Jeff Frost Leaving As President Of Sony Pictures Television Studios

·14 min read

EXCLUSIVE: Jeff Frost, a 15-year Sony TV veteran, is stepping down as President of Sony Pictures Television Studios, a post he has held for the past five years. According to sources, his departure was a mutual decision. With the TV studio coming off a banner year — hitting an all-time high of over 50 produced series and making waves at the 2021 Emmy nominations — I hear Frost felt it was time to leave and start a new chapter. Frost just shared his decision with his staff; Ravi Ahuja, Chairman, Global Television Studios, announced Frost’s departure in a company email. (You can read both in full at the bottom of the post.)

There is no immediate replacement for Frost. I hear a search is in very early stages, and the studio has held exploratory conversations with a handful of seasoned TV executives. Frost will stay on through September to help with the transition.

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Jason Clodfelter - Credit: Sony Pictures TV
Jason Clodfelter - Credit: Sony Pictures TV

Sony Pictures TV

Finding a successor for Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht after they left for Apple was the first major executive task Tony Vinciquerra faced when he joined Sony Pictures Entertainment as Chairman and CEO in May 2017. He reached within, promoting the TV studio’s well liked head of BA Frost to President of the TV production operation, a rare executive from the business, not the creative side, to ascend to the top post at a major studio — much like Vinciquerra himself. Sony TV’s co-heads of drama Chris Parnell and Jason Clodfelter were named Co-Presidents, reporting to Frost; Clodfelter has held the post solo since Parnell’s departure two years ago.

In his memo, Ahuja revealed that Clodfelter has recently renewed his contract and will remain in his current role.

Over the past five years –two of them during a global pandemic — the well regarded Frost presided over Sony TV during one of the most disruptive periods in the TV business, when all other major television studios got a corporate sibling streaming platform to supply as their parent companies focused their attention on direct-to-consumer, leaving Sony TV as the biggest arms dealer in town that produces for non-affiliated networks and streamers.

“Five years ago, the conventional wisdom was that Sony Pictures Television Studios could not survive without a major distribution platform that would televise SPTS content,” Frost said in his lengthy and personal note. “Well, thanks to the tenacious and tireless efforts of this prodigious team, not only did SPTS survive, we thrived! This studio has never been more successful or prolific. In the last year, SPTS hit an all-time high in the number of series being produced and is now considered the preeminent independent television studio in the business!”

SPTS’ indie status in the streaming age has made for complex and sometimes difficult dealmaking at the studio, with Frost employing his BA skills to craft templates that fit the models of each buyer, old and new.

“We recently negotiated groundbreaking deals with Spectrum, Roku, Peacock, and Britbox/iTV to bring premium content to those platforms in a very imaginative way,” Frost wrote. “We are renowned for negotiating some of the most creative and clever deals in the business.”

The Boys - Credit: Amazon
The Boys - Credit: Amazon

Amazon

Sony TV has been able to land at least one big hit series on all established SVOD platforms, Cobra Kai on Netflix; The Boys, which has spawned spinoffs, and The Wheel of Time on Prime Video, Woke on Hulu as well as The Afterparty and For All Mankind on Apple TV+. A slew of high-profile series are coming up, including Gordita Chronicles on one of the newer streamers, HBO Max, The Last Of Us on HBO/HBO Max, Twisted Metal at fellow upstart Peacock, The Night Agent at Netflix, Platonic at Apple TV+, A Spy Among Friends at Spectrum Originals & BritBox UK, and Prime Video’s Silk, the first in Sony TV’s live-action Spiderverse suite of series.

Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who oversee the Spiderverse and are behind The Afterparty, are among the top writer-producers Sony TV was able to sign into overall deals over the past five years in one of the most competitive talent environments. Other A-list creative talent signed by the indie studio in the past couple of years include Howard Gordon & Alex Gansa and Tyler the Creator while Sony TV retained most of the most prolific writers/producers on the studio’s talent roster, including Vince Gilligan, Shawn Ryan, Doug Robinson and Josh Berman.

Sony Pictures TV had already started a shift away from broadcast to cable and streaming when Frost became president. The process has accelerated since then as the economics of the broadcast business became increasingly challanging amid declining linear ratings. Under Frost, Sony TV stopped selling broadcast comedies in 2020 and reduced its drama projects for broadcast pilot consideration.

