Karen Horne is Senior Vice President, Programming Talent Development and Inclusion for NBC Entertainment and Universal Television Studios.
Horne is responsible for overseeing in-front-of and behind-the-camera primetime diversity efforts for NBC and Universal Television. NBC’s Writers on the Verge Program, the Emerging Directors Program, StandUp NBC, a nationwide talent search, NBC’s Late Night Writers Workshop and the NBCUniversal Short Film Festival are among the many programs she heads while also overseeing NBC’s Diversity Staffing Initiative and working with the creative programming team to identify diverse development. Horne also worked at HBO in Los Angeles as a co-producer for the Emmy Award-winning animated series Spawn.
Prior to her role at NBC, she was the Director, Creative Affairs, at IDT Animation in Burbank, and designed, implemented and oversaw Nickelodeon’s Writer Fellowship Program. Horne also served as the Director, Writer Development & Special Projects (as well as Studio Liaison) for the Walt Disney Studios Fellowship Program at Walt Disney Network Television, and was the West Coast Director for the Black Filmmaker Foundation in Los Angeles.
HBR had the opportunity to chat with Ms. Horne about how she got her start in entertainment, the art of good story-telling, and some of her greatest inspirations.
IN THE BEGINNING…
When did you know what you really wanted to do for a living?
I knew that I wanted to work in this industry when I was 12 years old. My sister, who is six years older than me, took a class in high school about television and [as an assignment] she had to come home and determine how many cameras were being used in a multi-camera sitcom. Inspired by her high school assignment, I started watching television differently from that point on.
I didn’t know a lot about the industry [at the time] but I thought that I wanted to be Barbara Walters. I wanted to be an on-camera journalist and then I got a job working at ABC [TV] my senior year at college and [I] met Barbara Walters. Then I met her boss, who was much more powerful than her and I wanted to know what he did. That’s where I learned about the office that I now sit.
What is the best advice that you received?
That advice may have come from my husband, who also works in this industry. He told me to not take things personally and to just follow my passion and gut, but to not take things personally.
This is an industry where from acting to being a creative executive, your opinions and thoughts are challenged on a daily basis. If you know that we are all working for the greater good and that we have the same common goal — which is to create great product and to not take it personally [when we don’t — you will probably last a lot longer in this industry and come out of it a little bit less scathed.
What was the worst advice that you received?
[That was from] someone telling me that I needed to know exactly what I wanted to do early on in my career. Because I always say to people that, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Example, the job that I am in now, I didn’t know that something like this [job] even existed. In fact, when I started in this career there wasn’t a job [Talent Development and Inclusion] like that.
Now, if I had blinders on that made me focus on just being an on-air journalist then I would have never worked at ABC Sports or in the different areas that I worked in, and I think, knowing that “you don’t know, what you don’t know” helps you explore more and [helps you] to find out what you are really good at and what’s really good for you.
THE ART OF STORYTELLING…
What is the core of good storytelling?
I think there are three things: 1) character, 2) character and 3) character. Whatever you watch, you watch because you love the character, you love how the character is drawn, you love how the character is shaped. I have a playbill on my desk right now of HAMILTON (which I’ve been lucky enough to see twice) and Hamilton is a historical figure who would probably bore you to death if you had to read about him in a history book but when he’s written the way that Lin-Manuel Miranda saw him and wrote him, he’s fascinating. [Again] It’s character and their relationship with other people. We watch television because we like the characters that we are watching.
When you look at the show “This is Us” which is tremendously successful for us, knock wood, this year, it’s all about character and people are loving it because it makes you feel something and you care about these people.
Whose work has influenced you and why?
I am a creative executive and I know this might sound corny but I look at the person that I worked with the longest and who taught me how to be an executive, and how to treat other people. And that’s Bob Iger who is now the Chief Executive Officer of Disney. I worked for him when he was a Vice President at ABC Sports to when he was President of ABC Entertainment He treated everybody equally and the same. He showed me that you can be really successful and still be a good person and not treat people poorly. It goes in sync with who I am as a person, to treat people how you want to be treated. I feel like I want to make sure that I help to develop and grow those around me whether they are in my department, people that work for me, or the writers, actors and directors who come from my programs. I want to see their success. I know that their success is [also] my success.
Who are Your Style icons?
I am not a label person. I look at the way people dress that I like. There are certain labels that, of course, I love and it’s those that are classic and timeless like Armani, Donna Karan and Prada. I look at how Donna Langley, Chairman of Universal Pictures and Jennifer Salke, President, Primetime Entertainment, whose my boss, here, and I look at how they dress and I feel like it’s modern, professional and timeless. On the talent side, I look at Kerry Washington and her character, Olivia Pope, anyone who wears timeless and classic pieces. I also like Jennifer Lopez’s style. If I had a body like that I would be wearing those style choices in the frozen section of my grocery store. I Think she’s awesome.
Finish this sentence… What I love about being an African-American [African] woman is…?
Our strength and our resilience. You can’t stop us. We are mothers. We are providers. My mother was a single mom and she was the mom, dad and everything in our household. I think we are strong and you can’t throw any curve balls at us because we see them coming. There’s nothing that we have not seen and that we have not overcome. Look at who our ancestors were? Look at Rosie Parks; from Rosa, to Maya [Angelou] to Harriet [Tubman] to Sojourner [Truth], we’ve paved the way. There is nothing we can’t do.