Today, it gives me pleasure to turn this blog over to the all-around awesome Erika Kennair – dog-lover, network point person, and SyFy VP of Original Programming and Development – who finally came up for air to answer your burning questions. A big thanks to Erika for taking the time to chat – and, of course, for her tireless support of our show. If she was starring in her own series, I would tune in to watch her. Live rather than downloading or dvr’ing. I’m that big a fan!
Sorry Folks. The past few months have been incredibly hectic. Awesome, ridiculously productive, but non-stop. I’m not sure I’ve been in Los Angeles for more than a few days at a time since July. Since then, there was Comic Con, I shot a pilot in Toronto, launched new seasons of SGU and Sanctuary, ushered in Smackdown, and had the priviledge of working on webseries, Riese. Among other things. In exciting news, I was promoted to Vice President of Original Programming and Development at Syfy in that time period as well.
I’d like to thank Joe for his patience. Today I pinky-swore that I’d get this Q&A to him tonight. And I don’t back down on pinky-swears. So here it is.
“How did you come to be Syfy’s Director of Development?”
EK: I moved from New Orleans to Los Angeles to pursue a Masters Degree in Screenwriting, with a goal to write children’s programming. While in school I also worked full-time to pay the bills and to learn more about the industry around me. First I worked in TV Research at Paramount, pulling ratings at 6 in the morning. It was gruesome to get up that early and then immediately do something detail oriented, but it taught me so much about how television works and what viewers watch in different parts of the country. From there I went to Twentieth Century Fox as an intern, and my job was to collate the different drafts of scripts. I paid attention to what kind of changes were being made, and that helped me to really understand the production side of television. After that I got a full-time job at Fox Searchlight as an Assistant in Post Production. Not only was Searchlight an AMAZING place to work (Napoleon Dynamite, Water, Millions, Notes on a Scandal), but working in post taught me how to look at a story and fix it once it all that was left to do was rearrange the pieces. I was there for about 2 years before I graduated from LMU.
By the time I was ready to graduate, I was really torn between pursuing a career in writing, or one as an executive. All I knew was that I loved the creative process, but I still hadn’t found my place in the world. Within 2 weeks of graduation, I was awarded a Humanitas Prize for a Bernie Mac Spec Script that I wrote. The specific award was an Angell Fellowship in Comedy Writing, in the name of David Angell, who was a writer and Executive Producer on Cheers, Wings and Frasier. Unfortunately he and his wife Lynn, were on the first plane on 9/11. The Humanitas Prize started a Comedy Fellowship in his name to help new comedy writers get their start. I was so honored, but at the same time, so unbelievably conflicted, since I had the bizarre urge to be an executive. So I went on writer meetings, which as Joe can tell you are quite fascinating. I got a freelance job on a cartoon, which I will not name, and they never paid me, so you won’t be able to find it online. The job was beyond frustrating. I got notes that were so hard to understand, my favorite being, “Would a flea say that?”. So it got me thinking, “If I was on the other side of that desk, I’d let the fleas speak their mind.” Shortly thereafter, I met the best man in the industry, Ted Frank, who used to be the head of Current Programs at NBC. He was looking for someone to run the Diversity Initiative for Writers at NBC, scouting new writers for the network. I called the Humanitas people, said I was going to be switching over to the dark side, and much to my surprise, they were incredibly supportive. David Angell’s career started and stayed at NBC, and Ted Frank was the executive who shepherded David’s shows. The fellowship trustees were happy that I’d be learning from someone who meant so much to David. I took it as a sign.
The next three years were amazing, finding new talent, starting a writer’s fellowship, Writers on the Verge and working to launch people’s careers. Eventually I decided it was time to move on to my next adventure. Our Human Resources Dept told me that Sci Fi (this was 2008) was looking for an executive. Um, the Battlestar Channel? Um, the Channel that had those amazing movies and the channel that tried to launch The Amazing Screw On Head as a series with Bryan Fuller and Mike Mignola?????? So, I calmly went in and met with Mark Stern. We hit it off, he sent me away with a Eureka first draft, a Sanctuary Producer’s Cut of an episode and a pilot script. I came back with my thoughts and he hired me on the spot. Phew – that was a long story. You guys still there?
“On a typical day from start to finish, what is your workload like?”
EK: It really depends on the day and where my shows are in their cycle. I cover SGU, Sanctuary, Outer Space Astronauts, WWE Smackdown, a pilot called Three Inches, some movie events (the upcoming Neverland) and several projects you may or may not know about that are in development. It’s my job to be the cheerleader for my series, balancing the show’s wants and needs with that of the network in order to hopefully make everyone happy and get the best ratings possible. I give notes on scripts and cuts, as well as drafts of projects in development. Lately I’ve been doing quite a bit of travel for Three Inches, where I chime in on set, much to the director’s delight. I’ve also been doing quite a bit of travel for WWE Friday Night Smackdown.
