INSIDE BINGHAMTON UNIVERSITY
Alumnus shares insights on business of TV
By : Nicole Borawski
Gary Levine ’74/’76 found his calling during his senior year at Binghamton, when the University offered a new MBA in arts management. Levine graduated from the master’s program in 1976 and worked his way through off-Broadway production companies and television studios. He’s now executive vice president of original programming at Showtime Networks.
“I am sort of the poster boy of Binghamton University,” Levine said during an Oct. 23 lecture in the Anderson Center Chamber Hall. “I came to college unformed with no idea what I was going to do with my life. I was shaped by the University in a significant way.”
Levine majored in theatre and was president of the chamber choir, Harpur Chorale. After graduation, Levine interned at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and joined off-Broadway productions. At 30, he felt it was time to shift into television and film.
Levine began at Columbia Studios in Los Angeles. “My first meeting was at their corporate retreat in Palm Springs with a relaxation therapist,” Levine said. “I immediately called my East Coast friends to tell them the rumors about L.A. were true.”
Levine became the director of current series programming, but left after five years to join ABC, where he worked for five years as drama series developer. Levine then served as director of development for comedy and drama at Warner Brothers television, where he helped create ER, Friends, The Drew Carey Show and The West Wing.
A little less than six years ago, Jerry Offsay, then president of Showtime, asked Levine to join his company. Offsay, also a 1974 graduate, had played freshman basketball at Binghamton with Levine.
“At the time, the network was recessed in the shadows of HBO, so I was brought in to work in the field of developing original programming series, in hopes of helping to put Showtime on the map,” Levine said.
Levine, who’s based in Los Angeles, helped develop The L Word, Weeds, Sleeper Cell and a new series called Dexter. “My job revolves around feeling compelled by a new idea and working through the story process until it feels right,” Levine said.
Levine said getting into TV can take long hours and working from the bottom up. “There are moguls in the business that got their start in the William Morris mailroom, which is the entry-level way,” he said.
Levine attributes some of his success to the MBA program. “It opened my eyes to a field I never knew existed,” he said.
He is also grateful for his years working off-Broadway (a nonprofit, non-glamour job, he noted), which kept him modest.
“For me, it has always been about the work and not the ego,” Levine said.
“People always recognized and respected that when I was pushing for an idea, it was coming from the right place.”