Universal Television’s Erin Underhill at the TV Drama Festival


Wrapping up day one of the TV Drama Festival, Erin Underhill, the president of Universal Television, discussed the strengths of the unit, which produces the Law & Order, One Chicago and FBI-branded series, among a raft of other broadcast, cable and streaming hits.

“My vision for producing programming at Universal are shows that have broad appeal, are culturally relevant and resonate and entertain a global audience because we are entertaining a global audience with our TV shows, whether they’re on linear or nonlinear,” said Underhill in her keynote conversation with World Screen’s Anna Carugati that you can watch here. “The vision is to continue to work with the best creators out there and tell diverse, compelling stories for a global audience.”

Universal Television serves sister outlets NBC and Peacock and a raft of third-party clients. “It’s a portfolio approach. It’s about taking the idea and finding the right home. We approach it from a holistic point of view and look for that match where you see the eyes light up when you’re pitching something to the buyer. They understand the DNA of the show, they’re going to support it, and they’re going to grow that show. We want something to go on for multiple seasons because the building of the library is so vital. Of our 40-plus current series right now, about half are on NBC and Peacock. It’s about balance.”

Underhill still sees “fundamental” differences in linear versus streaming shows, but “the lines are blurring.” She continued, “There’s no doubt that procedurals and closed-ended stories work great on linear. At the same time, New Amsterdam [an NBC series streaming on Netflix] is a little bit of a hybrid. It has those character arcs, but it has closed-ended stories. It’s interesting to see how successful the linear shows have been on nonlinear. But still, to this day, those serialized bingeable shows thrive on the streaming platforms more so than the linear.”

Underhill then discussed the value of Dick Wolf’s prolific stable of hit shows. “These are huge fan favorites every week. The crossover events, in particular, are so well received by the audience. Who doesn’t want to see Stabler and Benson together? The highest-rated episodes of a season tend to be those crossover episodes. Beyond the incredible stats that I could sit here and rattle off, it’s the value the Wolf shows bring to our library. Also showing the entertainment community that Universal is a home where we can produce 22 episodes times how many series year after year. In some ways, that is becoming a lost art. We can do it with our partners at Wolf Films and on other shows as well.”

Carugati asked Underhill about the role of data in decision-making. “We look at it; we utilize it to inform some trends that you’re seeing with the audience or whitespace that might be out there that we wouldn’t know if we didn’t have our research team doing these deeper dives. But ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s still instinct and gut. The decision-making is made ultimately with the producers and the creative executives. Data is great, but there’s a time and place for it. And then you have to just go with the passion.”