When in LA, most days I come in, check my email while eating a breakfast of egg whites and avocado (I know Joe’s Blog likes food talk). I’lll email out notes that I did the night before at home, and start prioritizing where the biggest fires are. I am on the phone constantly, talking to my producers, my coworkers in New York, Agents, writers, etc. At some point, I run down the hall to Business Affairs, and talk important legal things with very smart lawyers. For lunch, which is usually at my desk, I often go with a bunless veggie burger. I typically have several meetings during the day, whether that’s meeting new writers, discussing fun things like Comic Con, or hearing pitches for potential new series. By the end of the day, I drag myself home, and read scripts or watch cuts and write up my notes on those scripts and cuts. I usually do so with a glass of red wine, my husband and my dogs. I go to sleep and it begins again.
“What do you look forward to the most in working with the Stargate staff?”
EK: Stargate is such an impressive franchise. I really admire that people have been inviting this world into their homes for so many years. The entire cast and crew feels like one giant family, which is lovely. I also really enjoy the challenging logic that Stargate utilizes so well. Gets a girl’s brain going in the morning. And of course, talking to Joe.
”What type of shows is Syfy looking to develop, and how does SGA fit into that mandate? I love serialized shows like SGU, Caprica, BSG but I’m not a fan of the reality shows and campy monster flicks.”
KE: Our motto here is “Imagine Greater”, and the way we translate that into development is to find series that really stretch the limits of our imaginations – inviting us into new worlds, and introducing us to rich and fascinating characters. We look for shows that are entertaining, and while they may or may not hold a mirror to our current society, they contain worlds and adventures our audience can escape into.
SGA was before my time here, but it definitely was filled with adventure, escapism and fun characters.
We appreciate the diversity among our fans. Whenever I go to Comic Con I always marvel at how many variations of genre fans there are. Me, I’m a magial surrealism/ghost story/comedy genre kinda gal.
“Is Syfy looking to develop more fun fare like Warehouse 13, Eureka and Haven? I loved that Pearry Teo pushed for better production values on Witchville. Will we see Syfy’s original movies move away from the camp and weird animal mashups?”
EK: We absolutely want to develop fun series that entertain our audiences and take them on a ride.
As for our movies, I’m not sure, but I will say that growing up I was a huge fan of Roger Corman and Troma Films, so for me it’s nice to see that legacy live on. I get that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I dare you to watch the Sharktopus trailer without smiling once.
“Thanks for bringing us great shows like SGU!”
EK: You’re very welcome. Thanks for watching them!
“Would you mind sharing some highs and lows of being at Syfy?”
EK: I adore working at Syfy for so many reasons, but the biggest reason is that Syfy truly values and celebrates the imagination. I’ve had some jobs (Purchasing Assistant at an Oil Company) that did not exactly push my creativity, and every day here I’m challenged to think outside of the box, and encourage others to do the same.
I can’t say that I’ve had any real lows so far. I’ve been extremely lucky to (knock on wood) not have any series I work on be canceled. I know that day will come, and I would imagine that will become what I answer to this kind of question. I suppose the biggest low so far is that our cafeteria has limited vegetarian options.
“How long have you been a fan of Science Fiction and what got you into the genre?”
EK: I can’t remember how long because as far back as I can remember my hair was in Princess Leia buns or I was pretending to be She-Ra. I wanted desperately to join the Ghostbusters, and kind of still do. Later I moved onto the hard stuff, R.L. Stine, Time Bandits, and I haven’t looked back.
“What are you some of your favourite foods?”
EK: I’m a vegetarian, but as Joe can attest to, that doesn’t stop me from eating. I love avocados and eat them with anything I can. I’m also a huge fan of spinach and sweet potatoes. On the bad for you front, I have a weakness for hors d‘oeuvres and caramel. About once a week I have veggie sushi rolls, and whenever I’m in Vancouver I have to get a Veggie Terimayo Hot Dog from Jappadog. I recently went to Toronto, and discovered that the Four Seasons has an amazing Egg White Omelette, and that the restaurant George has incredible vegetarian options.
“Would you mind sharing some of your favourite authors?”
EK: My favorite book in the world is Love in the Time of Cholera, I could read it every day. I know it’s kind of cliché, but Catcher in the Rye is a very close second. I love authors who pull you in, and make you feel like an accomplice (Kurt Vonnegut, Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde).
“Are you an animal lover? And what is your favourite animal?”
