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New Shine Boss Rich Ross Finds Life After Disney

Exec shifts from buyer to seller in his new role as CEO of Elisabeth Murdoch’s U.S. division

Six months and a dozen shows later, Rich Ross is settling in comfortably to his role as CEO of Shine America.

The company has stepped up unscripted development after reorganizing its exec deck and creating two new labels, Ardaban and Shine Latino, to focus on reality niches.

Ross came to Shine in January to reinvent himself as a TV exec after a rocky two-and-a-half-year tenure as head of Disney’s motion picture group. He has a long and impressive resume as a TV programmer — having built Disney Channels Worldwide into the juggernaut it is today and being part of the early exec teams at FX and Nickelodeon — but he’d always been the on the buying side. At Shine, he’s shifted to the role of seller.

Ross was handpicked for the job by his longtime friend (and former FX colleague) Elisabeth Murdoch, who runs the Shine Group as an autonomous unit of News Corp. Shine America is designed to be one of the sturdiest production-distribution spokes in the Shine-branded global wheel, with each outpost designed to act locally (selling shows in its own territories) and think globally (by sharing formats with sibling companies).

Among the unscripted projects Shine America has sold in recent months is treasure-hunt series “The Big Deal” at TNT, based on a Shine Australia property; “Covert Kitchens With Graham Elliot” at Spike TV, “Beat the House” at HGTV, “Forage Wars” at Nat Geo Channel and “Going Wild” at Nat Geo Wild. “MasterChef Junior,” another Oz import, recently landed at Fox, which has renewed the “MasterChef” mothership for another two seasons.

Scripted programming is also a consideration for the company — it recently landed a series order from FX for drama “The Bridge” — but reality is its bread and butter. Shine America’s offices, on Ivar Avenue just off Hollywood Boulevard, are abuzz with producers and youthful execs brainstorming concepts and honing pitches for skeins in two languages, given the focus on growing the brand’s Spanish-lingo production activity.

“Rich helped us say, ‘Here are the goals we need to hit, and here are the time frames we need to hit them in,’ ” said Eden Gaha, prez of Shine America, who has been at the production company since its Reveille days.

Ross also has issued marching orders to be on the lookout for documentaries.

“We had to be responsive to the marketplace, and one of those things that the company hadn’t done was move aggressively into docuseries,” Ross said. “It’s what people were asking for.” Ross said deep-pocketed networks such as TNT and USA, which hadn’t been targeting docus, now are. “It brought players into the marketplace that were excited to get to talk to us,” he said.

Recent additions to the unscripted team at Shine have bolstered the shingle’s development efforts. Flying under Gaha, now, are exec veep Paul Franklin and senior veep of unscripted development Chris Culvenor, both of whom arrive at Shine from the org’s Australia arm. Kate Shepherd, who hails from the U.K., joined the company as vice prez of unscripted development and is tasked with spotting projects that could migrate Stateside.

Even as Shine explores development in the area of character-driven docuseries, though, the shingle keeps an eye out for exportable formats, like gameshows.

“You’re always in a situation where a cable net is looking for a format that is repeatable, (with) characters that can be the face of the network,” said Chachi Senior, CEO of the Ardaban unit, which focuses on gameshows and competition formats. “We’ve slammed the two (genres) together.”

Even with recent sales to multiple nets, the Shine execs are aware of the challenges within today’s reality space. Profit margins continue to get squeezed, Ross noted.

“On one hand, we have a great opportunity to make a ton of TV with all of the networks and slots, but it’s tough for the viewer to find the programming,” Ross explained. “The margins are more complicated to handle. Everyone is doing more work to make the same money.”

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