From hits like ‘90210’ to ‘One Tree Hill,’ the VP of Current Programming at the CW Network, Traci
Blackwell has helped successfully run some of America’s top watched TV shows.
Traci’s desire to help young writers and directors realize their dreams, while working to improve
the quality and diversity of the TV industry is a true testament to her success. Fortunately, I Am
Entertainment Magazine was able to take up a few minutes of Ms. Blackwell’s time to discuss her
amazing career in network television.
IAE: Can you please tell us where you’re from and what made you decide to pursue a career in
TB: I’m from Silver Spring, Maryland, and I’ve always had a love for television. I grew up a “latchkey kid,”
so I watched a lot of TV. While I was at Spelman I don’t recall knowing that I wanted to pursue a career in
entertainment until my junior year.
IAE: What was your major while you were at Spelman?
TB: My major was English with a minor in Communications. At Spelman there is no Communications
major, but in Atlanta they have the ‘Atlanta University Center’ which consists of Clark Atlanta, Morehouse, and
Spelman; this allowed me to cross-register between the schools. Clark Atlanta has a Mass Communications
program so I took all of my Communications courses there. While there, I became very fascinated with the
entertainment business. I was one of those kids whose mom said, “You are either going to get a job every
summer, or you’re going to intern, but you can’t sit at home and do nothing.” I was always working or interning
at a radio or TV station, even on Holidays. I always tell people that interning is very vital because it allows you
to figure out what things you like and don’t like. Through those experiences I found out that I wasn’t really
interested in music or radio specifically. However, I did figure out that I had a love for television, but more on
the entertainment side of the business.
IAE: How did you get your start in television?
TB: After I was done with school, I came out to Los Angeles and did all the things that probably everyone
else does; I interned, was a production assistant (PA), a personal assistant, and I also temped. In this
business, there is no “straight to the top” opportunity; everyone starts out at the bottom getting coffee and
At one point, a really good friend of mine called me up and said that she was leaving her position. At the time
she was the assistant to film director, Reggie Hudlin. I was a huge fan of Reggie’s work so I jumped at the
opportunity to interview with him. Getting that job turned the corner for me.
IAE: As the VP of Current Programming what is your primary focus?
TB: A lot of people probably don’t know what that means, and I didn’t early on in my career. When I was at
Spelman I read an article about a woman by the name of Deborah Langford, who is now a mentor of mine. At
the time she was the VP of Current Programming at Warner Brothers Television. I remember looking at the
article and thinking that she seemed like such a strong and powerful woman, and I could see myself doing that
same job. I remember reading that article and feeling empowered by it, but I didn’t think much about it until
later down the line. While working for Reggie I found my main mentor and friend, Rose Catherine Pinkney, who
at the time was Director of Current Programs at FOX. I saw her on a TV network programming panel that
Deborah Langford was moderating. Deborah had everyone go down the row and say their name, title, and
explain what they did on their job every day. When they got to Rose Catherine and she began to explain her
job, I had that “ah ha” moment. She talked about how she works with scripted material and the talent (writers,
directors, producers) in a creative capacity on a daily basis, but she still works in an office. The best thing
about Rose Catherine’s job is that it doesn’t hinge on whether or not a show gets cancelled; if a show is
dropped she just gets assigned another show. But with a job in production, if a show gets cancelled you’re
going to have to find yourself another job. Ironically, I had been trying to figure out how to merge my love for
the creative aspect of the industry with what I felt was my strong suit of the business side.
IAE: So once you realized your ideal job existed, what did you do to make that a reality for
TB: I walked up to Rose Catherine and said, “I want your job someday, will you be my mentor?” I tell the
people that I mentor to not do it this way, but at the time I didn’t know any better way. Rose Catherine kind of
laughed and said, “Okay! I’d be happy to mentor you but I’d like to keep my job.” She spent a lot of time with
me and introduced me to several key people. Rose Catherine wanted to make sure that Current Programming
was something that I was genuinely interested in, but this was definitely what I wanted to do. One day, I
received a call from Rose Catherine, who now was VP of Comedy Development at Paramount Network
Programming (now CBS Studios) and she says, “There’s an assistant job in Current Programming at UPN. You’
d be assisting two Executives and I know the guys that are hiring. I will get you an interview but you have to get
yourself the job.” I said, “Just point me in the right direction, I’ll do the rest. “ After three (3) interviews I got the
job and from there, I literally worked my way up in this company. As I’m sure you know, the UPN and WB
networks merged and became the CW (CBS-Warner). I worked in Comedy Development, Current
Programming, Drama Development, and as the assistant to the President of the UPN Network. I eventually got
promoted while I was at UPN, and then the merger happened.
