Alternative fare chief makes most of hits

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ABC's reality hit "The Bachelor" doesn't win raves from critics or feminists, but the unscripted series delivers what the beleaguered broadcast network most needs-ratings. Nearly 26 million viewers tuned in for its November 2002 finale. "The Bachelor's" success was no surprise to Andrea Wong, ABC's senior VP overseeing alternative series and specials. The 36-year-old network up-and-comer recognized hit potential immediately.

When the show's executive producer pitched the concept in 2001, Ms. Wong bought it on the spot. She felt "The Bachelor" had the requisite story and characters to entice viewers, plus its concept could be expressed in a sound bite. "If you can't sell it to a viewer in a 10-second promo, then it will have a tough time," Ms. Wong says.

Score one for the programming and marketing instincts of Ms. Wong, a 10-year network veteran, a onetime researcher for "Prime Time Live" and former executive assistant to then ABC President Bob Iger (now president-chief operating officer at ABC parent Walt Disney Co.). ABC put Ms. Wong in charge of unscripted programs, specials and late-night in 1998. In 2000, she was promoted to senior VP.

Ms. Wong's job places her regularly in the hot seat. Not every show during her tenure has worked (dare we mention "Are You Hot?"). "I take a lot of hits," she acknowledges. "When a drama or comedy fails, it just goes off the schedule and nobody writes about it ... but here, your failures are much more public."

Of course, failure is part and parcel of TV. Not that the poised Ms. Wong knows much about that first-hand. The daughter of a high school math teacher and a nurse from Sunnyvale, Calif., earned a degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an MBA at Stanford University. (She admits to being a fan of ABC's "The Love Boat" and "The Partridge Family" as a kid.) At MIT, Ms. Wong realized that electrical engineering wasn't her calling. But the experience wired her with what may be the most beneficial commodity for someone in the entertainment industry-confidence. "I had no fear of problem solving by the end of four years," she says. "I finished problems every night that seemed impossible."

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