Karyn Forge | Vice President,
Fox TV Studios
The Television Writers Vault is thrilled to welcome
Karyn Smith-Forge, Vice President of Programming for
Fox Television Studios, in a
personal interview for our continuing series of
conversations with key Industry executives.
Karyn is responsible for the scouting, development,
and packaging of projects for Fox TV Studios, whose
credits include; "Burn Notice" (USA Networks), "The
Shield" (FX), "Saving Grace"(TNT), "Persons
Unknown"(NBC) and “White Collar” (USA Networks). She
is an executive member of the Television Writers
Vault , and shares some great firsthand experiences
from the hub of Hollywood...Network Studio
Scott Manville: Thank you for sharing your time with
us, Karyn. I'm certain the Writers and Producers at
the TV Writers Vault will enjoy reading your
Karyn Smith-Forge: Of course, thank you so much
for inviting me. I wish I’d had a resource like this
when I first started.
SM: Thank you, it's our privilege. Can you share
with our readers what your job entails, and what a
typical day is like for you in development at Fox TV
KSF: Hmm…A typical day for me. Well, it usually
starts with me getting in anytime between 8:30 and 9
AM. I begin my day by looking through and answering
my emails. From that point on, my day is typically
filled with returning and making phone calls, writer
and/or producer meetings, and reading/reviewing
scripts in various stages of production or
development. I may also check out and review cuts
from one or two of the series I cover in production.
I will then usually take my lunch meetings around 1
PM, returning to the office around 2:30, to begin
the process all over again of returning calls,
answering emails, reviewing scripts and/or cuts and
taking more meetings. Then I typically leave the
office anytime between 7:30 and 8 PM and may take a
few scripts/cuts home with me to read/watch that
SM: How did you get your start in this business, and
what attracted you to the Industry?
KSF: I’ve always been in love with movies and
television. Always. I remember my family often
commenting that I spent far too much time watching
television, but I couldn’t help it. I loved it.
After graduating from business school (and realizing
that I wanted nothing to do with the traditional
business space), I decided I would try to find a
more “stable” way to get into the entertainment
business: I would become an entertainment lawyer. I
went to law school and graduated – then started
working for a private firm, planning to later
laterally transfer into entertainment law. One
problem: I hated practicing law. Immensely. After a
couple of years of practicing, I couldn’t take it
anymore. So I quit my job and, knowing absolutely no
one, came out here to Hollywood where I planned to
enter into a business that my father had previously
told me about: The agency business. It seemed like a
natural transition to go from an advocate in law to
an advocate in entertainment. I started in the
mailroom at Endeavor (pre-WME) and worked my way up
to TV lit agent. I was a TV lit agent for a couple
of years before I caught the development bug and,
consequently, left to begin a career as an
SM: You must get to work with some extremely
talented Writers and Producers.
KSF: Oh, yeah. Some amazingly talented writers and
producers. They are what make my job such a
fantastic experience. From Matt Nix to Jeff Eastin
to Nancy Miller to Remi Aubuchon, just to name a
few…We at FTVS are lucky enough to be in business
with some of the top writing minds in the business.
SM: Do you venture into the unscripted arena at
all, or is your main focus scripted series?
KSF: My main focus is scripted series, however, I’m
always on the lookout for good programming, scripted
OR unscripted. We have someone here at FTVS, Jill
Schwartz, who heads up our unscripted department, so
if I come across an idea that I like, I will bring
it to her for her thoughts. If she agrees, then we
may pursue it.
SM: How many projects do you handle at any given
time, at all stages of development?
KSF: Right now, I have three current series that I
cover (WHITE COLLAR, SAVING GRACE, and PERSONS
UNKNOWN). I also cover a pilot entitled SUGARLOAF at
A&E. And, with respect to development, I may
typically have anywhere between 3-5 projects in
development at various networks and anywhere around
15 projects that I am internally developing within
SM: What advice can you give to television writers
shopping spec scripts? What do you look for in, for
example, a great drama spec?
KSF: My biggest piece of advice to give to TV
writers shopping spec scripts is to stay true to
your own voice and style, especially when crafting
an original pilot. Too many times I've seen talented
writers forgo their own voice in favor of writing a
pilot they believe "will sell." Yes, studios
eventually need to be able to sell a pilot to a
network for the project to really move forward, but
that should not be the writer’s focus. Write what
inspires and impassions you. Sacrificing your own
voice almost never works. Most critically acclaimed
shows from THE SHIELD to
MAD MEN to BREAKING BAD
were created by writers who refused to water-down or
shoehorn their voices into a more “saleable” pilot.
And those fresh, original voices are exactly what
studios and producers are looking for.
I primarily enjoy scripts that are a little quirky
or off-center -- often tinged with a taste of dark
humor -- and those that offer something a little
unexpected. A traditional, commercial procedural is
not normally my cup of tea – especially since FTVS
focuses a lot of their development in the cable
network arenas. We really like to focus on
unconventional characters, whether, be they Vic
Mackey in THE SHIELD or Grace Hanadarko in SAVING
GRACE or Michael Weston in BURN NOTICE. I personally
look for scripts that have fresh voices and contain
a premise that either (1) I’ve never seen before; or
(2) If I have seen the premise before, there’s an
unexpected twist or point of view.
