“The mission of the Foundation is to engage current and future TV executives and content creators to tell stories that reflect our culture by engaging diverse voices and talents.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Madeline Di Nonno, chair of the Television Academy Foundation and CEO of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. The Foundation is the charitable arm of the Television Academy and under Madeline’s direction is expanding its mission to identify, educate and advance an inclusive group of “next-generation” television professionals. Its annual Internship Program is focused on increasing opportunities for college students with diverse backgrounds, and has launched many successful television careers since its inception in 1980. Madeline is an entertainment industry veteran and we spoke about the importance of securing internships when pursuing a career in media — — internships helped launch her own impressive career.
Thank you so much for doing this with us. Can you give me a brief history of your career in the entertainment industry?
Prior to my current positions as Chair of the Television Academy Foundation and CEO of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, I served in many executive leadership positions in the entertainment, nonprofit, digital and consumer packaged goods industries, such as companies like Universal Studios Home Entertainment, Hallmark Channel, Nielsen Entertainment, Lancôme Cosmetics and the ABC Television Network.
I am a frequent speaker at many events and conferences for organizations such as Cannes Lion, Ad Week, CES, The White House, U.S. Department of State, UNESCO, and the United Nations.
Why are internships important for young people seeking careers in the entertainment industry?
For a student, internships are a clear pathway to securing those in-demand full-time positions. When you look at the successes of the Foundation’s 1,200-plus alumni, many of them credit their internship for the careers they have now. The relationships made during internships often puts young people on a strong path, guided by professionals in the business who can help them learn, grow and connect. Relationships are important in any industry, but the entertainment industry in particular is built on relationships and talent — and if you have both, you have the potential for a very successful future in entertainment.
Tell me about the Foundation’s Internship program.
The Foundation’s Internship Program is one of the most direct opportunities to enter into the industry. It provides 50 paid summer internships, in more than 30 entertainment professions, at major studios and production companies and is open to college students nationwide. It has launched many successful careers in television since its inception in 1980.
Students from across the country apply for positions in categories of their choice such as development, scriptwriting, public relations, directing, editing, etc. Television Academy members review the applications, and select the finalists. The host companies make the final selections. This year, we had over 1,800 applicants for 50 internship spots.
Our 2018 interns start at their host companies in June. The program culminates with our annual ‘Summer Networking Soiree’ on July 26 where this year’s intern class will convene and network with members of the Television Academy, the Television Academy Foundation board, and Foundation alumni. Student interns become part of the Foundation Alumni Network which provides access to year-round networking events and professional development opportunities.
Can you tell me about some of the students who have been selected for the 2018 Internship program?
Of the 50 students participating in the 2018 Internship Program 76% are female and 50% are ethnically diverse. We have three international students, one from China, Turkey and Columbia and a military veteran in the group. Some of the schools represented are the University of Florida, Kent State University, Howard University, Ohio University and the University of Southern California.
Can you tell me about some of the host companies participating in this year’s program?
We have a stellar group of host companies such as HBO, DreamWorks Animation, Shondaland, FX, Disney-ABC, Hulu and FOX’s So You Think You Can Dance and Netflix’s One Day at a Time programs and many more.
Can you tell me about some of the success stories from the Foundation’s Internship Program? Alumni who have gone on to successful careers in the industry?
There are many success stories of Internship alumni. A wonderful example: at the 2017 Emmys five nominees were former Foundation interns. And two of them won! Rachel Axler, a 2004 scriptwriting intern, is now a writer and Executive Producer on Veep and picked up her fourth career Emmy last year. And Rich Preuss, a 1996 intern in the directing category, received his first Emmy for The Oscars: All Access.
Foundation alumni include prominent writers, producers, documentarians, creative executives, local newscasters, network presidents, Emmy nominees and winners. Other intern alumni are currently working on some of television’s hottest shows, including Saturday Night Live, Dancing with the Stars, The Simpsons, The Fosters, and Orange is the New Black.
Some amazing Foundation alumni include; writer/director Gina Prince-Blythewood (Sony’s Marvel Universe’s Silver & Black), Deadline Awards Columnist and Chief Film Critic Pete Hammond, The Sopranos producer Martin Bruestle, United Talent Agency Partner Joanna Yao, FX Networks Vice President of Development Kevin Wandell, CBS Senior Vice President of Current Programming Pamela Soper, HLN’s Weekend Express anchor Lynn Smith, and Brandon Riegg, director of alternative programming at Netflix.
What other Foundation programs help aspiring students segue into careers in the entertainment industry?
Our goal with the College Television Awards is to honor the exceptional work of diverse students and leverage our platform to highlight the next generation of creators and executives in the television industry.
Each year hundreds of graduate and undergraduate students, representing colleges and universities nationwide, submit their student-produced media projects in hopes of being nominated for a College Television Award.
Designed to emulate the Emmy® nomination process, the student entries are judged by active Television Academy members. In 2018, three nominees will be chosen in each of eight categories: drama, comedy, animation, nonfiction, promotional, news, sports and variety. Then, in early 2019, top honors and awards will be presented to students by TV’s biggest stars at the ceremony held at the Academy’s Saban Media Center in North Hollywood, CA.
Students can visit our website at TelevisionAcademy.com/Foundation to find out more about our programs.
Does your position as Chief Executive Officer of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media aid in your work as Chair of the Television Academy Foundation in any way? If so, how do they intersect?
The two organizations are very complementary. In our work at the Institute we use a research based approach to driving gender equity and more intersectional portrayals on screen. The mission of the Foundation is to engage current and future TV executives and content creators to tell stories that reflect our culture by engaging diverse voices and talents.
What drives you? How is your work with the Foundation personally fulfilling?
I love the television industry and always have. I was privileged to enter the industry in my teens, through internships at ABC that led to my first full-time job after graduating from Boston University. In my work with the Foundation, it’s an honor to work with young people who are experiencing the second Golden Age for the industry. To nurture these young storytellers, and help them launch their careers, is truly fulfilling!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped you along in your career journey?
I was fortunate to have the support and guidance of my parents who both had careers. And, early on through my internships, I encountered many executives who helped me navigate and accelerate my career, even to this day.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started”
I was a very astute observer and veracious student of management practices in business. I followed many cues from executives I encountered as well as being a disciple of communication etiquette and public relations expert, the late Letitia Baldrige. I veraciously tracked careers of executives to determine how to navigate my own career. Here are my 5 professional advice tips:
1. Be polite to everyone you meet, you never know where they may land.
2. Build, maintain and nourish your professional network and contacts.
3. Do not associate your identity with your current job. You want to make sure that people will still take your calls if you’re not in a job.
4. Make sure you can rely on your integrity and reputation.
5. Always send a thank you and express your gratitude to your staff and colleagues.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and if so, why?
Jeff Bezos, because he is one of the most innovative and strategic thinkers and business leaders in the world.