Maggie Murphy is the Head of Shaftesbury U.S. and focused on development for the U.S., Canadian and international markets. Shaftesbury US has a dozen projects currently in development with projects set up at the major networks in the U.S., Canada, as well as the one-hour drama Houdini & Doyle, picked up to series for ITV in London, FOX in the U.S., and SHAW in Canada – with David Shore, the creator of House. With more than twenty years’ experience in television development and production, Maggie Murphy most recently served as Senior Vice President of Development for Cookie Jar Entertainment. Prior to that, she served as President of Kiefer Sutherland’s Eastside Entertainment, part of 20th Century Fox, where she oversaw the development of comedy and drama for television, film and digital media and brokered deals for property acquisition and Emmy award-winning writer Michael Caleo (The Sopranos) and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lucinda Franks, among others. Before that, Murphy served as Senior Vice President of Drama Development for UPN/CW. She also supervised creation, from inception to series, of a variety of shows including Veronica Mars. During this period, she developed the USA Networks hit In Plain Sight with Mary McCormick and helped develop shows with Sex and The City executive producer Darren Star, Black Hawk Down director Simon West, Vampire Diaries writer Kevin Williamson and Academy Award winner Diablo Cody, (Juno). Before CW, Murphy served as Senior Vice President during the inception of Regency TV. During her six-year tenure there, she helped create and develop top-rated series including Roswell, Bernie Mac, and Malcolm in the Middle. Murphy also worked in development early in her career at 20th Century Fox where she was involved in the development of X-Files and The Simpsons. Maggie Murphy also served as Development Executive for David Kelley, developed Ally McBeal, The Practice and Chicago Hope. She is also an associate professor at UCLA in the graduate TV Film and Digital department.
Tara Karajica caught up with her at this year’s Sarajevo Film Festival.
How did you get into TV?
Maggie Murphy: I began as an actress and studied theater, directing, acting, etc. I worked professionally steadily for five years and decided to move to L.A. I then chose to transition into TV Development. I worked at major studios, production companies, a major Network, as Executive Producer, Digital and then transitioned into bringing my projects into the International market for TV co-treaties and co-productions.
You have served as President of different studios, production companies, etc. Can you talk about these experiences?
M.M.: I worked as Head of Shaftesbury in the U.S. developing projects and selling them in the United States as well as around the world. I ran Studios/Production Companies/Networks Creative Development. The project was always the real boss and my real passion. It was exciting bringing projects that I thought could make a difference into the world… That difference could be just to make people laugh, to scare them or to really make a social commentary or impact and never in an obvious way. I was so fortunate to have worked with and for many, many, many wonderful creative geniuses from David Shore to Howard Gordon to Ron Moore to Brian Fuller to Todd Holland… I could go on and on and on.
You also supervised the creation from inception to series a wide variety of shows. What was that like? What are your fondest memories from these TV series?
M.M.: There are so, so many shows. All the shows I have done started as “babies” as I call them. Whether it is from a book I read like Roswell, or an idea I was pitched like Houdini & Doyle or a script I received like Veronica Mars or sitting in a room with a writer I loved and wanted to work with as we tried to figure out a show like Bryan Fuller with Wonderfalls. I have so many wonderful memories. There is nothing like having absolutely nothing to seeing your baby begin shooting on that first day!
Has anything changed in that in the last 20 years?
M.M.: It is still about the story and the content, just the delivery platforms are different. So much has changed and yet not so much.
It is the Golden Age of TV now. Would you agree with that?
M.M.: Weren’t the ‘90s a good time for TV series as well? It is amazing right now. 450 series on in the United States alone. The ‘90s were amazing as well. I feel in the ‘90s writers/creatives were pretty much left alone to create their vision. That changed, other business and voices came in and creativity stifled. Now, again, writers/creatives are coming into power and the shows reflect it. So exciting!
Did you have to fight for a TV series you believed in?
M.M.: Everyone of them!
What is your favorite TV series you helped create?
M.M.: All of them!
And your favorite TV series in general?
M.M.: So many!
Do you binge-watch?
M.M.: Yes, I do… Always on planes as I travel so, so much. I love it!
What does it take for a TV series to be a hit?
M.M.: If I knew that’s all I would make! It is really kind of magic…
What do you think of the revivals?
M.M.: I love Veronica Mars as it actually is like a sequel… It just takes up where we left off and we would be ten years later.
And what is your opinion on the new streaming platforms that also develop their own TV series?
M.M.: I love it! The more content the better. Some of their business plans, however, are challenging.
There has been a lot of talk about women in film and TV for the past almost two years. What is your take on that? How is it in TV?
M.M.: It has been and still is challenging being a woman in leadership roles in this business and most businesses. Yes, things are changing recently, but it’s till a challenge.
Are you planning on developing a female-driven show made by women for women? Or creating your own?
M.M.: Yes! As a woman, I always bring that to the table. I am developing a project currently that could fit that bill. I still always believe “the play is the thing” and I will always serve the vision whether it is female, male, trans, gay, bi, white, black, Asian…etc. However, I always have and always will fight for more women in front and behind the camera. We are getting there… Slowly, but surely!
Can you talk about your work as professor?
M.M.: I love giving back and teaching. It is just inspiring to me to give back and see the heart and soul of the artists coming up. It is an honor and so humbling.
Who is your favorite female filmmaker and someone you would love to work with on a TV series?
M.M.: Oh my God! So, so many. Michelle MacLaren – I would love to work with her again. We gave her one of her first directing gigs on my show John Doe. I would love to work with Mimi Leder again, Melissa Rosenberg (Jessica Jones) again as well as Katie Ford – again and I currently am… Carolyn Strauss (Game of Thrones) –again. The list goes on and on. I have been fortunate to work with them all, but would love a repeat.
TV series are becoming more and more popular at film festivals and receiving more and more space be in screenings or in development or work-in-progress sessions or workshops. What do you make of that?
M.M.: I love the incubation…
What are you working on now?
M.M.: A handful of passion projects and co-productions. Promoting babies…
This interview was conducted at the 2019 Sarajevo Film Festival.