It was “Rear Window” and “Strangers on a Train.” “Frenzy,” the film legend’s penultimate movie also connected deeply with Cat Rodriguez ’00 (Radio, Television, Film with an emphasis in Film). The CSUN alumna found her passion for the craft of storytelling from the work of Alfred Hitchcock.
His films became her gateway into CSUN. CSUN helped give Rodriguez skills and confidence, leading to what has been a successful career in the entertainment industry.
Today, Rodriguez is an influential figure in television as vice president of unscripted development and programming for the Lifetime network. She has combined her skills from CSUN and feel for human emotion to help drive and piece together the stories of many successful unscripted television shows and deliver entertaining narratives to audiences on the television screen. Rodriguez has built a highly accomplished career that has brought her to a professional peak at Lifetime, where she was hired as a vice president in January.
“Lifetime is a big deal. I was really honored that [Lifetime Executive Vice President] Gena McCarthy asked me to come on board. They don’t just hand out those positions,” Rodriguez said. “The exciting part about it is being a part of the A+E family [of networks] and being able to do what I was already doing but on multiple shows, which is what I was dreaming of. It’s a dream come true.”
In her role, Rodriguez assists in the development and overseeing of current programming for Lifetime. The journey to get to this point was paying dues — included waitressing at The House of Blues in Hollywood, interning at Lakeshore Entertainment and working as a production assistant in her early professional years. But the journey began on campus at CSUN.
“Because of Hitchcock, I wanted to get into film,” she recalled. “I applied to CSUN and got in, which I was very excited about it.”
Rodriguez said CSUN, particularly cinema and television arts professor John Schultheiss, challenged her as she had never been challenged before. He didn’t expect his students, Rodriguez said, to memorize. He pushed them to think critically. Her example of this was how he started every class by having students write an essay, which helped Rodriguez become more analytical about film.
“It was the education that I had been longing for my entire life,” she recalled. “He challenged us to comprehend the lesson and write about it. It was so exciting and scary at the same time. I really enjoyed every class.”
Near the end of her schooling at CSUN, Rodriguez was waitressing at The House of Blues when she met a woman who was setting up to film a scene for an MTV show in the restaurant. Rodriguez mentioned that she was looking for work as a production assistant and the woman connected her to her boyfriend who was hiring the next day. This job led to a string of freelance PA jobs for MTV and VH1 and eventually, Rodriguez got enough work to quit waitressing.
As Rodriguez earned a reputation for quality, dependable work, jobs kept coming her way. Her responsibility also grew.
“I always give PAs this advice: Ask a lot of questions. Do your work. Be on time. Be positive. And be vocal about where you want to go, where you see yourself going,” Rodriguez said.
She elevated in the business, from roles on shows as production coordinator to associate producer to field producer to supervising producer, where she was pitching story ideas and helping shape content on reality television shows. She worked on popular shows such as “Next,” “Bam’s Unholy Union,” “LA Ink” and “Models of the Runway.”
The big moment came when she worked as supervising producer and then co-executive producer on the Bravo hit “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” — a show known for its roller coaster of emotion and outrageous real characters.
Afterward, the demand for Rodriguez’s expertise in working on shows with ensemble casts was high. Over the last five years, she has worked on numerous shows, most notably, Lifetime’s “Little Women” franchise as executive producer.
This winter, Lifetime hired Rodriguez to help elevate its unscripted television programming.
“I enjoy getting to know people and teaching people,” Rodriguez said. “I think that translates to how I am with cast and crew. And then also the best part of my job is the storytelling. You get to know people and tell their stories in an authentic, inspiring and exciting way. What I’m good at is getting to know people well enough to, not only tell their story, but one that’s entertaining for television.”
Rodriguez is one of several Matadors working in prominent positions shaping television programming and content. Included in that group are Mike Darnell (president of Warner Bros. Unscripted & Alternative Television) and Michelle Vicary (executive vice president of programming and network publicity for Crown Media Family Networks) — who have both been honored with CSUN Distinguished Alumni Awards. John Dokes was promoted this year to AccuWeather Network’s president and chief content officer, and Karen K. Miller joined Universal Kids as senior vice president of content after years as an executive at Disney Channel.
“I think it speaks to how amazing the professors are and the classes and the support system there,” Rodriguez said. “I think CSUN is a very inspiring school. … It has great structure, great curriculum, and I always think about my professors who helped me. I even wrote a thank you letter to Dr. Schultheiss.”
Rodriguez said she wrote the letter a few years after she earned her degree when she was coming up as a successful producer. But she could feel that a turning point in her career was coming, and wanted to acknowledge her former professor for helping her.
The pair haven’t kept in touch, but it touched Schultheiss to know that one of his former students keeps accomplishing more.
“I’m delighted she’s doing well,” Schultheiss said. “When you work hard and prepare lectures and you’re looking out at 100 blank faces, you don’t know what they’re thinking — whether they’re getting something out of it. To have someone who [was] receptive, it’s a great thing.”
It’s not Hitchcock. It’s not movies that Rodriguez is working on. But there is a commonality between Rodriguez and the legendary filmmaker: their work has a common theme. For Hitchcock it was suspense.
“I would say the theme that runs across my shows is deeply personal stories of everyday people – relatable stories that people can dig into and enjoy,” Rodriguez said. “There’s a certain intimacy to them.”