When the intl. Academy hands Sophie Turner Laing its 2018 Directorate Award in November, it will recognize an executive who has worked her way up from the ground floor to become one of the most important figures in global TV.
She has been focused on the potential sale of Endemol Shine, but with 21st Century Fox and Apollo deciding to hold onto their asset, she will double down on the day-to-day business of running one of the world’s largest international content companies — one that counts “MasterChef” and “Black Mirror” among its hit shows.
As with many high-flying U.K.-based executives, Turner Laing served a stint at the BBC, but her first job in TV was in the late 1980s, working for Jim Henson. “When one has the opportunity to go and work for Kermit the Frog that sounds like more fun than going to work for anyone else,” she says.
When Henson went to Disney, Turner Laing peeled off and became one of the founders of Hit Entertainment with Peter Orton. She admits to some heart-in-mouth moments as Hit evolved from startup to the go-to company for high-end kids’ fare. The kids’ business is, she says, great for teaching brand awareness — lessons that can now be applied to brands such as “Big Brother.” Post-Hit, she went to the BBC as a buyer, going on to serve a stint as acting director of television.
She says she loved the BBC, but with a hard-nosed commercial background it was perhaps inevitable she would move on from the pubcaster. That move took her to Sky, getting its original content moves underway and launching the Sky Atlantic channel with HBO programming. “Sky works at pace and I like that … it suited me character-wise,” she says.
The next challenge was possibly the biggest in Turner Laing’s career: overseeing the merger of two major production and distribution groups, Endemol and Shine.
“Very few people get the opportunity or challenge of merging on this scale across so many countries so many time zones so many different languages,” she says.
Having worked in the upper echelons of commercial TV and public broadcasting, her legacy is secure, and there are likely several chapters still to be written.