EK: I’m a vegetarian who has two recscued dogs (Harry and Faye, pic Below). As you can guess, I’m a sucker for dogs, but there really isn’t an animal I don’t like. Maybe bees and wasps. Yeah, I kinda hate those.
“Stargate SG1, Stargate Atlantis, Stargate Universe, which out the 3 is your favourite series and why?”
EK: Well, I definitely have a soft spot for SGU since I was with it from the beginning. My favorite SGU episodes are Time, Malice and Divided. My favorite SG1 eps are 200, Window of Opportunity and Grace , and my favorite SGA eps are Tabula Rasa, 38 Minutes, and Vegas.
“What direction do you see the Syfy channel heading in the future?”
EK: I think we’ll stick with this name for a while. Personally, I’d love to see some comedies on the channel, and I wouldn’t mind something a little spookier than we’re used to either.
“Do you believe in the existance of Ghosts, as Syfy is big on the whole Ghost Hunters thing, what do you think of the 3 shows currently on your network?
EK: I do believe in ghosts. I was raised Cuban Catholic in New Orleans, so I’m not sure if it was possible for me not to. Ghost Hunters is one of our biggest series, and I definitely get the appeal. My favorite of the three is Ghost Hunters International because I can watch it and pretend I’m traveling.
“What happened with Legend of the Seeker?, if anything did happen, fans around the world have been mailing networks requesting this series be picked up by Syfy, as it averaged around 2.2 million viewers on ABC, why wasn’t this picked up? Was the asking price by ABC/Disney too high? The show is currently im limbo with no one wanting to pick up, do you think you could make a miracle happen Erika? I think you’d have to agree itd be perfect for the Syfy channel.”
EK: I am constantly impressed with the level of dedicated that LOTS fans have for the series. It’s definitely an entertaining show, and I have to admit I kind of wish I was Cara. Honestly, I wasn’t a part of the decision making process, but I can say from experience that sometimes not enough love in the world can save a show that needs a new network.
“When can we expect to start seeing promos for the new show on Syfy?”
EK: Do you mean SGU? I expect right after Comic Con. We have one amazing trailer that will premiere there. Ha, this answers shows how long ago I started answering these. Sorry.
“You still oversee the Writers on the Verge program, right? Do you just deal with the Finalists or do you have any say in who is picked (do you read the submissions)?”
EK: Sadly, I no longer oversee WOTV. Syfy let me finish out the cycle that was happening when I came over here, but after that they put a new person in my former position, the lovely Karen Horne. When I was there I read every single essay and resume, the first 5 pages of every script, and all of about 50% of the scripts.
“In the program, do you ever see college-aged finalists? People from all over the country?
EK: We take all kinds. Youngest Finalist had just graduated College. Several Finalists have come from out of state.
“Are you a dog or a cat person, or both?”
EK: Dogs rule, cats will be tolerated after copious amounts of allergy medication.
“What are your views on our ‘non-acceptance’ of the demise of SGA?”
EK: I respect that view. It took me a very long time to accept the demise of several series, Freaks and Geeks and Dead Like Me among others.
“What is your favourite part of the job?”
EK: I love so much of it, but I’d have to say my favorite part is working to make every episode the best they can be. I’m always ready to dig deeper and push further.
“Do you get to travel a lot?”
EK: Yes I do. I’m in Vancouver about once a month, NY every few months and I spent the last month in Toronto. Smackdown has expanded that travel to all parts of the country.
“Ohhh I just checked your twitter and see that you hail from New Orleans. That is one place I am definitely going to go, could you please recommend a couple of your favourite restaurants?”
EK: Fantasy New Orleans eating day: Breakfast at Commanders Palace, Lunch at the now non-existent Mystic Pizza, Dinner at Café Lebanon or Five Happiness, and drinks at the Columns. Then of course, late night Beignets from Café Du Monde.
“@Ms. Kennair – Can you please use your talents and influence to push for an Atlantis movie, and can you please push for Teyla and John becoming a couple in that movie?”
EK:: MGM is the one in charge of movies, but if it comes up, I can definitely see where Teyla is at these days.
“Is there any way, any way at all, to fund an SGA continuation as a Movie of the Week (you could put MegaBug Wraith in it!) or as a mini-series?”
EK: Sadly MegaBug/Wraith hybrids don’t really test well. I would think a nice Sharktolucian or a Pirahnarreplicator may do better.
“How important is the Stargate franchise for Syfy channel?”
EK: The Stargate franchise is extremely important as it’s our longest running franchise, and it is pure science fiction.
“Question for Erika: How old are you? You don’t look very old in the picture Joe’s been showing us. Also, just what does a Director of Development do?”
EK: I get that one quite a bit. I just turned 30. My mom got carded until she was in her 40s, so I’ve decided it’s a good thing. Thanks.