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Alum Bonnie Hammer Isn’t Afraid of Change

NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment Group chair to deliver Commencement address

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Bonnie Hammer has never been afraid to shake things up. That’s a useful attribute in the broadcasting business, and a theme that she may touch on in her address at BU’s 144th Commencement on Sunday, May 21, where the NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment Group chair will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane letters.

In 2014, Hammer (CGS’69, COM’71, SED’75) combined NBCUniversal Cable’s lifestyle networks—Bravo, Oxygen, Esquire, and E!—into a single group. She also pushed her networks to launch scripted series, in an effort to diversify them if and when their famous reality shows (like Keeping Up with the Kardashians) end. In a memo to staff last year, Hammer announced that she was consolidating all scripted programming efforts and promoting several people from within. “The disruption today is so constant and so fast-moving that it calls for a fresh approach that will transform the way we conduct our business,” she wrote. “Change is always challenging, but especially necessary in a time of disruption.” According to the Hollywood Reporter, Hammer’s “collection of networks and cable studios managed to post profits of roughly $2.8 billion in 2015, up from $2.7 billion a year earlier and by far the biggest contributor to NBCU’s bottom line.”

Hammer earned a bachelor’s degree in communication from BU’s College of Communication and a master’s in media and new technology from the School of Education. The BU photography major began her career taking photos on the set of Infinity Factory, a show produced by Boston public television station WGBH. She was promoted to a producer on the show and went on to produce other PBS shows, including This Old House and the children’s program Zoom. She then moved to two cable networks, Lifetime and USA, where she transformed World Wrestling Entertainment into a major franchise, before becoming president of Syfy and USA. She now has executive oversight of one of the industry’s most successful cable network portfolios, which includes USA Network, Syfy, Bravo, Oxygen, E! Entertainment, Sprout, and Chiller.

She now oversees Mr. Robot, Top Chef, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, and the Real Housewives franchise, and she supervises two Hollywood studios, Universal Cable Productions and Wilshire Studios. She has received numerous professional awards and accolades, among them being included in the Fortune list of the 50 Most Powerful Women and the Forbes list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women and being named the most powerful woman in entertainment by the Hollywood Reporter.

“Many times, very successful people wake up in the morning and say, ‘How do I preserve my success?’” NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke has said about Hammer. “I think Bonnie wakes up in the morning and says, ‘How do I create more success?’ and ‘How do I ensure success in the changing world by transforming elements of our business?’”

B’nai B’rith has honored Hammer with an award for “a shared dedication to diversity, tolerance, and acceptance,” and she has also been honored by the UJA Federation of New York. This year she is relaunching her Erase the Hate prosocial campaign, which she first began in 1994. The Emmy-winning public affairs initiative aims to combat hate and racism while promoting understanding and acceptance of individual differences.

Hammer is the latest in a series of powerful women working in entertainment to be invited to speak at a BU Commencement and receive an honorary degree: Katie Couric (Hon.’11), Meredith Vieira (Hon.’15), and Nina Tassler (CFA’79, Hon.’16) have commanded the podium at past graduations.

In a previous interview with BU Today, Hammer said that she thinks boardrooms could benefit from more equal representation of men and women—of all ethnic backgrounds—and she would like to see more women and minorities in executive positions.

“There are chinks in that glass ceiling waiting for smart, open-minded, and strong women and minorities to get through,” she said, “but they don’t always make it easy.”

This year’s other BU honorary degree recipients are former Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, Doctor of Humane Letters; Nobel Prize winner and climate change champion Mario J. Molina, who will be the Baccalaureate speaker, Doctor of Laws; BU trustee emeritus and longtime Board of Trustees chair Robert A. Knox (CAS’74, Questrom’75), now an overseer, Doctor of Laws; and Jeanne Knox, BU Parents Leadership Council chair, Doctor of Humane Letters.

More information about Commencement can be found here.

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Amy Laskowski

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

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