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Bonnie Hammer
Bonnie Hammer.jpg
Hammer in September 2009
Born1950 (age 68–69)
Alma materBoston University College of Communication (BA)
Boston University School of Education (MA)
OccupationChairman, NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment
Spouse(s)Dale Heussner
ChildrenKimae Heussner (step-daughter)
Jesse Heussner

Bonnie Hammer (born 1950) is an American businesswoman and network executive. As Chairman of NBCUniversal Cable, Hammer oversees the leading cable brands USA, The Sci-Fi Channel, E!, Bravo, Oxygen, Esquire Network, Sprout, TV One, Chiller, Cloo, and Universal HD, as well as production entities Universal Cable Productions and Wilshire Studios.

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  • ✪ Bonnie Hammer: 2017 BU Commencement Speaker
  • ✪ 2009 College of Communication Commencement Address: Bonnie Hammer


[Applause] I now call upon Bonnie Hammer to deliver the 144th Commencement address of Boston University. [Applause] Wow, well thank you, President Brown. What an act to follow. A little scary, but, forty-six years ago, yes a little scary I hate to date myself but forty-six years ago who would of thought, not this chic, that should be getting such an honor. Amazing Anyway, President Brown, Members of the Board of Trustees, Faculty and staff, friends and family, and most of all, the 6,532 members of this most distinguished Class of 2017: Congratulations! But, wow, look at you, You seem rested relaxed happy actually sober Could that be I don't think I was back then Anyway, seriously, I’m so honored to share this day with you, especially because I didn’t actually make it to my own graduation. Actually, I almost didn’t make it to BU at all. I was originally planning on going to NYU, which was just a quick subway ride from Queens, where I grew up. But my wise older brother said to me, “If you go to school in New York, your mom will be at your dorm three times a week.” All of a sudden, a four-hour ride up I-95 to I-90 seemed like a really attractive proposition. Of course, once I had escaped my folks, I realized NOT only how much I loved them, but how much I generally owed them for my success. So before we go any further, let’s hear it for your parents, your loved ones, and everyone who has helped you get here today! Now I certainly learned a lot during my time at BU. It was a great school back then, and even greater now. Thanks for making my degree look even better every year, I am an incredibly proud alumna. After grad school, I lucked into my first job in television and it’s been a really wonderful journey that's led me to my present home at NBCUniversial Over the years, television has changed a lot, and those changes only seem to be accelerating. But there’s one thing that will always remain constant. Whatever the genre: scripted, unscripted, even news and sports. Television, at its core, is a platform for telling stories. And for thousands of years, and all kinds of stories have entertained and inspired us. They’ve shocked and charmed us. They’ve brought us unforgettable characters, from Odysseus to Kim Kardashian. For the record, I had nothing to do with Odysseus, but Kim…I’ll plead the Fifth. So, you may not know it now, but whether studied communications or engineering, law or medicine, business business, or classics: you all are storytellers. But when you leave here today, you’ll begin to write the most powerful, most meaningful, and most entertaining, and in many ways the story of your life. It’s the story of YOU. Now, as you can imagine, I’ve heard a whole lot of story pitches in my career. Some good, some not so good. And what I’ve learned is that the most compelling stories have five elements in common: 1. The best stories have a strong lead character who undergoes some kind of transformation. That, my friends, is you. 2. They have a supporting cast, a cast of characters who help them achieve more than they can do alone. You’ll meet them, if you haven’t yet. 3. They have conflict and adversity that the lead character must overcome. Trust me, that’s coming. 