A cadre of top television executives shared how they dealt with the last 15 months of the pandemic during an hour-long conversation at the ATX Festival.
Sarah Aubrey, Head of Original Content, HBO Max, Lisa Katz, President, Entertainment Scripted Content, NBCU Television and Streaming, Tina Perry, President, OWN, Karey Burke, President, 20th Television, Jana Winograde, President of Entertainment, Showtime Networks and outgoing President, Original Programming, Starz Christina Davis gave tips about how they dealt with anxiety over the crisis and what changes they hope will remain once things get back to normal.
The group also gave a shout out to their mentors and explained what advice they gave them to help their careers.
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Katz admitted that “trying to maintain boundaries has been really challenging”. She said that staying connected was tough and required more effort. She said that she wants to bring in a “reading day” for staff so that they don’t have to spend evenings and weekends working so the business can become more “civilized” and doesn’t have to be “overwhelming”.
Aubrey said that she’s spent a lot of time this year thinking about people’s mental health. She said that she wants to ensure that her staff take a proper break and that listening is important.
“One thing about relieving anxiety is taking breaks, you have to do it. I frankly think the culture of staying at work as many hours as you can was borne out of men that weren’t that connected with their families and didn’t want to go home and I don’t work with women like that and most of the men I work with aren’t like that. I think it’s been a generational thing and I love that we’re evolving,” she said.
“I’m definitely saying to people ‘Let’s get to Memorial Day’ and then everyone can knit their psyche back together and then also I’m really encouraging everyone to take a real vacation,” she said.
“I think there’s been a cultural change for the past year. When we come out of this, people are going to be more thoughtful when it comes to others, vacations, sick days and taking care of a child. I think that will be one of the best things to come out of this, we’ll all be more grounded and thoughtful,” said Perry.
Burke added that previous cultures went to work sick. “Looking back at that, how messed up is that. We’re not going back to that,” she said.
Winograde admitted that this year has shown that you don’t have control over everything. “What’s made this year so hard was everything was out of our control,” she said.
Davis, who Deadline revealed earlier this week (the panel was pre-taped) was leaving Starz, said that she’s taken a more “conscious approach” to anxiety, particularly having started (and left) her job during Covid.
The spectre of Discovery’s merger with WarnerMedia came up, with Aubrey joking she’s been there before. She said the restructure wasn’t necessarily surprising and that it still has to go through government approval, which she doesn’t take lightly.
“The thing we’re focusing on is letting everybody have their feelings about it. If you do your work and stay calm, the rest is going to shake out a million ways that you don’t have any control over,” Aubrey said. “If this past year and a half has taught me anything, you never know what’s going to happen, there’s no point in over investing in it because the number of changes that have either been conscious strategic or unexpected changes, just keep doing your job and make the shows and bring your best self to work.”
The group also highlighted the industry’s increasing push for diversity, particularly in light of the killing of George Floyd and the social movement that followed.
Winograde said that the pandemic “accelerated the pace of change” across the industry, while Burke added that there has been a “sea change”. “I hope that march continues forward and the moment doesn’t pass… and we keep on keeping on,” she said.
Each of the women highlighted the mentors that helped shape them. Katz gave a shout out to Amazon content chief Jen Salke, who, she said, was able to alleviate anxiety rather than perpetuate it.
Winograde highlighted The CW boss Mark Pedowitz, who she said was great at making sure staff went home on time and spent time engaging all employees. Perry namechecked Oprah Winfrey, highlighting her integrity and putting people first, while Davis talked up Nina Tassler, highlighting her humility and generosity as well as not being obsessed with taking credit.
Finally, Burke namechecked her current boss, Dana Walden, calling her an “unbelievable lady boss”, particularly for her help taking care of family members that were unwell during the crisis.