, which classic program should be revived?
ME: I would like to see the Brady Bunch come back. But each week, I would bring on a different signature director. Week One—Quentin Tarantino. Week Two-- JJ Abrams. Week 3 M Night. Week 4 Judd Apatow. You get the picture.
CU: Should NEVER be revived?
ME: The Simpsons. It should never be canceled either.
Additional Biographical Information From CU: Prior to coming to Animal Planet, Etkind served as senior director of historical programming at The History Channel. In this position, he developed and executive produced many of the network’s original series including, “Dogfights,” “Human Weapon,” “Tougher In Alaska” and “Lost Worlds.” He oversaw numerous specials including “Hippies,” “The Lost Voyage of Columbus” and the Emmy Award winning “Ape To Man.” He also played an integral role on the network’s pilot development team.
Before his time at The History Channel, Etkind was the president of Pinball Productions, his own Boston-based production company specializing in history and science programs. There, he helped produce over a hundred hours of programming for such networks as The Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and The History Channel.
Before starting Pinball, he was a staff producer for the PBS series “Scientific American Frontiers” with Alan Alda. He also produced interactive exhibits, which can be seen in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago and The Science Place in Dallas. His book, Or Not To Be is a fascinating collection of suicide notes by the famous, including Kurt Cobain, Vincent Van Gogh, Diane Arbus, Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf and was published by Riverhead Books.
He is a graduate of Brown University and is based in New York.