Christina Wayne exhibits none of the telltale signs of corporate entertainment world ambition—no sleek aughties version of the power suit, no intense stare, no steady stream of self-promoting references to her own fabulous accomplishments casually peppered into her conversation. In fact, with her Jennifer Garner cheekbones and dimples, girlish bangs and J. Crew collegiate blazer, she conjures a slightly more mature Gossip Girl rather than one of the fastest-rising execs in television. Sitting in her modest office across from New York’s Penn Station reminiscing about the previous day’s lunch at Sant Ambroeus in the West Village, Wayne, 40, is overcome with the sort of starstruck awe that doesn’t normally emanate from someone whose shows have won 12 Emmys: “Graydon Carter was there, and Billy Joel and his wife, and André Leon Talley and Zac Posen—it was amazing!”
Though her title—senior vice president of scripted series and miniseries at AMC—implies gravitas, it is Wayne’s starry-eyed idealism that has helped turn a sleepy station that played old movies into cable’s newest phenomenon. Under her leadership, the channel has spawned Mad Men, which garnered a whopping 16 Emmy nominations this year and had six wins, including one for best dramatic series; it was the first time a basic cable channel had ever taken the night’s top honor. She also helped develop a second cult hit, Breaking Bad—whose lead, Bryan Cranston, scored the Emmy for best actor in a drama this year—and the Robert Duvall miniseries Broken Trail, which drew 9.8 million viewers (a hefty number for basic cable) and won three Emmys in 2007. “This kind of thing doesn’t happen very often,” Wayne admits about AMC’s sudden catapult to success.
It’s also not very often that a little-known freelance screenwriter becomes one of the most influential “suits” in the business almost overnight. “Talking to her is like talking to another artist,” says Mad Men’s creator, Matthew Weiner. “She has great taste, she’s not afraid of new things, and it’s never about a focus group or second-guessing the market.” She is, in effect, the antithesis of the blithe, profits-obsessed executive that Alec Baldwin parodies on 30 Rock. Wayne, who was always infatuated with film, attended the all-girls Hewitt School during her tony Upper East Side childhood before enrolling in Barnard and spending summers studying film at New York University. After a stint as Rolling Stone movie critic Peter Travers’s assistant—a job she took mainly “because I got to see tons of movies”—she headed to Los Angeles, where she spent four years doing treatments for, and ultimately directing, music videos. Later, while making the E! channel’s True Hollywood Story on the murder of Dominique Dunne, she interviewed legendary Hollywood producer Robert Evans, who inspired her to make her first feature film. An autobiographically tinged Upper East Side–based teen drama she had written called Tart, the movie received little attention when it was released by Lionsgate in 2001 but is a stylistic precursor to films like Tadpole and Igby Goes Down.