HRTS Member Profile: Laura Lancaster

Laura LancasterLaura Lancaster is Executive Vice President, Drama Programming at NBC.  I recently had a chance to interview Laura to discuss Law & Order, JJ Abrams and The Ramones.

Q: Can you tell us about your background and what made you want to work in entertainment? how did you get involved with the HRTS?
-I tell people they only need to know one thing about me and that’s that I’m a product of New Orleans, Louisiana and that I come from an enormous family. Okay, that’s two things. But both probably prepared me for the entertainment business more than anything else. The New Orleans culture is about as diverse and colorful as it gets. My father had an apartment in the French Quarter & by the time I was a teenager I had seen just about every human behavior possible. And although I was sneaking out to see The Clash & The Ramones, I couldn’t help but be influenced by Jazz & Blues, not to mention the food there. Also, there are 13 kids in my family – we had a much bigger Brady Bunch. So there’s not a story or personality I haven’t known in my own family!

Once I was in LA, I worked in Sports Production and for an international commercial company for a few years. So by the time I started in television development, I had already done a few other things. I sought out my first job at Studios USA (formerly Universal TV) because I was an insane “Law & Order” fan.

I learned about HRTS when I was first starting out and many of my generous bosses invited me to the President’s luncheons and then eventually the showrunner lunches. I loved the open forum & loved seeing folks let their guard down to let us see behind the curtain. The more controversial, the better!

Q: Your upcoming shows have received a lot of buzz, what are some of the keys to the success of this development season?
-when I started a little over a year ago, it was clear we had a lot of needs. So the first decision was to try to work with the best & most original voices out there. We also wanted to have choices, so we tried a lot of different kinds of shows – character driven procedurals, genre and even hour-long comedies. In each show we stressed the need to be inventive which resulted in some great surprises like “The Event” & “Love Bites”. We were also committed to having diversity in every part of the process from the script, to casting and staffing. More than anything, we wanted to support the creator’s vision, because that’s how I’ve seen great things happen.

Q: What makes “The Event” such a highly-anticipated show?
-I think there are many people out there who are just like us-ready for the next “Lost” or “24”. I think big, ambitious shows like this are just plain entertaining to watch. The Event is also about something bigger at its core, so I think people will really enjoy discovering all the layers.

Q: When developing new shows at what point do you realize that you may have a hit?
-I’m not sure anyone does. But what I do feel is a clarity & focus that sometimes begins as early as the pitch. I feel like the most successful shows I’ve been associated with began with a writer somewhat possessed with a character or a world. You can see that they have to write about it & it’s probably going to be great.

Q: What’s it like to work with JJ Abrams?
-the thing I love best about JJ is his never-ending creative enthusiasm. He has a reservoir of energy and it’s infectious. He also has a killer sense of humor and is incredibly collaborative. And he’s his toughest critic & never stops making the work better. Can you tell I’m a big fan?

Q: Where do you want your programming to be five years from now?
-naturally, I hope all of the new shows are in their 5th season! And I hope we’re still taking exciting chances like we were able to do this year.

Q: Anything you’d like to add?
-nope 😉