Julia Roberts in the limited series Gaslit, a Universal Content Production for Starz
Back in college, Beatrice Springborn never envisioned a career in Hollywood.
"No! I was always going to be a newspaper journalist," Springborn says emphatically. Her first job after college was at Texas Monthly and later, she scored an intern position at CNN. But then the winds of fate blew her in an entirely different direction.
Now, as president of both Universal Content Productions and Universal International Studios, Springborn has reached a rarified position in the industry, one in which she oversees an award-winning slate of programming and is tasked both with bolstering in-house production and, with her new duties at UIS, building out a larger international presence.
As if that weren't enough, she's also heavily involved in the constant search for new, compelling projects to bring to television audiences. For her, a lot of that work begins with reading books — tons of them. "I'm always looking for great books to adapt," she says. "That is the fun part."
Boot camp for her career began at Pixar Studios, where Springborn was hired as a development executive. She worked on films like Ratatouille and, along the way, "was able to become familiar with all of these amazing writers. It was the best of the best environments in which to learn."
She eventually left for graduate school at UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television. "That was my second boot camp," she notes. More production jobs followed.
By the time she landed at Hulu, Springborn was versed in all aspects of television production, sales and development. In her six years at the streaming platform, she moved from a v.p. position to head of originals, overseeing comedy and drama development, coproductions and casting; she helped foster such hits as The Handmaid's Tale (based on the Margaret Atwood novel), Little Fires Everywhere (adapted from Celeste Ng's novel) and Normal People (from Sally Rooney's bestseller).
Springborn and her team are always looking for certain kinds of properties — be they dramas, comedies, soaps or unscripted. But when a project gets the greenlight, she explains, that decision can often be traced to the passion of its creator. "If a show creator believes in a project enough to spend twelve to eighteen months working on it, that kind of belief often wins the day."
For example, she points to Gaslit, the new Starz limited series that features Julia Roberts as Martha Mitchell. "It's about Watergate, and at first you think, 'We've already seen so many shows about Watergate.' But this is a story we've never seen before. It came from two writers we'd not heard about, and it's a unique take on the whole Watergate scandal."
Springborn approaches her job with tireless curiosity, especially when her research involves cultures and environments with which she's unfamiliar. "I look for that curiosity in other executives as well," she notes. As president of two companies, she relies on a strong stable of production companies, among them Matchbox Pictures, Carnival Films, Tony Ayres Productions, Working Title Television and Monkey.
Because she and her team are constantly scouting new talent and new projects, Springborn feels they "are actually value added" for creators. "It's one thing to be an executive and give notes on a script; it's another to be an executive who's introducing you to new writers, or a director we love or a new book you may not have heard about. The executives I work with are not there to just service a project, but to also bring some value with the variety of relationships we have."
Thanks in part to the rise of streaming, the audience's appetite for foreign programming is growing — especially in the U.S. Springborn cites a recent first-look deal UIS inked with Quoc Dang Tran — a French-Vietnamese writer working in Paris whose projects include Call My Agent! and Parallèles. "The quality of his writing is amazing," she says.
What will be the TV blockbuster of tomorrow? No one knows, but this exec and her team are committed to finding it — whether it comes from a book, a podcast or the back of a napkin. Says Springborn: "I'm always looking for the project that speaks to something outside my experience."
NEW FROM U
Among her many duties as president of UCP and UIS, Beatrice Springborn is charged with building the studio's slate of hits. Here are just two upcoming projects:
• Apples Never Fall: Adapted from Liane Moriarty's novel, this limited series — to stream on Peacock — centers on the Delaneys, who from the outside appear to be a perfect family. But when the mother, Joy, disappears, her grown children reexamine their parents' marriage and the family history. Melanie Marnich will adapt the book and serve as executive producer and showrunner. David Heyman will executive-produce via Heyday Television. Moriarty is also an executive producer, along with Albert Page and Jillian Share.
• The Family Chao: In this modern retelling of Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov (based on the novel by Lan Samantha Chang), a mysterious death in a family-owned Chinese restaurant reunites three brothers who must come to terms with secrets and simmering resentments. Sam Esmail, Chad Hamilton and Chang are attached as executive producers, along with Eli Kirschner as coexecutive producer. At press time, a writer was to be brought on to adapt the novel, and the series had not yet been sold. —K.O.
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #7, 2022, under the title, "Between the Lines."