Exclusive: Beers, Conroy, Bernard unleash BoBCat

Original Productions' founder Thom Beers (pictured) is reuniting with former Original president and EP Jeff Conroy, and teaming up with digital media exec Sarah Bernard to create a multi-platform prodco, realscreen can reveal.
June 8, 2016

Original Productions’ founder Thom Beers (pictured) is reuniting with former Original president and executive producer Jeff Conroy, and teaming up with former Huffington Post and AOL exec Sarah Bernard to create a multi-platform production company, realscreen can reveal.

The prodco, named BoBCat, intends to, as Conroy puts it, “partner in a way where we can still tell stories but do it for whichever platform makes the most sense.” The company’s philosophy will put the focus on being platform agnostic, and approaching every new project through a multi-platform lens.

“You hear all the time about the two worlds coming together, but it can sometimes be awkward for digital players to jump to TV and for TV storytellers to program for digital platforms,” says Bernard, who most recently served as The White House’s deputy director for digital strategy. “So we thought it would make sense to put it together from the start, be very agnostic about where an idea can live, and find the best audience for it.”

Beers is returning to the production fold after his most recent post as CEO of Original Productions’ parent company FremantleMedia North America, a position he took on in September of 2012. He left the post in the spring of 2015.

Jeff Conroy (photo by Rahoul Ghose)

Jeff Conroy

Conroy left Original Productions after close to 15 years in late 2015.

For his part, Beers, who will be honored at a fundraising event in Santa Monica for the Saban Community Clinic this evening, says he’s excited to be “back in the trenches” and working more closely on the creative aspects of the production process than he had in years. While the team says it is still to early to discuss projects underway or potential broadcast and digital partners, it maintains that while there is opportunity for BoBCat to work within what Conroy calls Original’s “sweet spot” – the testosterone-fuelled programming that has spawned multiple hits such as Discovery’s Deadliest Catch and History’s Ice Road Truckers – it wants to broaden its range, partly out of necessity for doing business in a multi-platform content environment, and partly for the creative challenges inherent in doing so.

“We will continue to make big, mainstream television series – we probably have 20 of those in our development slate,” says Beers. “But in this world of fragmented niche audiences, it doesn’t always have to be the big budget stuff. We’ve got relationships with a lot of young filmmakers now, we’re mentoring, and we really want to work within the parameters of new budgets now.”

Sarah Bernard

Sarah Bernard

Conroy notes that with Bernard’s background as the first general manager for the Huffington Post and the VP and general manager of AOL’s first line extension, AOL for Small Business, the new company recognizes that “there’s something about the start-up mentality that I think the production world could really use. You need to be able to adapt.”

The venture is currently self-financed and the team has built a development slate to make the rounds with. Having founded Original in 1997, Beers sold a majority stake of the company to FremantleMedia in 2009. While myriad financing opportunities are probably available for a venture of this pedigree, Beers says the onus at present is on establishing BoBCat’s creative voice and doing it without interference.

“We did think about possibilities of working with broadcasters or cable companies and giving them first look, but that didn’t make sense for us right now, as there’s a lot of stuff we want to do,” he says. “We have been very successful in the past, so if anything, we’re looking to make programs we want to make and at the same time find relationships with those broadcasters and new broadcasters who allow us to do so.

“We want to control the whole aspects of the entire product, or have some creative input with them, as opposed to having people bolt stuff on,” he adds.

Conroy says the prodco’s first efforts should be out in the world by fall. In the meantime, the team is now putting the word out, and as Beers puts it, “getting our hands dirty again.”

“The doors are open,” offers Beers.

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