Can a Career TV Exec Bring Ambitious Xbox Shows to Life?

The Microsoft exec develops interactive video for next-gen consumers


Name Jordan Levin

New gig Evp, Microsoft

Old gig CEO, Generate

Age 45

How did you land at Microsoft?

The simplest way of making the connection is that [Microsoft entertainment and digital media president] Nancy [Tellem] was at Warner Bros. on the studio side and she and I got to know each other while working together within the same corporate group. I got fired from the WB in the summer of 2004, then I directed, and then I put together Generate. And at the very beginning of 2012, we sold Generate to Alloy, and then Alloy Digital, and I became president of Alloy Digital. I had some projects I’d been discussing with [Microsoft] as a producer, and [Nancy] said she needed help.

What was interesting about working on Xbox?

The VOD nature of the platform was intriguing, because television is headed that way, and trying to figure out what that means from a television standpoint, from a programming standpoint, from a windowing standpoint, from a talent standpoint—that was all really interesting. The demographic is where I’ve always been drawn, the younger demographic.

How does the development process differ from traditional TV?

It’s funny. I’ve just sort of followed the 18-34 demographic. I love that they’re not wedded to past models. The optimism and aspiration is really appealing. The storytelling [trends] in terms of the coming-of-age and the desire to reinvent past mythology are really interesting to me. You’re still looking for creative talent that has something they want to say and can tell that story and communicate those themes and share their voice in a sharp and focused manner regardless of platform. There’s an interactive team here in Los Angeles and there’s a very large group in Vancouver. Many times, the [L.A.] group is in pitches alongside production and development executives. They start to show the creators what they can do while at the same time encouraging them to think about storytelling in a traditional, linear manner, but also a nonlinear manner that allows for extensions and community experiences.

Is there a new group of creators who think in these terms, or are you having to teach writers and producers about the platform?

My hope and expectation is that just as at the WB we worked with creators from a new generation like J.J. Abrams and Joss Whedon and Greg Berlanti who brought with them a different sensibility for interactive with an audience, we will begin working with a generation of creators that bring to the table a world view that is much more expansive than a linear, traditional TV series. They start thinking about how characters and stories expand beyond an hour or a half-hour program, and how they can bring the audience into the process. Gaming with this audience is mainstream behavior. And then with video on demand, we start thinking about how shows don’t necessarily come in on the second—some can be a little longer and some can be shorter. We think about how we partner with other television networks and where the value resides in the windowing.

You guys played in the graphic novel space at the WB. Do you still have your eye on it?

I’ve been going to Comic-Con since I moved out to the West Coast, and I’ve developed my fair share of properties with underlying rights attached to that community. Buffy is still a big fan favorite. There are still people who are angry at me for having to pull the plug on Angel. I love mythologies, I love a lot of the content we’re developing from graphic novels. To be associated with a lot of this is really humbling.

Photo: Karl J Kaul/Wonderful Machine