By Meg James
Los Angeles Times
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Q&A with Bela Bajaria, president of Universal Television. Bajaria got her start in the business with a job at CBS in 1996 as an assistant in the movies and miniseries department when the network was cranking out 65 made-for-TV movies a year. It wasn’t long before she was offered of an executive position. Bajaria’s advice…”You have to put yourself out there because you don’t know who is paying attention.”
The gig: Bela Bajaria is president of Universal Television, NBCUniversal’s TV studio that produces shows such as “Law & Order: SVU,” “The Mindy Project,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Bates Motel,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” and soon, “Emerald City.” She is one of the highest-ranking Indian-American executives in entertainment.
American dreams: The eldest of three children, Bajaria was born in London and spent her early years in London and Zambia. Her family moved to Los Angeles when she was 8. “My family is Indian, but my parents and their family were all born and raised in East Africa. We really moved here for the American dream. In the late 70s, you could come to America and you could be anything.”
At the carwash: Her parents owned carwashes, which helped to instill a strong work ethic and a sense of purpose. She and her sister worked as cashiers on weekends. “I felt like I had an amazing strong family foundation, it was very rooted and very grounded … . My parents came to America, to Los Angeles, without really knowing anyone. They started a life from scratch. I felt pressure, not pressure really, but drive.”
Miss India USA: After high school, a family friend suggested she enter a Miss India USA pageant. “I thought it would be fun to discover the India culture on my own terms, through my own identity.” She won the Miss LA India contest, then became Miss India USA, and, in 1991, she was crowned Miss India Universe. “I met these Indian women from all over the world. It was so interesting and we had a similar bond.” She then spent a few years running a nonprofit that helped children in poor countries.