Is This The Best Job In Television?

Photographed by David Cortes/ Seen Artists.
If you think it’s a great time to watch TV, imagine what it’s like to make TV. And, not just to make it, but to decide what shows get made, to guide a script from words on a page to a fully realized world, and to do it all at one of the tech start-ups redefining the small screen. If you can imagine all this, then you might begin to realize what it’s like to be Beatrice Springborn, head of originals at Hulu. Some might call her an “exec” or “a suit” (they wouldn’t know her), but the way she sees herself is simple: "I have the best job in the world."
The best job in the world, of course, does not just find you. You must summon it. And, 39-year-old Springborn’s been doing that for the last 13 years, making her way from animation at Pixar to film school at UCLA to an independent film-production studio and finally to TV. You could argue she started long before that — back in high school when she was a goth teen discovering David Lynch in Twin Peaks, a sci-fi addiction in The X-Files, and later the uninhibited joy that is Amy Sedaris in Strangers With Candy.
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Today, she spends her days in a mad loop of phone calls and emails, but in between it all are scripts and casting and set visits. There are fewer nights out and industry events now that she has a daughter, but who needs them when your days mean working on new shows with Amy Poehler, J.J. Abrams, and Jason Reitman? We met her at Hulu's Los Angeles office to talk about how she got to where she is, what it's like to have her job, and what the future of television looks like. If she has anything to do with it — and she does — it's looking really, really good.
Photographed by David Cortes/ Seen Artists.
Entrance to the Hulubratory. Just beyond these doors is The Well, a communal space for Hulu employees.
Your job title is head of originals, but what do you really do in six words or less?
"Work with people smarter than me."
What are you working on right now?
“There’s 11/22/63, which we’re casting now. It’s a miniseries about a man who goes back in time to try to stop the Kennedy assassination. It’s based on the Stephen King novel, and Stephen King and J.J. Abrams are on board as executive producers. It’s being written by Bridget Carpenter (Friday Night Lights and Parenthood).”
You’re also working with Amy Poehler, right?
“Yes, she’s executive producing a comedy we’re working on, Difficult People. It’s about two comedians in New York (Billy Eichner and Julie Klausner) who can’t understand why nobody likes them.
"Another comedy is Jason Reitman’s Casual. It’s about a brother and sister living together in L.A. and trying to raise a teenager. They’re all trying to navigate the dating world together."
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That sounds dysfunctional and wonderful.
“Yes, it’s definitely a dysfunctional family. It’s written by Zander Lehmann, who’s hilarious. He’s an up-and-comer we’re all really excited about.”
Photographed by David Cortes/ Seen Artists.
Inside The Well. There are happy hours, cooking classes, and monthly company-wide meetings.
How does someone like him get on your radar?
“He was represented by an agent and had written a few scripts for the project already, which was great because we could see the legs of the show. And, he just had such a unique, smart voice."
Did you always want to work in TV?
“No, in college I wanted to be a journalist, and I was for a few years. When I was 26, I got a job as an assistant at Pixar — that’s when I switched to an entertainment-oriented job. But, I only started in TV four years ago.”
How did you get into Pixar?
“Well, a friend got me the interview, and I didn’t know how great the company was. I was happy being a freelance writer and didn’t think anything was going to come from the meeting. One of the questions I was asked was if I ever worked in the service industry. Fortunately, I had. I worked in retail and restaurants into my twenties, and my first job was at Häagen-Dazs at the mall when I was 14. I said 'Yes,' and he said 'You’re hired.'"
Do you think it was about the service mind-set, or did he just want you to be really good at getting coffee?
“It was definitely about the mind-set. Working in service is all about making sure other people are happy. You have to know when to step back and put your ego aside to get things done, which totally applies to this industry.”
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Photographed by David Cortes/ Seen Artists.
TV is part of Hulu's culture, and The Simpsons sit at their rightful place at the top of the stairs in The Well.
Has it actually helped?
“Yeah, it has helped me again and again. I was still an assistant at 28, and that’s old to be an assistant. Then, when I switched from animation to independent film, I had to go from being an executive back to being an assistant. So, actually, I was an assistant until I was 31. I was going to grad school at the same time and, even then, I was still waitressing on the weekends.”
How did you make your way up?
“Even when I switched from film to TV, I had to take a step back. I spent a lot of time just learning the business, because it really was starting another career. I’ve also had incredible advocates and mentors who invested and believed in me."
Is there any advice you've received that you go back to again and again?