SM: When you're working with a writer on a script
for a project at Fox, how much do you get involved
in the choices the Writer will make with character
development and story? Does it depend on who the
Writer is? Is it often a tug of war between the
Writer and Producers?
KSF: My most enjoyable and productive development
experiences occur when the writer and I work
together collaboratively – and this is the case
regardless of who the writer is. When I work with a
writer on a script for an FTVS project, I give my
honest opinion, thoughts and notes, which we
subsequently discuss together. However, I always
want to be completely open to the writer’s point of
view and conscious of his or her creative vision for
the project. We may disagree on some issues, but I
always want to give the writer the benefit of the
doubt, as it’s his or her creative vision that led
FTVS (and me) to pursue the project in the first
place. I feel that a good, open dialogue between the
studio and the writer and/or producer can only lead
to a better product.
SM: How was the development process for the new
series "Persons Unknown"? Does NBC have an air date
KSF: PERSONS UNKNOWN was an incredible experience.
The pilot was originally written by Christopher
McQuarrie, and the show was run by Remi Aubuchon.
Both are phenomenally talented writers. This
particular project was one that was very heavy on
mythology and Remi and his writing team knocked it
out of the park. In addition, since this was one of
our first international co-productions and since it
was developed and shot without an initial US network
home, I had the opportunity to be involved very
closely in almost every aspect of the project from
casting to production to music to editing, etc. It
was shot in Mexico City, and they even built an
entire town from the ground up for the show!
Incredible. We are so very excited that it will be
on NBC next year. We don’t have a specific airdate
just yet, but it’s coming!
SM: One of my favorite series that was produced by
Fox TV Studios was "The Riches", starring Eddie
Izzard. Such a unique premise, having a family of
gypsies who assume the identities and lives of
another family that no longer exists. Terrific
characters and storylines as they struggle to be
"normal" and function in a traditional higher
society, while being on the run from their past that
continues to haunt them. It was critically
acclaimed. How does a series like that get cancelled
when so much of programming is taken up by shows
with lesser substance or originality?
KSF: You know, I really wish I knew the answer to
that. I mean, THE RICHES was a terrific show and we
at FTVS continue to be extremely proud of it.
There’s not always one clear-cut reason for a show’s
cancellation, but, generally (and I think that’s
what happened in the case of THE RICHES), show
cancellations happen due to low ratings. As admired
and original as the show was, the bottom line was
that its ratings simply weren’t strong enough. The
ratings in season 1 were only marginal, but due to
the strong press and fan base, the network gave us a
second season. Unfortunately, the second season
ratings dropped dramatically, so it was ultimately
cancelled. I’m sure that every person reading this
now can think of shows that were
critically-acclaimed, fresh, and original, and yet
many feel were cancelled before their time. It’s a
fact of life in the tv business, unfortunately.
SM: It was interesting to see that Fox TV Studios
aired the first two episodes of "The Riches" on the
internet prior to the television premiere. Do you
see yourself developing programs that may be
specifically produced for the internet, with
television as an afterthought?
KSF: Absolutely. In fact, two of my colleagues at
FTVS, Gabriel Marano and Ilsa Berg, are doing just
that. They are very much involved in developing
digital and presentation programming that are
specifically produced for the internet, with the
hopes of then going on to develop into potential
television series. Internet programming can be a
fantastic way of building an audience and then using
that existing audience to launch a television
SM: Are you ever scouting books or news articles for
development? How much do you pull from true life and
other properties outside of actual scripts?
KSF: Always. I’m always on the lookout for
properties, graphic novels, books, articles and
formats. I’m always hungry for ideas – and, one
thing I’ve learned in this business, ideas can come
from anywhere and one would be a fool to ignore a
good idea -- regardless of where it came from.
SM: I understand that you're involved with a variety
of scripted projects that are produced for various
outlets. With the possibility that you can produce
shows for different networks, do you have a strict
mandate for the types of projects your team will
invest time in, or do you gravitate toward any genre
script that happens to be great, and then decide
where the right home is for it?
KSF: You know, it’s typically the latter. There is
no mandate for a specific type of project -- Just
good, compelling writing. Each FTVS exec gravitates
to the scripts to which he or she most responds --
not really to a genre or type of script. We respond
to great voices and great writing and then look to
find a home for the project.
SM: Being so immersed in television as a business,
do you still truly enjoy it as a form of
entertainment, or does being part of the machine
kill the magic?
KSF: Nah. I’m still too much of a TV addict to ever
let the machine kill the magic. Well, occasionally,
I may find a development thought or two racing
across my brain as I’m watching a show, but
typically I just try to sit back, shut off that part
of my brain and enjoy.
SM: Thanks for sharing your time with us, Karyn. I
look forward to seeing more of your great work at
Fox TV Studios.
KSF: It was a pleasure. Thanks for having me.