The Blacklist - Credit: Will Hart/NBC
The Blacklist - Credit: Will Hart/NBC

Will Hart/NBC

But the studio, which has a long tradition in selling to new buyers, from FX and AMC to Netflix and Prime Video to Spectrum Originals and Roku, forged a relationship with the newly independent Fox network where Sony TV currently has three on-air dramas ordered through script-to-series/straight-to-series deals, Fantasy Island and the upcoming Accused and Alert. The studio, which has been pursuing modestly budgeted series through its Gemstone label that produces Fantasy Island, also has been able to keep most of its long-running broadcast series on the air, including a 100% renewal rate this season for The Goldbergs and The Good Doctor at ABC, The Blacklist at NBC and S.W.A.T. at CBS. Sony TV also has the popular — and Emmy-winning — Live In Front Of a Studio Audience franchise at ABC, which was launched in 2019 through the studio’s deal with Norman Lear.

Another longstanding Sony tradition that Frost and his team have been able to extend is fighting for series and finding new homes for some that have lost their existing ones. The studio did it with One Day at a Time, which got another season on Pop after its cancellation by Netflix, L.A.’s Finest, which helped launch Spectrum Originals after a pass at NBC, Cobra Kai, which successfully moved from YouTube to Netflix, and On Becoming a God In Central Florida, which relocated from YouTube to Showtime.

Cobra Kai - Credit: Netflix
Cobra Kai - Credit: Netflix

Netflix

Last year, Cobra Kai became Sony TV’s first comedy to land a best series Emmy nomination in 24 years, since Mad About You‘s fourth and final nomination in the category in 1997. It was the first time that Sony Pictures TV held nominations in three top series categories, Outstanding Reality/Structured Reality Series for Shark Tank, Outstanding Comedy Series for Cobra Kai and Outstanding Drama for The Boys.

In addition to the evolving TV business and changing landscape, Frost also navigated the pandemic, with Sony TV becoming the first major studio to resume production with safety protocols in 2020, as well as top executive changes at the studio during his tenure as president. A couple of months after Frost’s appointment in 2017, Vinciquerra brought in Mike Hopkins as Chairman of Sony Pictures Television. Hopkins subsequently left and was succeeded by Ahuja.

In his memo, Ahuja praised Frost’s “pragmatic and welcoming approach.” Unlike some of his flashy counterparts, Frost, who is known for his matter-of-fact style, has kept a relatively lower profile, focusing on his work.

“Jeff is one of the hardest working and most dedicated executives I’ve ever met,” Ahuja said. “He has been an outstanding leader at Sony Pictures Television during a time of extraordinary transformation in our industry, and I am certain that he will continue to succeed in whatever he pursues in the future.”

Frost joined SPT in 2008 as EVP, U.S. Business Affairs from ABC Studios, where he served as SVP, business affairs. He had spent more than a decade at Disney, having joined ABC in 1997 as an attorney in the litigation department

Here is Ahuja’s email:

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing today to share that Jeff Frost has decided to step down from his role as president of our U.S. production operations to explore new opportunities.

To ensure a smooth transition, Jeff has agreed to stay on in his current role while we search for a new leader. He has built a strong management team in the U.S. production group, and I’m pleased to share that Jason Clodfelter has recently renewed his contract and will remain in his current role.

On a personal level, Jeff’s pragmatic and welcoming approach have made it a pleasure to work alongside him during my 15 months here. Jeff is one of the hardest working and most dedicated executives I’ve ever met. He has been an outstanding leader at Sony Pictures Television during a time of extraordinary transformation in our industry, and I am certain that he will continue to succeed in whatever he pursues in the future.

Throughout his roughly 15 years at the studio – from his time in Business Affairs through his current role leading U.S. Production – Jeff has been a driver of many of SPT’s major achievements. He has successfully presided over the U.S. studio during a once-in-a-century pandemic, and Jeff and his team have navigated the evolving media landscape, significantly increasing our volume of content produced for streaming platforms in recent years. He helped position SPT as the preeminent home for creative talent and under his leadership, the U.S. production studio has created numerous successful series and franchises, such as Cobra Kai, The Boys, Outlander, Better Call Saul, The Good Doctor, SWAT, The Blacklist, The Goldbergs, The Wheel of Time, Woke, and For All Mankind, to name a few. He has also been instrumental in advancing our diversity and inclusion efforts, creating new outreach programs, expanding our diverse writers and directors’ programs, and establishing a new diverse casting showcase.

I know many of you share my gratitude to Jeff for his years of commitment to SPT and for being a truly wonderful colleague. Please join me in wishing Jeff all the best for the future.