4. They are also grounded in an interesting, exciting, time and place. That’s now. And finally, they help us understand something that was hidden or undiscovered before. Now with these elements in mind, let’s talk about the story of you. And of course, like any good television executive, I have a couple of notes that may help you along the way. Want to hear them? You’re captive anyway…so you're stuck So here goes. So, the best stories start by establishing character. Not just likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, but attitude. Because attitude sets the tone for something else, something that is bigger than anything you are about to do. And I learned that on my very first job. I was working just down the street at the local PBS station, WGBH. I was a production assistant on a kids’ show called “Infinity Factory.” As a PA, everyone outranks you- everyone. You’re often assigned to a cast member, to help them with whatever they need. Whether it’s running lines, making copies, or picking up coffee. As President Brown mentioned earlier I was assigned to one of the most popular members of the show’s cast, the sheep dog. You know, when people complain that their job is crap? My job was literally crap. Because instead of picking up coffee, that’s what I had to pick up. But here’s the thing, I would do it all over again. That job taught me how important it is to understand the needs of your coworkers- canine or otherwise. Life dishes out plenty of crap, figuratively and sometimes literally. It’s how you handle the crap that counts. Now all characters need development, and your lead in the story does, too. And nobody’s going to help you more than some key supporting characters. After all, where would Batman be without Robin, Kirk without Spock, Serena without Venus, Ben without Jerry, or for that matter, the other Ben without Matt? And maybe Trump without Putin? Who are the supporting characters who will be central to your story? The catalysts for your best conversations and your biggest transformations. You’ve already identified a few of them: your parents, your professors, your friends; those warm, caring, wise people we typically think of as mentors. For me, it was my father. But there’s another type, equally important, someone I call the challenging mentor. This is the person you think is your antagonist, who ends up being your greatest ally. It's a person who pushes, criticizes and challenges you, to meet a standard of excellence you might not otherwise achieve. For Harry Potter, think Professor Snape, for Tom Brady, think Bill Belichick. I met my first challenging mentor right here at BU. His name was Harris Smith, and he was a brilliant ex-Army sergeant who taught photography. And when I say “taught,” I mean he commanded the darkroom like boot camp. He would hold up a photograph and say, “Bonnie, this is an absolutely piece of junk!” He literally kicked me out of class and would not let me return until I had put in the effort to take a great shot. It wasn’t fun, I was truly embarrassed in front of all of my classmates but I knew he was right, and I knew I could do much better. Throughout my career, I’ve had other mentors who initially terrified me but who ended up but who ended up being the most nurturing of all. The most memorable was, and still is, Barry Diller. A media giant, and my boss at USA and SYFY many years ago. One Friday night I got an email from him. Subject line: “Your decisions.” Those two words sent shivers down my spine. Barry had a few questions about one of our SYFY shows, called “Crossing Over,” which featured a psychic. His Question: If the psychic was real, why was he on the science fiction channel? And if he wasn’t real, why the hell were we in business with him at all? That’s right, if you think you’re done with philosophy just because you’re wearing a cap and gown- think again. Barry’s interrogation lasted the entire weekend. He wanted to understand not just what I had decided, but how. My facts, my logic, my entire thought process. He forced me to think outside my comfort zone, and create a water-tight argument that I had to own. By 11 p.m. Sunday, I had reached a final conclusion: it was, you can’t prove that psychics are real, so a show with a psychic exists somewhere between fact and fiction, perfect for the SYFY channel. Barry’s final note simply said, “Okay, your arguments win.” To this day, those are some of the best four words I’ve ever heard. I mean, they are right up there with, “Here’s a big promotion,” “Will you marry me,” and “Free drinks at the Dugout!” Okay, that’s five words. My point is these supporting characters are vital. When they push you, you might stumble, you may even fall down but once you get up, and you will, you’ll end up standing even taller. Now, even fairy tales don’t go straight from “once upon a time” to “happily ever after.” There’s going to be, there's got to be, conflict. And in most conflicts your voice is the most powerful tool you have. The thing is before you use your voice you have to learn how and when to use it. And that starts not by speaking with arrogance but listening with humility. Who is your audience? What do they want? What are they trying to tell you? And how can you get them to “yes”? I once worked on a show where I knew my voice would never be the loudest in the room. I also knew it would be a couple octaves higher than everyone else’s, because