"Yes, and they are both super simple. The first is from my mom: She used to always say, 'Just do your best,' which in high school I used to think was so cheesy. But, we have good days and bad days, both professionally and personally. It’s important to work at whatever your ceiling is that day — it may not be 100%, and that’s okay as long as you gave everything you had that day, so you can go home and at least feel good about the effort.
Photographed by David Cortes/ Seen Artists.
Inside one of the office's four game rooms, Springborn plays around.
"The other is from my grandfather, who'd say 'This too shall pass' whenever I was upset about something. Whenever something is going wrong at work or otherwise, I repeat this because it's true — there are days when it feels like the world is ending and then a week later you forget about it. So, have some perspective."
Entertainment is a competitive industry, but you’ve obviously figured it out. What’s your secret?
“Be genuine. Treat everyone like they’re the CEO, even if they’re the intern. And, then networking, staying in touch with people. I think it’s important to check in with people without an agenda every now and then. Sometimes the best way to connect is to talk about stuff other than work. Oh, and do the work.”
Is working at Hulu different from other jobs you’ve had in Hollywood?
“Yes, it’s a very flat organization. There are no offices — everybody sits out in the open. And, everybody is allowed to have an opinion. That’s not always the case in traditional Hollywood.”
Photographed by David Cortes/ Seen Artists.
Street signs inspired by television direct you around the open Hulu office.
It’s also a tech company, though, so I imagine that has a lot to do with it.
“Right, but TV is such a part of its culture and has always been the focus of the business. Conference-room names have TV references like Wisteria Lane and Central Perk."
Tech is really changing the way we watch television. I know the main thing is it allows us to control when, where, and how we watch TV, but what else is it changing?
“Well, it allows us to be more niche, to make shows that would have never existed on a network, and to develop strong, devoted fan bases for those shows. We have advertisers, but we don’t have traditional TV ratings, so we are able to define success across a number of different areas — not just how many people watch.”
Does that really make all the difference? How can Hulu afford to make niche shows with small audiences, but then networks (or sometimes cable channels) can’t?
“We’re more focused. We don’t order tons of pilots. We pick a handful of shows that we really believe in and focus on them completely. Everything we’re doing right now we ordered straight to series, which is a lot cheaper than ordering tons of pilots with the expectation that only a few will make it through the first season.”
Photographed by David Cortes/ Seen Artists.
Beatrice Springborn enjoys a corner of paradise in the ping-pong room.
Straight-to-series orders also allow you to release the whole season at once, though I have mixed feelings about that. Some shows are meant to be savored.
“We’re experimenting with both releasing the season at once and an episode per week. I think the big advantage of a full-season release is it lets viewers choose how and when they want to watch a show. They can binge or they can take their time — it took me four months to watch House of Cards because I have a child. But, people also like to have some anticipation.
“I think Serial is a prime example of that — even though it’s a radio show. It’s one story told over the course of 10 episodes. You can digest it and in between airings of episodes talk, debate, argue about it. So, there is also value in that.”
What do you think is going to happen to cable? Do you think it’s on the way out?
"No, I think it will persist. And, cable providers are and will adapt to a changing marketplace. What will change is where and how we watch and consume that cable."
What do you think the future of television looks like? Where will it be in five or 10 years?
"TV will become more personalized — instead of a subscription to Time Warner for the house, each individual can personalize their offerings in a more detailed way. I think this is important, too, because these types of subscriptions allow you to watch anywhere you want. You don’t have to be in front of the living-room TV — you can watch on a tablet, phone, game console, and who knows what is next in devices. In general, overall content will become more personalized and niche, as well."
Photographed by David Cortes/ Seen Artists.
A Hulu logo — one of many placed around the streaming service’s headquarters.
What are you watching right now?
"Broad City, Inside Amy Schumer — a lot of comedies. I finally just watched Party Down, which is hilarious."
When you're vetting a script, what do you look for in a protagonist?
"One that has a strong point of view — characters who are complex and you actually want to watch for, hopefully, five-plus years."
What about anti-heroes? They're at such a level of saturation — will we ever have enough?
"There will always be appeal because people want complexity and truth to a character. Anti-heroes have been part of entertainment and culture for hundreds (and most likely thousands) of years. They're at the center of some of the most popular books of the last century: Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye, Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby, and my favorite is Randel McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The majority of Shakespeare’s characters are anti-heroes. You usually see more of them during a time when the world is changing."
What do you hope to see more of?
"Comedies that push boundaries — either through format, POV, or having characters we haven’t seen before. Transparent, Louie, Amy Schumer, and Girls are good scripted examples." Advertisement