Currently the president of MTV, Susanne Daniels has had a long and successful career in television after getting her start years ago as Lorne Michaels’ assistant on Saturday Night Live. On a recent episode of the Industry Standard with Barry Katz podcast, she discussed a wide range of topics including what she learned from Lorne Michaels, what she looks for when searching for talent and developing shows, and her advice to people hoping to break into the entertainment industry.
It’s a great conversation and you can listen to the full episode here or read up on some of the highlights below.
1. Aggressively Pursue Opportunities Because You Never Know Where They Might Come From
At around the 29-minute mark, Daniels talks about how she landed her first job out of college – an amazing opportunity to become Lorne Michaels’ assistant on Saturday Night Live. She did it by being extremely aggressive in tracking down any opportunities she could find, which led to a surprising bit of luck.
“There was nobody I didn’t ask to try to get an introduction to somebody in the television business, because I didn’t really have any connections,” Daniels says. “There was no stone unturned, nobody I wouldn’t harass.”
She goes on to explain that she was in a restaurant in New York and overheard two people having a conversation about a television production. She approached them, apologized for interrupting, explained that she was looking to break into the business and asked if there was any chance they needed a production assistant.
They didn’t have any open positions, but eventually she got connected to somebody who worked in TV news for a “general meeting.” She bombed that meeting because she wasn’t really thinking of it as an interview – it was clear to the person meeting with her that she was interested in entertainment TV and not news. That taught her another lesson:
“You have to treat every meeting like it could be a potential interview,” she says.
But Daniels got a little lucky – the guy she was meeting with picked up on her enthusiasm for entertainment and happened to know that Lorne Michaels was looking for an assistant. He offered to pass along her resume, which led to an interview with Lorne and ultimately she got the job and an incredible launching pad for her career.
2. Attention To Detail Pays Off
At around the 35-minute mark, Daniels talks about what she learned from her time working with Lorne Michaels on Saturday Night Live, and later on movies like Wayne’s World.
“My biggest takeaway from Lorne was that attention to detail is important,” she says.
She goes on to explain how Lorne would make a million changes to sketches on Saturday Night Live and often times they seemed to be extremely minor – he’d suggest a character wear a different kind of hat, he’d slightly reposition a camera angle, he’d make tons of tweaks that might seem too small to impact anything. But in the end, they made a huge difference.
“All of his changes would enhance the sketch,” she says. “The sketch was ALWAYS better.”
3. Be Loyal
At around the 40-minute mark, Daniels shares another major lesson she learned from Lorne Michaels – the importance of being loyal to the people you work with and who work for you. She describes him as being “extremely loyal” to the people that work for him and “very respectful” of them and their work.
She credits that for a lot of the success and stability of his projects. “He’s created a work family,” she says.
4. Look To Create Things That Aren’t Already Being Done
At around the 68-minute mark, Daniels talks about how she decides what kinds of shows she wants to develop for a network. While most people obviously won’t have the opportunity to determine a network’s programming, it’s helpful advice that can be applied to anything you create – and also might come in handy if at some point you do try to pitch a network a television show.
“Something I think about a lot is, what is a point of view that is not reflected on television already?” says Daniels.
She goes on to explain that she will rarely ever consider something like a cop show because that’s been done already and is done all the time. She looks for unique, new ideas, and concepts that aren’t already being done by others.
5. Follow Your Passion And Work Hard
At around the 95-minute mark, Daniels sums up her advice for anybody hoping to have a career in entertainment or break into the industry.
“Follow your passion. Go for it. Go for what you want,” she says. “It’s hard work, it’s work to break in. Have a work ethic. Bring ideas to the table that are your ideas in whatever environment you’re in. If you want to act, start acting – make videos, become a Vine star, get yourself out there on YouTube. If you want to write, start writing – write a lot of spec scripts, write different kinds of spec scripts, don’t be precious about it. Do what you want to do and know that hard work comes with it.”