Originally a fashion merchandising major at Immaculata, Colleen Conway ’93 switched to English with a minor in fashion after her sophomore year. “I enjoyed all the classes for design elements and sewing,” said Conway, “but the fashion major was more about business, and I was always more interested in the creative side and in writing, whether it was journalism or marketing and advertising.”
Conway, who is vice president of Reality and Alternative Programming for Lifetime Television, describes 24 Hour Catwalk, a Jane Street Production, as “Chopped for fashion.” Four designers compete to create their own three-garment line; after a first cut challenge, the competition drops to two contestants who must create a three-piece themed collection to be featured in a runway show—and they have all of 24 hours to do it.
“It’s really fun,” said Conway. “The designers have a sewing team from the garment district, who function almost like a Greek chorus, and we focus on the fast pace and high pressure of fashion. We could sit on set while they were shooting and just let the drama go where it was going to go, though, occasionally, we would throw in an extra challenge to keep things interesting.”
According to Conway, “One of the show’s judges, designer Cynthia Rowley, said it really does mimic the fashion world. There are always one or two pieces being put together the day before a show. It’s a real test of creativity under pressure.”
Conway said her own sewing experiences at Immaculata gave her an insider’s sympathy for the contestants. “I had two fashion labs at Immaculata,” said Conway. “I took flat-pattern making. I could definitely understand the pressure-cooker feeling and commiserate with them when things went wrong.”
Conway credits another very different Immaculata experience with being “the stepping stone for where I am today.” In her senior year at Immaculata, Conway landed an internship with KYW in Philadelphia, the NBC news affiliate at that time, in the creative services department. “I did a lot of little promos for the Olympics,” said Conway, noting that it was this internship that “sealed my fate,” launching a career that, so far, has included an Emmy Award.
From connections made at KYW, Conway was hired right out of school by Strawbridge and Clothier, first as a wardrobe stylist assistant, then as a writer/producer/director for the company’s broadcast advertising department run by Susan Carden. “Susan was inclined to hire me,” said Conway, “because she had worked at KYW too, prior to my interning there.”
Conway wrote commercials at Strawbridge’s for a couple of years, and then, after a brief stint with a production company, she took a job in Boston writing long-form programming, working independently for Carden, who had moved to Comcast.
“I was a freelancer writing scripts for live TV hosts,” said Conway. “They were these little segments advertising a weekend of free HBO, or free movies and premium packages.”
Carden invited Conway to work out of the offices of Smash Advertising, the agency of record for Comcast in Boston. After a year of freelancing, the agency hired her, and Conway began writing commercials for VH1, Sesame Street, and A&E Network, the agency’s three biggest clients.
In 1999, Conway returned to Philadelphia to work for Comcast again before moving to A&E in New York. “I was creative director on the promo side, and then I switched over to programming,”—not a natural progression in the industry.
“This was a first for the company,” said Conway, “to have a marketing person come into programming. In 2003, there was a ‘changing of the guard’ at A&E. Marketing was helping to rebrand the network, and I was working closely with the programming team.”
This professional cross-pollination led to Conway overseeing the A&E series Intervention, which profiles individuals whose dependence on drugs and alcohol or other compulsive behaviors has led them to crisis. The show was twice nominated and then awarded an Emmy in 2009 for Outstanding Reality Series. It is a five-time PRISM award-winner for its treatment of health and social issues.
“I would watch the cuts and give notes,” said Conway, who also approved casting and filming teams. “Internally, I was the brand manager for the show. I wasn’t in the field day-to-day, because the nature of the show was very intimate.
“I was really fortunate to be able to work on Intervention,” said Conway, who met her fiance, a showrunner, when they worked on the series. “I’ve been able to work with the best programming in television, and my Immaculata days are a huge part of it.”
While at A&E, Conway was the executive producer on The First 48, Dog the Bounty Hunter, I Survived, and Kirsty Alley’s Big Life. Now at Lifetime, in addition to 24 Hour Catwalk, Conway is a network executive producer on Coming Home, Russian Dolls, Vanished with Beth Holloway, and The Week the Women Went, with new series and projects in the works.