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If you’ve watched any television over the past decade, chances are you’ve seen something Brett King had a hand in creating. From music videos to sitcoms to dramas, King’s experience covers the gamut.
Today, as vice president of current programs for Paramount Network Television, a division of the Paramount Television Group Viacom Inc., King oversees the production of five television shows: JAG (CBS), Viper, Lateline (NBC), The Sentinel and HITZ (UPN). His days are packed with reviewing scripts, attending rehearsals and tapings, watching rough cuts and conducting meetings. Ultimately, the 38-year-old King is responsible for steering each show along its creative path. And creativity is something King knows all about.
In 1981, armed with a B.F.A. in television and film from Penn State, King headed to New York and worked as a production assistant for WNYCTV, the Big Apple’s municipal station. “I found standard television difficult to break into,” explains the Pittsburgh native. While searching for his niche. King attended an exhibition of Nam June Paik, the Korean artist who pioneered video art. Inspired by Paik’s concepts, King dove headfirst into the burgeoning East Village art revolution.
In addition to working for the Kitchen Center–a performing arts complex that explored post-modern art–King, an inveterate music lover, ventured into the magnetic music and club scene. Soon, amidst the explosion of hip-hop, he was spinning vinyl at some of New York’s hottest night spots. “Being a part of that scene was the most significant event in my life,” reflects King. “Hip-hop gave voice to black thought and concerns on a popular canvas of the magnitude that had never before existed.” It also shaped the broader perspective King brought to television.
In 1986, King became production coordinator for the Saturday Night Live film unit and by the end of the season held the post of unit producer. He spent the next three years learning to mimic every style of production on the planet. In 1990, he then formed the production arm of Lost Planet Productions.
While producing music videos, network and MTV promos for Lost Planet, King received a call from an executive at Quincy Jones Entertainment. “Jones wanted to produce television, but wanted fresh, non-Hollywood voices. The first time we met, we spent hours discussing hip-hop and beloop. I found my long-lost uncle,” recalls King, who quickly packed up and headed for Hollywood.
While at Quincy Jones Entertainment, King took the reins of Fresh Prince of Bel Air as director of television development in 1991.
His follow-up act was test-launching Vibe magazine. As the executive consultant, he assisted with everything from hiring editors and selecting stories to designating covers and implementing marketing strategies. In 1993, King moved to Twentieth Century Fox Television as director of current programming. Under his charge were award-winning, critically acclaimed shows such as Picket Fences, Chicago Hope, South Central and In Living Color.
By the fall of 1996, King was at Paramount. This season his five shows will cost more than $100 million to produce. Paramount, in turn, will sell each show for a licensing