July 07, 2020
An Eye for Originality
Larissa Bell lives out her childhood dream and blazes her own trail at SHOWTIME
From the time she was a little girl, Larissa Bell (A 2011, HNZ 2011) envisioned herself working in the entertainment industry. Now, as director of original programming for Showtime Networks Inc., she's living the dream. Her dedication, her willingness to soak up her mentor's and professor's advice and expertise, and her love of teamwork have helped Bell blaze her own trail while keeping a childhood dream front and center.
Bell first served as an intern in 2011 with SHOWTIME during her last semester in the Master of Entertainment Industry Management (MEIM) Program, a joint effort of Carnegie Mellon University's College of Fine Arts and Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy. A longtime fan of reading and writing, Bell had always yearned to tell great stories. After earning her bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan in English and Sociology, she wanted to more closely align them with a future in entertainment. That led her to the MEIM program.
"I did a lot of research on graduate programs. This one stood out," said Bell, a Los Angeles native. "There was a strong business component to it and, for me, the fact that the second year was in L.A. would allow me to build a network before I was even out of school was enticing."
Once in the program, Bell found that having professors with industry experience was a huge plus. She referenced CMU School of Drama alumna and Lifetime Trustee Paula Wagner as one who greatly benefited her. "She really understood the business and instilled the fundamentals you needed to succeed in her students."
Bell said her foundation for further success in her career came as a direct result of the MEIM program, noting that she and her classmates learned in the program what others learn once they get on the job. Instead of being overwhelmed when she began an internship or a job, she could "speak the language." At one point, she served an internship in public relations with a TV network, which exposed her to the programming side of the business. Realizing that she wanted to work in development, she made a short list of networks whose programming she admired. SHOWTIME was at the top.
In 2011, she found herself interning directly for then-President of SHOWTIME, David Nevins, now Chairman and CEO. That connection ultimately led to her current role which, though demanding, fulfills her childhood dream of telling stories – this time to a massive audience. She could't be happier.
"It's an open and warm environment, where people want to see you grow and allow for your gifts to shine," she said. "I learn from fellow team members every day. There's also a lot of laughter and innovation with a great team committed to working hard to bring celebrated and up-and-coming voices to the screen."
Larissa pours a lot into her days. Her programming duties reflect current shows and future picks across all genres, from drama to comedy. A typical day might involve hearing pitches from writers, directors and producers and working with them to obtain a vision on how this idea becomes a successful television series.
“On any given day, I may hear a pitch for a potential show, meet with a director whose work I have long admired, talk with a writer about our shared passion for a genre, while also having discussions with my team on ways that we can continue to bring explosive content to the fore.”
Bell described an almost innate sense of what might work for further development. “I trust my gut when hearing or discussing new ideas.” When that happens, she takes the idea up the ladder to her superiors and makes her own pitch for the project.
She said it’s a skill that forces her, beforehand, to take an introspective look at what might resonate with audiences and evaluate if it’s right for the network. She has worked on some great programming for the network, including “THE CHI” and the new iteration of “THE L WORD,” called “THE L WORD: GENERATION Q.” She said she is “super proud” of working on the latter, particularly because she has gone from being a teenager watching the original show as a fan, to working directly on the show.
She has shared her career path and advice with current MEIM students whenever she has had the opportunity. She has three primary pieces of advice for students and new alumni seeking entry into what can be an intimidating business.
“Just be of service, no matter what job you’re in. Be curious and willing to learn, and build community,” she said. “If you remember to do those things, you’ll soar.”