Bonnie Hammer

Vice Chairman, NBCUniversal

It takes more than a sharp eye and great instincts to become one of the most powerful women in Hollywood. Bonnie Hammer has plenty of both and combined them with her deep belief in the power of collaboration to build a brilliant career.

Her happiest childhood memories are of summer camp. “That’s where I learned true friendship,” she says. “How to be a teammate, how to collaborate, how to share.” That was also where Hammer’s lifelong passion for photography began. Later, as a photojournalism major at Boston University, she cultivated the ability to capture a story in a shot – a skill that would continue to serve her well.

Aiming for a career as a print photojournalist, Hammer got an internship shooting still photos for a kids’ show, “Infinity Factory,” on WGBH, Boston’s PBS station. A couple of the show’s production assistants had been fired, and Hammer was offered a PA job. Each PA was assigned a child cast member to wrangle. As the most junior member of the team, Hammer was responsible for Winston, a sheepdog. “I had to clean up after the dog,” she recalls. “A lot of people say their job is crap, but mine really was…crap!”

Hammer advanced in broadcast before becoming Lifetime Television Network’s director of programming. “Cable was still very young,” she recalls. “We made the rules. We broke the rules. We made up new rules. And there were a lot of women, partially because we couldn’t necessarily get jobs in broadcast.” For Hammer, cable’s limited resources were a bonus. “Because we didn’t have tons of money, there weren’t tons of employees. We all got to wear different hats. We were also forced to collaborate because that’s the only way you could get things done. It was a phenomenal learning ground.”

After joining Universal Television as a programming executive, Hammer went on to lead USA and SYFY. She presided over USA Network’s “Characters Welcome” re-brand and the network’s public service program, “Erase the Hate,” and greenlit hit after hit, always “in a room together with every one of my senior people when we had to make a final decision,” she says. Despite early skepticism when she was given responsibility for USA’s wrestling property, Hammer and the “ginormous” men of WWF (now WWE) forged another hugely successful collaboration.

Now Vice Chairman of NBCUniversal, Hammer says her proudest accomplishment is the teams she’s built throughout her career. “My channels succeeded because of amazing people, great collaboration, and the realization that everyone had skin in the game. We would win together, and we would lose together. That made all the difference.”

Hammer advises those entering the industry to seek out honest mentors. “Find yourself a truth-teller,” she says. Next, “understand it’s a journey. Figure out what you love. Experiment. Don’t think growth is all vertical — a lot of it is horizontal. I’m a big believer in zigzagging.” She looks forward to discovering where the next zigzag takes her. As for her next chapter, “I’m still not finished writing my own story,” she says.

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Bonnie Hammer, Vice Chairman, NBCUniversal - 2024 Cable Hall of Fame Honoree
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