Roma Roth, BA’90, is not one to follow the crowd. Instead, she follows her instincts.
Her approach has seen her rise up through the ranks of the film and television industry, making her mark in a field dominated by men.
When fellow producers told her “romantic dramas never sell,” Roth ignored their advice. She chose to make a break from delivering highly rated thrillers for the tv movie market, and bypass a saturated marketplace of psychological thrillers and murder mysteries.
“I recognized the world needed something different,” she said. “My instinct was that there was so much horror in the world, from global warming, to catastrophes, conflicts and overall ugliness. I didn’t want to do what everybody else was doing. I felt people needed something to comfort them—a sense of family, peace and security.”
She found it, six months later, after an intensive search for the right material by the right author with an established global fanbase: Virgin River, by New York Times best-selling author Robyn Carr.
“It was this jewel others had overlooked, and I just knew it was going to resonate with people around the world.”
Her intuition was bang on. The show, which she developed and executive produced, became a megahit, drawing a record global audience surpassing The Crown and The Queen’s Gambit.
Now she’s aiming for similar success, with another Carr adaptation, Sullivan’s Crossing, premiering Sunday, March 19, on CTV.
The 10-episode one-hour drama follows the journey of neurosurgeon Maggie Sullivan, who, when her perfect life in Boston turns upside down, returns to her childhood home in Nova Scotia.
By filming and setting the show in the eastern province, instead of Carr’s fictional U.S. town, Roth’s looking to confirm her long-held belief: shows set in Canada can be as successful in attracting a global audience as those set south of the border.
“Creating a show in Canada, set in Canada, feels like coming home,” Roth said.
Home for Roth is London, Ont. She studied anthropology at Western, where her father, professor emeritus René Roth, taught for 26 years.
She then pursued her master’s degree, inspired by the work of Jane Goodall. It was a pivotal choice, giving her “the bug” that saw her career plans change.
Using a camcorder to record the behaviour of bonobo apes, Roth hoped to submit the footage to support her dissertation. When that wasn’t permitted, she teamed up with her identical twin sister, Rosana, BA’91, (now also a producer) to create the educational documentary The Uncommon Chimpanzee. Their work is still shown in classrooms around the world.
“That’s when I realized I could reach so many more people and make an impact at a global level with this medium.”
“My background in anthropology has made me look at the world in a very objective and analytical way, allowing me to really consider what it takes to make a hit TV show.” – Roma Roth, BA’90, president, Reel World Management
She jumped right in, landing a job as an assistant to the producer on Lonesome Dove: The Series while she completed her master’s in anthropology at the University of Calgary. Successive roles followed before an internship at Alliance Canada’s Los Angeles office put her exactly where she wanted to be.
“I wanted to come to LA to learn as much as possible so I could come back to Canada and support the industry here,” Roth said.
It’s a goal she’s met throughout her career, filming her high-quality content in northern Ontario, Calgary, Vancouver, and now in Eastern Canada, as executive producer and showrunner of Sullivan’s Crossing.
“I really took the reins on Sullivan’s, to achieve what I wanted,” Roth said. She oversees every aspect of the show, from establishing the look and tone, writing and overseeing scripts, to choosing wardrobe and music, spending months in editing to realize her vision.
She hand-picked the cast, choosing up-and-coming Canadian actress Morgan Kohan to play Maggie alongside Chad Michael Murray (One Tree Hill) and Scott Patterson (Gilmore Girls).
“It’s been a lot of hard work and a lot of planning but this show has lived up to every expectation I had,” she said. “I think it’s going to connect with people very deeply and in a more meaningful way than any project I’ve ever done.”