WWE Studios, the content division of professional wrestling corporation WWE, has appointed former Revelations Entertainment executive Ben Zierten as vice president of unscripted production and development.
In the new role, Zierten is tasked with overseeing all of the company’s unscripted efforts, both domestically and internationally.
The hiring will enable WWE to leverage its international reach by rolling out original unscripted content alongside its wrestling programming, which currently broadcasts in more than 180 countries and 28-plus languages to reach 800 million households worldwide.
“International, local language unscripted programming feels like an absolute priority for us and that’s something we’re really focusing on in 2020,” says Susan Levison, the former CBS executive who joined WWE Studios as SVP and head in March.
Zierten will also generate ideas for factual across all genres – including documentary, formats, game shows, among others – while also taking pitches from third-party producers, bringing ideas to market and overseeing all long-form production across linear broadcast, cable and digital platforms.
In addition, Zierten will be responsible for building out WWE Studios’ unscripted production and development team as the production outfit aggressively ratchets up its output in the next six months.
Zierten reports directly into Levison.
“Ben’s just an absolute idea machine, which is so essential in this part of the business,” Levison tells Realscreen. “More importantly, his ideas are unexpected, elevated and really fun. He has great relationships around town, he knows how to physically produce content and he just felt like the perfect executive to run our own unscripted efforts.
Zierten brings a wealth of experience to WWE Studios, having developed and sold projects to ABC, CBS, Netflix, History, TLC, BET, History and more.
He joins from Revelations Entertainment, where he served as senior director of factual development with responsibility for expanding the Morgan Freeman- and Lori McCreary-led company’s portfolio across the unscripted and digital marketplaces, doubling the studio’s slate. During his two-year tenure at the company, Zierten worked on a number of hit series, including National Geographic’s The Story of God, and Lifetime’s Dance Moms, among others.
Prior to Revelations, Zierten served as a development producer at Collins Avenue and was a development manager at Discovery Studios.
WWE Studios has been increasing its presence in the unscripted television landscape, beginning with E!’s Total Divas and its spin-off Total Bellas, and USA Network’s Miz and Mrs, as well as the forthcoming Fight Like A Girl, which is produced in partnership with Critical Content for Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Quibi. More recently, the company partnered with A&E’s acclaimed ‘Biography’ strand to produce a roster of documentaries on famed wrestlers Macho Man Randy Savage, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Booker T, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels.
“Unscripted is such a liberating genre,” Levison says. “There’s a quick turnaround time generally from idea to air. It’s easy to reach a specific demo with the right unscripted series, and superstars are such fascinating people with their own interests [that] it’s really easy to create programming that’s authentic, that will resonate with our fans.
“In a world where there’s a battle for every eyeball and in which consumers have this immense choice, we feel like unscripted is a great genre to double down in and to really aggressively pursue.”