Big idea: To transform the fledgling cable channel IFC into a major media player by acquiring critically acclaimed, low-rated series such as Freaks and Geeks, while also producing original programs, including the soon-to-be-launched Onion News Network, a comedy starring David Cross, and a reality show about the world of competitive beard growing. "Like everything on IFC, it's slightly off-kilter," says Jennifer Caserta, 39.
Credentials: Caserta worked her way up through the ad sales and marketing departments of Oxygen, the Food Network, and Court TV before joining IFC as vice president of marketing in 2004. She left two years later to run Fuse, the music channel, but returned in 2007 to take over IFC's TV and online programming as well as its marketing and communications.
Ding-dong, IFC here! For one of her first missions, Caserta hired a research firm to go into viewers' homes — sometimes with beer and pizza — to help IFC observe people's daily TV habits. The firm even filmed the experiment. "It sounds really creepy," Caserta says, but the lessons were invaluable: IFC's core audience likes TV that takes risks and wants more series. The research emboldened her to snag the rights to shows she calls "too good for the mainstream," including Arrested Development, Undeclared, and The Larry Sanders Show.
Peeling The Onion: IFC just launched the Onion News Network, the first TV iteration of the newspaper turned website, complete with on-air reporters, local news stories, and White House "correspondents." Caserta describes it as a spoof of Anderson Cooper 360, The Situation Room, and Fox's The O'Reilly Factor. In a who-can-tell-what's-real twist, the net is hosted by "Brooke Alvarez," an anchor played by real-life former Fox Newser Suzanne Sena.
Backup plan: Caserta attended New York's LaGuardia Arts high school (made famous in Fame) and even danced in The Nutcracker with the New York City Ballet for three seasons, starting at age 11.
Growing up in the MTV Generation: When it came to her career, she turned to her other passion, cable TV. "Giving me more channels is like, Whoa! What more can I ask for?" she says.
Thinking like a dude: IFC's viewership skews mostly male. Caserta dubs the women who watch the channel Chicks Who Watch TV Like Dudes. She considers herself among them, calling her broader cultural tastes "typically male." She counts Curb Your Enthusiasm, Robot Chicken, and The Soup as her favorite non-IFC shows. She also loves the classic rock of Led Zeppelin and the Who.
Family of TV savants: The mother of two has been married to her husband, a musician and stay-at-home dad, for 10 years. Obsessing about TV runs in the family blood. Caserta says she would not be surprised if her 5-year-old son pursued a career in television. He already recites the TV schedule from memory.
Office space: In addition to the expected IFC paraphernalia and family photos, Caserta's Manhattan office has posters of her favorite movies, Superbad and the 1979 Coney Island gang flick The Warriors. Also on the walls: an autographed picture of Metallica's Lars Ulrich and a leather jacket with punk markings from an IFC promo shoot.
Independent What Channel? Like its corporate sister AMC (formerly known as American Movie Classics), the Independent Film Channel now goes by just three letters. "Over the last two years, we've refined the brand," she says. While it still shows independent films, including comedies such as Office Space and anything by director Quentin Tarantino, the channel now features a broader array of programs. "We're not talking about black-and-white, subtitled foreign films or break-the-bank-max-out-your-credit-card indies," she says.
In the works: Thom Beers, the producer responsible for Deadliest Catch, pitched IFC a reality-show pilot about competitive beard growing, tentatively called Whisker Wars. Caserta says beard aficionados take their sport just as seriously as physical athletes. Caserta hopes the show will be the latest quirky addition to IFC's roster.
A version of this article appeared in the February 2011 issue of Fast Company magazine.