Ed Carroll ’85, the man behind the creation of some of television’s most successful programs including “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men,” and “The Walking Dead,” paid a visit to New Paltz on Thursday, March 27 as part of the college’s 2014 Distinguished Speaker Series.
Carroll, who oversees AMC Networks Inc. and all of its brands (AMC, Independent Film Channel [IFC], Sundance Channel and WE tv) as chief operating officer, is the first New Paltz alum to deliver the Distinguished Speaker Series lecture. Student seating for the event was filled to capacity, and Carroll’s compelling speech on what he calls “The ‘New’ Golden Age of Television” also drew attendees from across the New Paltz community, including faculty, staff, and local residents.
While introducing Carroll, communication and media professor and New Paltz alum Gregory Bray told a story of when Carroll visited campus in 2007. While stopping by his “old stomping grounds” – WFNP 88.7FM The Edge, the campus radio station – Carroll engaged in conversation with then-junior Lindsay Drucker, who was the program director at WFNP. He gave her his business card and invited her to connect with him, and as a result, Drucker went on to intern with IFC and eventually landed professional post-college positions with United Talent Agency, then as Lena Dunham’s assistant on the HBO series “Girls,” and currently with Central Casting in New York.
“This exchange represents the importance and vitality of our connection with alumni,” said Bray. “Our alumni open the doors to meaningful possibilities for our current students, and at the same time, remind those of us behind the desk why our mission is so important.”
Carroll took the audience back in time to the infancy of television in order to illustrate how the definition of a hit TV show has evolved over the years. In 1964, Carroll said, the top-rated show in the country was “Bonanza,” with 19 million viewers. But as a result of “audience fragmentation,” caused by a surge in the number of available TV channels (up from an average of 33 in the 1990s to 189 as of last year) and the booming popularity of streaming services like Netflix, the top-rated shows of today garner around 11 million viewers.
“What does all that mean?” Carroll asked. “The confluence of technology and fragmentation, almost by accident, has created a rush toward quality television … As television fragments, and we get into a world where 2 million, 3 million, 5 million people watching a single show makes that show a success, something very different happens.” He then displayed last year’s Emmy Award nominees for best television series, which notably did not contain a single show aired on a commercial broadcast network.
“Networks can be rewarded now more than ever for taking a chance, for breaking old formulas, for trying something new, for showing complex characters doing morally ambiguous things,” said Carroll. “You can make it very, very complicated. You don’t have to tie up every episode in a neat little package in a one-hour format. That’s been a revelation. That, I believe, saved ‘Breaking Bad’ … In a sense, at least for me, television has replaced movies in telling interesting stories, in pushing boundaries.”
And for Carroll, that means carefully selecting only the best and most unique scripts is crucial to the success of the AMC brand. Carroll is in the business of “green lighting,” the television industry term for making the creation of a show possible. As a result of his leadership, AMC has transformed into one of the most successful networks on television. Last year, “The Walking Dead” became the highest rated drama in basic cable history, and “Breaking Bad” won the 2013 Primetime Emmy Award for outstanding drama series and has been widely acclaimed by many critics as one of the greatest television dramas of all time. Carroll also helped to introduce original comedies to IFC programming, including the breakthrough hit “Portlandia.”
Prior to becoming COO in 2009, Carroll was AMC Networks’ President of Entertainment Services. He also served for seven years as general manager of IFC and Bravo, transforming Bravo from a small pay channel into a commercial network available to more than 68 million subscribers, launching hits like “Inside the Actors Studio” and “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.”
Carroll said he met his wife, Gina, while they were both students at New Paltz. He chose to attend New Paltz, he said, because of its vibrant communication and media program. He briefly worked for a public relations firm in New York City after graduation and then returned to the Hudson Valley to work for 101.5 FM WPDH. He then landed a job at AMC “by accident” when he answered an ad in the New York Times to become a publicity manager for a cable company, which eventually turned out to be AMC/Bravo.
“It’s been a good ride,” he said. “I happened to get into an industry that was seeing exponential growth. When the tide is rising, that’s a good place to be.”
About the Distinguished Speaker Series
Founded in 2008, the Distinguished Speaker Series aims to connect SUNY New Paltz alumni, students, faculty/staff and community members with highly accomplished alumni, authors, policy makers and leaders, scientists, media experts, business people and other luminaries. The Series hosts speakers twice every academic year.
SUNY New Paltz’s 2014 Distinguished Speaker Series is supported by the generosity of the following major sponsors: Bruderhof, C2G Environmental, Campus Auxiliary Services, Central Hudson, Empire State Bank, The Dorsky Family, Liberty Mutual Insurance, Mohonk Mountain House, SUNY New Paltz Foundation, Sodexo, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Viking Industries.