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Indian American Bela Bajaria joins Netflix, to lead Licensing

Updated by admin on Wednesday, October 05, 2016 11:39 PM IST

Los Angeles: A mere four months after abruptly leaving her post as president of Universal Television, Bela Bajaria is joining forces with her former
employer’s biggest rival: Netflix. The former Universal Television chief has joined Netflix as vice president of content, the digital
service announced Tuesday. Bajaria will lead Netflix’s television- and film-licensing efforts as well as co-productions with U.S.
networks. She will also be responsible for developing original unscripted programming for the service.

She is one of the highest-ranking Indian American executives in entertainment.

Netflix attempts to shift its business away from traditional licensing agreements and toward co-productions and development
partnerships. The streaming service recently entered into a number of co-production deals on U.S.-made shows that grant Netflix global rights in the same window as original broadcasters in exchange for early financing. Among these deals are “Star Trek: Discovery” with CBS, “The Alienist” with Paramount TV and ABC’s “Designated Survivor” with eOne.

Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said, “Bela is a great creative television executive with broad experience and deep industry
relationships,” Sarandos said. “Having worked closely with her on ‘Master of None’ and ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,’ we know
we have found the perfect executive to lead this new effort.”

Bajaria chipped in, “I am looking forward to joining Netflix, an innovative company that supports creative vision and fosters risk-taking. Having worked closely with Ted, Cindy and the team, I know they are great creative partners and care deeply about the experience of talent, their partners and their members. They are a dynamic group and I’m looking forward to continue building new partnerships at Netflix with amazing talent and studio and network colleagues.”

The eldest of three children, Bajaria was born in London and spent her early years in London and Zambia. Her family moved to Los
Angeles when she was eight. "My family is Indian, but my parents and their family were all born and raised in East Africa. We really
moved here for the American dream. In the late 70s, you could come to America and you could be anything."

Her parents owned carwashes, which helped her to acquire a strong work ethic and a sense of purpose. She attended Torrance High
School and graduated from Rolling Hills High School. She and her sister worked as cashiers on weekends. "I felt like I had an amazing strong family foundation, it was very rooted and very grounded.... My parents came to America, to Los Angeles, without really knowing anyone. They started a life from scratch. I felt pressure, not pressure really, but drive."

After Bela completed high school, she entered a Miss India USA pageant on the suggestion of a family friend. "I thought it would be fun to discover the India culture on my own terms, through my own identity." She won the Miss LA India contest, then became Miss India USA, and, in 1991, she was crowned Miss India Universe. "I met these Indian women from all over the world. It was so interesting and we had a similar bond." Thereafter, she spent a few years running a nonprofit organisation which helped children in poor countries.

Her dream was to work in entertainment — but not in front of the camera. "It wasn’t like I was immersed in American entertainment,
but I always liked the idea of storytelling on a big scale." She got a job at CBS in 1996 as an assistant in the movies and miniseries
department when the network was cranking out 65 made-for-TV movies a year.

"I read all of the scripts, I knew all of the executives and I read their development." She didn't know historical movie references, so she spent hours in CBS' basement videotape library, studying old films. Later, she left for Warner Bros. but within 11 weeks, CBS brought her back, offering an executive position. "You have to put yourself out there because you don’t know who is paying attention."

Bajaria was promoted by early 2002 to run CBS' entire movies and miniseries division after working on big projects, such as "Joan of Arc." That was a big break. "When you are running the department, you are managing people and I had proven myself with some
higher-profile movies." Within a few years, an industry shift was underway and fewer TV network movies were being made. She then
requested a move to CBS' production studio to develop cable shows.

When Comcast bought NBCUniversal in 2011 and installed Robert Greenblatt, a former Showtime chief, as NBC's entertainment president, and he asked Bela Bajaria to run NBC's TV studio. "He had produced Elvis, the miniseries, for me so it was Elvis who brought us together." NBC's TV studio had been gutted by the previous regime and was in rebuilding mode. "Because I like building things, this was the dream situation. It was like a start-up, coming in and getting to put a team together, and building a studio but with the backing of a large company with an impressive legacy."

Universal Television wanted to sell shows to other networks, not just NBC, but agents and producers were skeptical. Then came a show championed by Bajaria, "The Mindy Project," with a fresh take on single life starring Mindy Kaling, an Indian American. The Fox network bought it. "That became the turning point — an amazing piece of talent, a great show that was sold to another network."

"I did every job, including this one, like I was running my own family business. I like to say Universal Television is my carwash.  I've tried to create a culture of community with a familial feel."

Earlier in her life, she struggled to blend American culture with her Indian heritage. "East meets West really came together for me when I embraced it, when I understood that it was a strength, and owning it."

"It is really important to keep perspective, my job is very important to me, I like it very much, I spend a lot of time doing my job —but it’s not my identity." Bajaria, 45, and her husband, writer Doug Prochilo, have three children and a goldendoodle dog, Shanti.

Bela's favorite activity is yoga at home with her kids.

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