the room was full of pro-wrestlers and World Wrestling executives. I had been put in charge of the WWE, even though I knew nothing about wrestling. You can imagine how skeptical everyone was- including me. This meeting was a recipe for hot tempers and high anxiety. My first task was to convince a room full of strangers to work with me, and ultimately, to trust me. Strangers who had necks bigger than my waist. So my approach- I sat quietly and listened. I didn’t cower in the corner, and I didn’t claim to have all the answers. What I did was figure out what they needed and what I had to offer. These guys knew wrestling and they knew their audience. I knew how to develop characters and build stories. I knew how to make good TV. And that very first conversation, which was honest and authentic on both sides, became the basis for an amazing 20-year work relationship and a deep friendship- not to mention some very some fun wrestling along the way. So, find your voice. Know when to use it. And, just as important, when NOT to use it. Your attitude, your supporting cast, how you handle conflict. Those are all choices your character makes. But there are two pieces of your story that you don’t get to choose: and that's time and place. Forty-six years ago, when I was sitting where you are, or when I was supposed to be sitting where you are, everything felt uncertain and unsettled. We were fighting a deeply unpopular war in Vietnam. Student protesters at Kent State had been fired upon—and four killed—by the Ohio National Guard. Eleven days later, 2 more were killed at Jackson State in Mississippi Civil rights issues were front and center. Many of us looked for guidance from BU’s very own Howard Zinn, a beloved professor and prominent anti-war and civil rights activist. Meanwhile, our technology and culture were changing rapidly, the modern environment movement was taking off. Women were rebelling against the patriarchy. And people on all sides of every issue were taking to the streets. We felt like we couldn’t trust our leaders, or authority in general. The future, and our roles in it, were open questions. Sound familiar? But when the stakes are the highest, that’s when the world needs you most. That’s when your story goes from being about a character, to being about character. Today, everywhere you look, people are retreating into bubbles. And those bubbles are hardening into shells. We’re not willing to see, no less embrace, difference. Now, in my family difference is a given. I’m a Russian Jew from Queens. My husband’s a WASP from Cleveland, My stepdaughter, KiMae, is half Malaysian. Her grandparents are Indian and Chinese and my son-in-law Rowe was born in Calcutta, and my son Jesse’s identity was informed by all of the above. Around our dinner table, difference is celebrated. But outside our home, that’s not always the case. I remember the first time I faced anti-Semitism while studying in Kansas for a semester. I remember when KiMae’s elementary school classmate told her that her skin was too dark. I remember being asked if my own stepdaughter was my son’s nanny. But moments like these are the reason it’s so important that we listen to one another's stories and share our own. Many years ago at USA Network, we launched a campaign called “Erase the Hate.” It started as a series of documentaries highlighting stories of people from all walks of life and became an award-winning initiative dedicated to acceptance and tolerance. Sadly, that mission is even more relevant today. In this moment of polarization, it’s more important than ever that we pay attention to each other’s stories. And that starts with you. I encourage you to take the time to figure out where other people are coming from- literally and figuratively. Learn about your own blind spots, acknowledge your own fears, listen to podcasts that make you angry, read things that make you uncomfortable. Talk with- not at- people with different points of view. When you step outside of your own bubble you’ll develop more empathy for people with whom you disagree. You’ll develop a strong sense of self, and become a better advocate for what you believe. If I’ve learned anything in the years since I graduated it’s that the most improbable stories are the ones that capture your imagination. Because they allow you to see things differently and they teach you something about your own character. That’s the reason we started telling stories in the first place: they help us understand things we didn’t before. Today, your story begins anew. You have everything you need to make it a great one: The talent, the education, the character and the voice. Now all you have to do is write it, tell it and live it, fully. Thank you, and Congratulations, Class of 2017!