IAE: In Current Programming at the CW, what’s the process you go through to get a new show
TB: In Current Programming, after the shows are developed and we’ve decided whether or not we’re
going to put them on the air, it gets sent to my department. Our Development department takes pitches for
new shows and then we buy a certain number of those ideas. Once we finish the development process, we
decide which scripts are going to be made into pilots and then we shoot them (pilots). After all of that, we
decide what we’re going to pick up to series.
There are a million things that happen before people see the final product on TV. It’s kind of like having a baby
(laughs). The best way I can describe the whole process is to say; development gets impregnated with an idea
and then the idea grows and blossoms. After that, eventually the child (show) is delivered. But the twist is that
once it’s delivered, the Development department has to give the show up for adoption to my department
(Current Programming). We have to raise, nurture, and grow the show to make sure it stays on the right track.
We get the stories, outlines, and scripts and then give our notes; we watch all the daily activities of the project
as it grows. There’s a lot of reading involved, so balancing everything is the most difficult part because the job
normally requires me to bring some of my work home. I do the majority of my reading at home after work, so
that way I can turn material around for the next day. I tell people, “If you don’t like to read, then this is not the
job for you.” My friends know that I always have a script in my bag or in my hand, and whatever little bit of free
time that I have I’m reading.
IAE: What’s the most challenging, as well as the most rewarding, part of your job at the CW?
TB: I would say that the most challenging part is the schedule and being on top of all the material. But it’s
manageable if you’re cut out for it. The second part of that is just balancing your life with work. Balancing a job
that sometimes requires you to work 7 days a week is tough when you’re trying to have a life (laughs).
The most rewarding part, by far, is helping people. In my position, there’s not a financial reward for helping
people get writer or director jobs, it’s all being enthusiastic and passionate about who you think is talented and
has a voice.
For me, the best feeling is helping someone realize their dream of doing what they want to do for the rest of
their life. Giving them that little piece of information that helps them turn the corner is exciting for me. After
speaking with a writer, director, or an aspiring executive who comes into my office and they’re feeling stressed
because they don’t know how they are going to break into the business; to have them send me an email
saying they feel 120% better, is what it’s all about. Your greatest opposition comes right before your
breakthrough, so you have to keep pushing forward. Most people think all we do is make TV shows, and in
part that is what we do, but the other part of it is that we get to employ people and potentially help their careers
by providing them with an opportunity. I think everybody has their “thing,” and mine is helping people. Also,
mentoring is a huge passion of mine. I do it a lot personally and professionally.
IAE: For the young writers out there, how do they go about being considered for writing
assignments or as a staff writer?
TB: It’s difficult to get staffed on a show without an agent, and that’s always the catch 22; if you can get
an agent that’s the best way to get your material out there.
The second way is to find a job as a writer’s assistant, producer’s assistant, or script coordinator on a show.
Many times, script coordinators and writers assistants get promoted to staff writing positions. Often times show
runners will give freelances to their writer’s assistants or script coordinator who is interested in writing.
The third way would be to get involved in a writing program. All the major networks have writing programs and
diversity writing programs available to young writers. In those programs you get a mentor and the chance to
get your material ready so you can use it as a staffing sample. Agents and literary managers frequent those
programs, so writers are sometimes able to get representation as a result. Writing programs are a great way to
kick off your career.
IAE: What projects are you currently working on, or recently finished?
TB: The shows that I’m in charge of are 90210, Vampire Diaries, Supernatural, One Tree Hill, and Life
Unexpected. I will be getting new shows soon. We recently picked up two new series called Nikita and Hellcats,
and I’m not sure which one of those shows will be added to my list.
IAE: If you could change anything about this business, what would it be and why?
TB: I would change the emphasis on fame these days. I just feel that sometimes it’s more about being
famous and not about the work. I’d like to see people getting back to caring about how good their work is and
portraying more positive images, not just seeing how famous they can be. Also, the lack o f privacy people
have now is ridiculous. We’ve become a society that cares more about the personal lives and misfortunes of
celebrities. I also wish more celebs would use the attention that they get to help people, and to shine a light on
an important cause. Some people get it, but many don’t. Honestly, why do we care so much about where a
celeb goes shopping, who’s dating who, or what dress they wore to a premiere? There are some celebrities
who do a lot of foundation and community work and it goes mostly unnoticed by the press. I just wish the media
were more interested in those stories and less about gossip.
Another thing I’d like to see is more diversification of the shows that are airing, in front of and behind the
camera. We need to make them look more like the world that’s in front of us. I wish more people would say,
‘We don’t want to do a show that is not diverse, so don’t pitch us a show that doesn’t create environments and
situations that call for it.’
|Traci Blackwell, VP of Current Programming at The CW Television Network
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