ATG caught up with a real go-getter, Kent Takano, who has made an impressive career as an executive in the cable television industry. Currently, Kent is the Executive Producer/VP of Branded Entertainment for the DIY Network.
From 2006-2009, he was the VP of Programming and Branded Entertainment for the Fine Living Network and oversaw the department’s original content development for on-air and online, programming budget, as well as cross-platform strategies with the interactive group for the network’s 55 million digital audience. He also worked with Ad Sales to maximize product integration opportunities with new one-hour original specials and existing series.
In 2004, Takano was Director of Original Programming for Scripps Networks’ broadband and VOD content initiatives. From 2001 to 2004, Takano was Director of Programming for HGTV. His responsibilities included the development and supervision of series and specials for the prime-time lineup. Prior to Scripps Networks, Takano was an independent producer, and he’s produced and written series and specials for, but not limited to, HGTV, Food Network, Discovery, CNET, HGTV, ABC ’s The View, ET and Fox Broadcasting. He also served as programming consultant at the NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates in the San Francisco market.
Takano graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from the University of California, Berkeley.
Kent Yasuo Takano
What does it mean to you to or how do you “Go Against The Grain?”
Going against the grain, especially when I was in college in the mid-80’s, meant doing what I wanted to do instead of what was expected of me. My dad — like many parents of Asian descent — wanted me to go into computers or business. Obviously, both would’ve been great careers — but not for me. So I guess you can say I went against the grain of what was expected, but not against my own expectations or passions. My interests were always more right-brained, the more creative side. All through elementary, junior high and high school, I excelled more in my English courses than anything that had to do with numbers, statistics or org charts. I liked to write — prose, poetry, screenplays, you name it. After graduating from Cal with my Bachelor’s degree, I took a year off and worked — and was probably still convinced I was going to apply to law school. To paraphrase Woody Allen, I didn’t want to go to a law school that would have me as a student. Ha! So I applied for a job at a local TV station in SF and never looked back.
What made you decide to pursue a career in the television programming?
Because it was fun — and in the beginning I didn’t care that I was paid $4.50 an hour. I had another job working as a magazine store clerk, so I was busy 7 days a week. As I learned what it took to write for television, I realized the only thing better than writing a story on a pad of paper or computer was telling a story with pictures. And I knew I didn’t want to go into news; it felt less creative than what I wanted to do. Writing at various entry level jobs finally led to going into the field, producing small projects, and then producing shows. And now I’m on the network side.
What have been some of the challenges you faced/lessons you learned as an Asian American in a very competitive industry?
I think the challenges were internal, rather than external. I’ve always tried to put my efforts towards things I could control, not what I couldn’t. Not always easy, but so important. If there was any institutional prejudice or anything along those lines from an external standpoint, I never felt them. Was it there? Perhaps, but I can’t say for sure. I’ve always been taught to always try to be better and to try harder than anyone else in the room — and do it without complaining. Outside of that, I can’t say whether being Asian American has been a hinderance or a positive thing. That said, it was once intimated by a new supervisor that I was hired “because you’re Asian.” Behind closed doors I asked for clarification on that, and said that if there was any type of tokenism involved in my hiring I would have to leave. I wanted to be hired and subsequently judged by my accomplishments and anything short of that would not be acceptable. And that was only a month into the job (!) — and I just moved 2,000 miles away from home. I was assured the comment was about the strength of having a diverse staff, and nothing else. Maybe I was hypersensitive to the comment, or maybe it was a lapse in judgment on my supervisor’s (at the time) behalf. Either way, we straightened it out quickly.
What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment, and why?
Biggest accomplishment? Yikes — I don’t know. I’ve had a few nice accolades along the way for writing/producing…but perhaps one of the biggest was being asked to attend Scripps Networks’ inaugural Diversity Committee meeting 8 years ago. The “accomplishment” was having the courage to take the CEO (at the time) aside before his opening remarks and, as one of the few minorities in the room, told him that it was important to me, as a minority (and one of the few on the committee, hence the committee!), to make it clear whether Diversity was a business decision or a public affairs initiative. And that if it were the former, then the company needed to build a business case; and if were the latter, then the company needed to handle it that way and not try to make it business case later. I was new the company at the time — and very much the junior person on the committee — but I believe he listened. And, short anecdote here — I was once asked to talk with a group of employees at Scripps and address some growing concerns about diversity. One question came up about whether there were hiring quotas within our company. I assured them that no hiring quotas — despite the fact I knew there were rumors of this spreading quickly. As a way of reinforcing this, I told them bluntly that, as a hiring manager, I would never hire anyone based on race because doing so would only going to make my job more difficult. It was that simple. This “real world” example was met by the entire group’s approval.
What do you hope to achieve?
I don’t have any specific goals, to be honest. I want to continue to learn, get better at what I’m currently doing and, along with that, hope I can teach others along the way.
Who inspires you and/or who are your biggest influences?
Biggest influences are friends and family. I think those who’ve influenced me the most have not been the overachievers, but those who found balance in the work/family lives. I want that someday — and aspire for that balance. Work hard, play hard…easier said than done. But I’ll get there.
What is the most important lesson/advice you would give?
I have a card on my refrigerator that says, “Go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is.” Love that. It reminds me to take chances, to be smart, to have fun on the journey, and to enjoy the rewards — all rolled into one simple thought.
What’s up next (upcoming projects or plans for the coming months)?
Trying to finish writing my first novel. If I knew it’d be so difficult I wouldn’t have started it 18 months ago! While I try to write nearly every day — before or after work — some days are simply more productive than others. I’ve learned that’s all part of the process, too. It’s been a blast…