Early life

Born to a Jewish family[1][2] in 1950,[3] Hammer was raised in Queens, New York, the youngest of three children. Hammer's mother was a full-time mom; her dad, a Russian immigrant, started his own pen company. Intending to become a photojournalist, Hammer enrolled at Boston University College of Communication, earning a bachelor's degree in communications in 1971 and later a master's degree in Media Technology from the Boston University School of Education in 1975.


Hammer began her career in television at WGBH-TV, the public television station in Boston, where she produced This Old House, Infinity Factory and ZOOM for PBS. She later executive-produced Good Day! for Boston's ABC affiliate, WCVB-TV.

Hammer first established herself professionally in New York as an original programming executive at Lifetime Television Network, where she executive produced several award-winning documentaries for the network's acclaimed Signature Series; she was honored with the Lillian Gish Award, several Cine Golden Eagles[4] and the National Association for Youth's Mentor Award.

In 1989 Hammer joined Universal Television as a programming executive. Here, Hammer partnered with Vince McMahon to transform the WWF franchise into a cultural phenomenon.[citation needed] Hammer also spearheaded the launch of the successful “Sci Fi Prime,” the channel's first full night of original programming, as well as the “I am Sci-Fi” messaging effort which redefined how viewers related to the channel and its programming.[citation needed]

When Hammer took on the role of Sci-Fi president,[5] she brought to network a mini-series in partnership with Steven Spielberg called, Steven Spielberg Presents: Taken. The project, a twenty-hour miniseries about alien abductions, garnered the best ratings Sci-Fi had seen to date and earned the channel its first major Emmy. During the six years Hammer presided over Sci-Fi, the channel's audience doubled and Sci-Fi ranked in cable's top 10 among adults 25 to 54 and 18 to 49.[6]

In 2004 Universal Television merged with NBC and Hammer became president of USA in addition to Sci-Fi.[5] As she had done at Sci-Fi, Hammer rebranded USA with “Characters Welcome,” – conveying the message that people, and “wacky but memorable characters” were at the heart of the channel's programming.[7] USA has ranked #1 among cable networks for a record-setting eight years. After her success at Sci-Fi and USA, Hammer was named the most influential woman in cable by CableWorld magazine.[8]

In March 2008, Hammer took leadership at the new studio Universal Cable Productions. At the same time she became head of the digital networks Cloo, Chiller and Universal HD. Adding to the list in 2011, she assumed responsibility for E!, G4 and Wilshire Studios. In July 2012, under the leadership of Hammer, E! unveiled a major brand evolution of the network and relaunch of its market-leading E! Online website, both of which allowed E! to become the global destination for pop culture.[9] In September 2013, she oversaw the launch of Esquire Network, a lifestyle and entertainment network that replaced Style Network (Variety).

Hammer currently serves on the board of the Ad Council,[10] as well as the Celebration of Women's Achievements in Television and Radio steering committee for the Paley Center for Media.[7] She also serves on the strategic planning committee for Boston University's College of Communication, and is a mentor for Women in Film & Television.[9]

Her current plans as NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment Chairman are to re-evaluate and adapt NBCUniversal channels to become less gender-based as there is a preconceived notion that many of the channels are only for women. Bravo, Hammer says, “is fortysomething, very affluent, female-plus—Franny [Bravo and Oxygen Media president Frances Berwick] hates it when anyone calls it a women’s network. There are lots of guilty-pleasure guys who watch it and a lot of co-viewing as well. E! is smack in the middle. It’s thirtysomething, it’s kind of affluent, but they’re thirtysomethings that are on their way up. There are unmarrieds, marrieds, not-yet-marrieds, employed or employable, a little younger and a little hipper, and that’s their sweet spot.”[11] She also made a controversial decision to have "male" channel, Esquire, take over the Style Network instead of "gamer network", G4, to further the individual style of NBCUniversal's networks and create content that overlaps style content while also reaching male audiences[12]

Social activism

While at USA Network, Hammer spearheaded the “Erase the Hate” pro-social campaign, which earned a National Emmy Governor's Award.[13] She later extended it to create “Characters Unite,” a public service program to combat hate and discrimination and promoting tolerance and acceptance. Under Hammer's leadership, Characters Unite has grown into an award-winning, multi-platform initiative that includes on-air programming such as documentaries and themed episodes of USA series, public service announcements, digital content through the website and social media outlets, and community outreach and high school education programs, featuring a partnership with storytelling group The Moth.[9]

Hammer also created the “Visions for Tomorrow” campaign, which is an effort to spark America's leading thinkers, organizations, and policymakers into searching for ways to solve society's most pressing issues.[7]


Hammer has received several awards for her work in the span of her career. She has consistently been named to The Hollywood Reporter's Power 100, an annual list of the most influential women in Hollywood.[14][15][16] She was given the National Association of Television Programming Executives’ 2007 Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award[17] and inducted into Broadcasting & Cable's Hall of Fame the same year.[18] Hammer has also received a MUSE award for outstanding vision and achievement from New York Women in Film & Television.[19] She has been repeatedly featured on lists such as the "50 Most Powerful Women" in Fortune,[20][21] "The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women" in Forbes,[22][23] as well as the "Powers that Be" in Vanity Fair.[24] In 2012, Hammers was given the Crystal + Lucy Award for Excellence in Television by Women in Film.[25]

