When asked what made him want to be a producer of socially conscious programming, David McKenzie, president of Associated Television International, has an immediate response: his daughter.
‘If you watch children’s programming you become concerned and you say to yourself, ‘What would I like her to watch? What can I sit and watch with her that will make an impression on her?” This thought lead McKenzie and his company to make an effort to create what he calls ‘important shows.’
As a syndicator for nearly 40 years, ATI is in the enviable position of being able to get nearly anything it creates on television, says McKenzie. But he feels that this comes with a responsibility. The company had donated its services to charities in the past, but McKenzie felt they could do more. ‘Now we do about six to 10 major projects every year that really speak to important topics that people should be concerned with. We try to garner a large audience and work it so we either syndicate it on a national basis or we get one of the networks we work with to carry it.’
ATI works with networks from ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC to USA Network, E!, Spike TV and TLC, and as for their socially conscious fare, CW Network opted to carry the two specials they created last year: America’s Invisible Children and Who’s Who of World Giving. Both programs were nominated for Emmys and America’s Invisible Children (a Joan Lunden-hosted look at the plight of homeless children in America) won the Emmy for best television special.
McKenzie says that recognition from the Academy helps them to convince networks to run these types of shows. ‘Is it easy to place this sort of programming? Absolutely not,’ he says. ‘It’s really tough. It’s a firefight. Sometimes they just don’t think it’s commercial. However, in the environment that we’re in currently, and seeing the track record of what we’ve been doing over the last few years, that’s just not true.’
McKenzie knows this not only from the ratings, but also from audience response. For each program ATI makes about a social issue, it also creates a website to go with it where viewers can send feedback. The prodco has had to increase the capabilities of its websites to meet the demands of viewers, who flock to them after each airing.