Don Wildmon, host of Travel Channel’s Mysteries at the Museum, on an Egyptian trek
Chefs Robert Irvine and Anne Burrell, hosts of Food Network’s Worst Cooks in America
Maria Silver may be a native of the U.K., but life in New York and a career in television have given Optomen USA's president a strong feel for what American audiences want, particularly when it comes to history and cooking shows.
Silver oversees a robust production slate that includes Mysteries at the Museum (Travel Channel), Worst Cooks in America (Food Network), When Sharks Attack (NatGeo) and others, accounting for more than 175 hours of programming a year.
One of the few women to head a large production company, Silver credits her career rise to the women who hired and mentored her along the way.
"For the past 20 years, I've always worked for women," says Silver, who now holds dual British–U.S. citizenship. "All3 Media, which owns Optomen, is run by [CEO] Jane Turton. Pat Llewellyn ran Optomen, and my predecessor and [Beth Hoppe] was a woman. So I'm used to women being at the top level."
Even so, she acknowledges that television is a tough industry, still largely run by men. And for women in production jobs who can't travel for work or stay late because of their young children, it can be difficult to get promotions.
"It's hard," she says. "I put off having a child until late because of my career."
Prior to running Optomen USA, Silver managed production at sister company One Potato Two Potato Productions, an Optomen partnership with Gordon Ramsay. In that role, she oversaw Best New Restaurant (Bravo) and Hotel Hell (Fox). Before that, she was the production executive for BBC Production in New York.
Silver explains that Optomen's New York office takes U.K. formats and remakes them for U.S. audiences. Its newest import, Employable Me (A&E), is an inspiring look at people with neurodiverse conditions like autism and OCD as they search for meaningful jobs.
This spring, Silver hired Elwin de Groot (Fox's The Four) as senior vice-president of entertainment. At Optomen's new Los Angeles office, he concentrates on large entertainment and game show formats for broadcast and over-the-top platforms.
Optomen is seeking new opportunities in a world where broadcast cable networks compete with streaming services for viewer attention.
"We've been focused on the cable business, which is strong and good," Silver says. "Now we want to take a swing at entertainment-type shows, which we don't have on our résumé here. It's getting harder and harder to sell new shows, and people are a little scared at the moment. But I think there's room for everyone."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, issue No. 11, 2018