For a few days over the Memorial Day weekend, a triumphant year for Katherine Pope seemed on the verge of disaster. Until the holiday break, Pope was basking in the afterglow of a great season as head of development for NBC. She was getting the lion’s share of the credit for NBC’s role in “Heroes” — the only legit breakout hit of the 2006-07 campaign. She also helped shepherd “Friday Night Lights” and “30 Rock,” two underperformers that nonetheless were getting rave reviews (and second-season renewals).
But the turmoil created by then-boss Kevin Reilly’s unexpected exit almost resulted in Pope’s premature departure from the Peacock. Ultimately, cooler heads prevailed, and NBC ended up promoting the 34-year-old Pope to what she’s long called her “dream job”: president of NBC’s studio arm.
The new gig caps a stunning, rapid rise for Pope, who until January 2000 wasn’t even in the network entertainment biz. She was in New York, working in TV news at both ABC and NBC. “I was in news because I felt guilty about going into entertainment,” she says. “I felt I had to do something a little loftier.”
Hollywood’s pull ultimately got to Pope, who says she wanted a job that revolved around her passion. “I did the gossip test, which is asking yourself what do you find yourself talking about when you’re sitting down with friends,” says the exec, who admits to being able “to watch any episode of ‘Friends’ anywhere, anytime.”
Perhaps because she’s not a TV vet, Pope hasn’t quite figured out how to play the Hollywood game of taking credit for other people’s work. While she doesn’t argue that she played a big part in guiding “Heroes” on the air, she makes it clear that her job is that of booster, not auteur.
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned in the past year is to believe in people who have vision and passion, because that will always sort of trump everything else,” she says. “The people who really take a stand and go with their guts and believe in a pure vision — that’s what this business is all about.”
Vocation: “I compare it to being a book editor. You help a writer achieve their vision, you hold their hand and support them. You’re a friend, therapist, a pain in the butt.”
Recent breakthrough: “Getting the job I moved out to L.A. to get. That’s pretty incredible.”
Role model: “Peter Roth (president of WBTV). He’s a brilliant studio head and has been a great mentor to me.”
Career mantra: “Be honest. Go with your gut. Believe in people with vision, and try to have fun.”
What’s next: “Try not to mess up in my dream job.”