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Who puts together a television network schedule?


Required Skills: Director of Network Programming
The director of network programming plans TV show premieres like this one for "The Starter Wife." Here at the premiere from left, Jeff Wachtel, executive vice president of original programming; Bonnie Hammer, president; and director Jon Avnet.
The director of network programming plans TV show premieres like this one for "The Starter Wife." Here at the premiere from left, Jeff Wachtel, executive vice president of original programming; Bonnie Hammer, president; and director Jon Avnet.
© Michael Buckner/Getty Images

Being a successful director of network programming requires a rare combination of skills as well as the ability to know what makes good TV.

The director of network programming has to analyze the latest data on audience viewing patterns to pinpoint emerging trends before they're played out. They also need to analyze past ratings successes and failures to figure out the best time of year to launch a new show or debut an original movie. They need to screen TV pilots in front of test audiences and know which comments to accept and which to reject.

On the creative side of things, the director of network programming needs to follow popular trends without being afraid to take a risk. It would be easy to look around and try to copy existing hit shows on other networks ("Dancing With the Stars" and "So You Think You can Dance") or create spin-offs from your own hits ("CSI," "CSI: Miami" and "CSI: NY"), but sometimes the biggest hits come completely out of left field.

A recent trend for American television networks is to spot hit shows in other countries, mainly England, and repackage them for American audiences. Examples include "American Idol," based on the British hit "Pop Idol," and the American version of the British series "The Office." This approach balances risk-taking with the insurance that the show is already a proven success elsewhere.

The director of network programming needs to see the "big picture" at every development stage and scheduling process. For example, if the comedy development executive comes to her with an idea for a new show, she needs to envision how that show might fit into the schedule two years down the line. That hypothetical schedule might include several other projects that are already in development and that may or may not ever make it on air.

Since network television is a business, everything the director of network programming does must fit within a budget. He doesn't have endless funds to develop dozens of new shows every season. The marketing department, for example, only has a fixed amount of money that it can spend promoting new and existing shows. If you hide a show on Monday nights, it's going to need more promotion than a show that drops in right after the network's biggest hit.

Every decision comes back to money. The director of network programming always has to be asking herself, "How much will this investment generate in future advertising revenue?" If not, she won't last long.

The director of network programming is also the network's public face during press tours and upfronts, when new and existing shows are presented to advertisers. For this reason, directors of network programming need to be public relations pros with a knack for handling press conference questions and delivering catchy sound bytes.

So how does someone become a director of network programming? Can you just watch a lot of TV and look good in a power suit? Can you major in TV business in college? Read on to find out more.