Ravi

Frost’s note:

Dear Colleagues,

After leading the U.S. Studio for the last five years and being a member of this illustrious team for nearly 15, and following much contemplation, I have made the decision to move onto my next venture. This wasn’t easy as I’m immensely proud of what we’ve all accomplished and achieved over the last few years, especially in the last two, during which the pandemic and market conditions challenged us unlike ever before. In fact, five years ago, the conventional wisdom was that Sony Pictures Television Studios could not survive without a major distribution platform that would televise SPTS content. Well, thanks to the tenacious and tireless efforts of this prodigious team, not only did SPTS survive, we thrived! This studio has never been more successful or prolific. In the last year, SPTS hit an all-time high in the number of series being produced and is now considered the preeminent independent television studio in the business! In an ever-changing landscape and incredibly competitive marketplace, that is no small feat.

When I originally started in 2008, SPTS was a burgeoning television studio with the mission of becoming one of the most esteemed studios in the business. Today, we have executed on that mission and so much more. We are currently producing over 50 shows, partnering with every major distributor on virtually every platform from streaming to broadcast to cable.

The caliber and gravitas of what we have created is simply undeniable. From Better Call Saul to Shark Tank, The Blacklist, The Boys, Atypical, Cobra Kai, The Afterparty, The Good Doctor, The Goldbergs, Wheel of Time, Woke, S.W.A.T., and Outlander, these are some of the most acclaimed and iconic series in television. Many of these series are among the highest viewed on their respective platforms. But it’s not only the popularity of these series that stands out, it’s also the quality. We have produced some of the most critically acclaimed series today which go on every year to receive countless Emmy and other award nominations. In fact, last year we achieved a very rare feat, receiving Emmy nominations for Best Comedy (Cobra Kai), Best Drama (The Boys), and best Alternative Series (Shark Tank). Cobra Kai’s nomination was especially notable as it was the studio’s first Best Comedy nomination in more than 20 years. And we have some of the most anticipated and notable impending projects including Accused, A Spy Among Friends, Twisted Metal, Platonic, Panhandle, Alert, and The Night Agent.

We also excel at ensuring the continued viability of our series. We consistently enjoy one of the most successful renewal rates for our series year over year of any independent studio. In fact, this season, all of our scripted series on broadcast are again returning for another year. We’ve earned an unparalleled reputation for ensuring that our creator’s vision is realized when a project is not renewed or ordered by the initial commissioning network. The diligence of this team in finding a new home for our content is extraordinary. Cobra Kai, One Day at a Time, and LA’s Finest are shining examples of this monumental and important feat that has elevated this studio even higher.

It has been the hallmark of SPTS to be at the forefront of the television business. For this, I’m incredibly proud of our ability to identify and forge relationships with new and emerging platforms as the business and television landscape evolves. From some of the earliest deals with Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu to more recent arrangements with the newest players in the industry like Spectrum, Freevee, and Roku, we have been incredibly successful in orchestrating and negotiating some of the most innovative and artful deals with both mature and emerging platforms. We recently negotiated groundbreaking deals with Spectrum, Roku, Peacock, and Britbox/iTV to bring premium content to those platforms in a very imaginative way. We are renowned for negotiating some of the most creative and clever deals in the business.

We built this studio under the premise of “Creative First,” always letting the storytelling and creative vision lead the way. In so doing, this team has been remarkable in bringing some of the most fantastic and poignant stories to life with some of the best creators in the business. Over the last five years, we have been very successful in attracting and retaining some of the most distinguished talent in the business from Phil Lord & Chris Miller to Howard Gordon & Alex Gansa, Robia Rashid, Shawn Ryan, Michele Fazekas & Tara Butters, Tyler the Creator, Jon Hurwitz, Josh Heald & Hayden Schlossberg, Carla Kettner, Vince Gilligan, Amy Lippman, George Tilman, Jr., Doug Robinson, Matt Roberts, Neil Moritz, John Eisendrath, Norman Lear, and Nick Stoller (to name just a few). This is truly an All-Star roster.

Having accomplished this over the past few years despite the devastating impact of the pandemic and a complete shutdown of all of our productions is especially astounding. This team’s true colors were never more apparent than how we reacted in this unparalleled time in our industry. Notwithstanding the immense challenges and hardship we faced, we were able to devise the safest protocols, practices and procedures that allowed us to resume production before any other major studio in the business. And not only did we return to production in a smart, safe and efficient manner, we also continued to sell new projects at a record pace.

How this team has succeeded over the past few years is nothing short of spectacular, which makes this the right time for me to move on to my next endeavor. My intent is to continue working with this team through September to ensure continuity and a smooth transition. I want to thank Tony and Ravi for the amazing opportunity they have given me over the past five years. I also want to thank everyone on this incomparable team for all of their phenomenal efforts in making all of this happen. I truly love this Sony family, which has made my decision even more difficult than it would otherwise be. This team is integral to the success we have all enjoyed over the past few years and I look forward to watching you all carry on that legacy and continue to excel!

Jeff

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