Praise for her social activism includes her 2012 honor by B’nai B’rith for “her commitment to initiatives confronting racism and bigotry’;[26] and she was cited by storytelling organization The Moth for “philanthropic leadership in programs to end prejudice, discrimination and bullying.” Hammer was given the 2010 Vanguard Award for Distinguished Leadership from the National Cable Television Association,[13] and the Anti-Defamation League's Entertainment Industry Award.[27]

In 2016, Hammer was listed on Vanity Fair's New Establishment List, described as 100 “Silicon Valley hotshots, Hollywood moguls, Wall Street titans, and cultural icons.”[28]

Personal life

Hammer is an accomplished photographer, and her work has been displayed in galleries and published in Time, the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, the Los Angeles Times, and various Houghton-Mifflin and Little Brown books.[9] She resides in Westport, Connecticut with her husband,[3] Dale Heussner.[2] Her husband has one child from a previous marriage and they have one child together.[2]


  1. ^ Ruth Eglash (August 23, 2012). "Jewish women who rule! (according to Forbes)". Jpost. Retrieved 10 September 2013.
  2. ^ a b c Variety: "Bonnie Hammer reins in the rhetoric for the ADL" June 3, 2008
  3. ^ a b "Bonnie Hammer". Forbes. 1970-01-01. Retrieved 2015-09-18.
  4. ^ "CINE".
  5. ^ a b "Vault Guide to the Top Media & Entertainment Employers - Laurie Pasiuk - Google Books". Retrieved 2015-09-18.
  6. ^ "Sci Fi Has Best year Ever! #5 in Adults 25 - 54" (Press release). The Futon Critic, Sci Fi Channel. December 17, 2008. Retrieved July 7, 2009.
  7. ^ a b c "She Made It: Bonnie Hammer". The Paley Center for Media.
  8. ^ "2007 Most Powerful Women in Cable". CableFAX Magazine.
  9. ^ a b c d "Bonnie Hammer". NBC Universal.
  10. ^ "Board of Directors". Ad Council.
  11. ^ Thielman, Sam (2014-04-20). "How NBCU's Bonnie Hammer Plans to Dominate Cable". Adweek. Retrieved 2015-09-18.
  12. ^ Rose, Lacey (2013-11-09). "Bonnie Hammer on Her Surprise Cable Reboot: 'We Wanted True Differentiation'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2015-09-18.
  13. ^ a b "Bonnie Hammer and James Dolan Top List of NCTA's 2010 Vanguard Winners". The Cable Show via PR Newswire.
  14. ^ "THR's Women in Entertainment 2011: Power 100". The Hollywood Reporter.
  15. ^ "THR's Women in Entertainment 2012: Power 100". The Hollywood Reporter.
  16. ^ "THR's Women in Entertainment 2013: Power 100". The Hollywood Reporter.
  17. ^ "Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award". NAPTE.
  18. ^ "2007 Hall of Fame". Broadcasting & Cable.
  19. ^ "MUSE Awards History". NYWIFT.
  20. ^ "50 Most Powerful Women in Business". Fortune.
  21. ^ "50 Most Powerful Women in Business". Fortune.
  22. ^ "The World's 100 Most Powerful Wome". Forbes. Forbes. Retrieved 25 June 2014.
  23. ^ "Bonnie Hammer". Forbes.
  24. ^ "Bonnie Hammer: The Powers That Be". Vanity Fair.
  25. ^ "Crystal + Lucy Awards 2012". Women in Film.
  26. ^ "B'nai B'rith International Announces Winners of Diverse Minds Youth Writing Challenge". B’nai B’rith International.
  27. ^ "ADL Applauds Bonnie Hammer". Variety.
  28. ^ BU Alums Named to Vanity Fair’s “New Establishment List”

External links

This page was last edited on 13 February 2019, at 08:04
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