The Telly Awards are excited to introduce a new member of the Telly Judging Council: Tamra Simmons, Executive Producer of Live Always Productions. Tamra is best known as Executive producer for Lifetime’s explosive investigative docu-series “Surviving R. Kelly.” We spoke with Tamra about what draws her to nonfiction TV and documentaries, how she stays up to date with the industry and why she’s excited to be our newest judge.

What was your first job in the industry? What did it teach you?

My initial role in the industry was as a talent producer for WeTV’s  reality show “Growing Up Hip Hop.” Following my work on the show’s franchise, I was offered the opportunity to continue as a talent producer. This role enabled me to collaborate closely with the cast and talent, fostering strong relationships built on trust. This experience underscored the vital importance of earning the trust of talents in television production for delivering exceptional shows.

What’s a creative risk you took recently? How did it turn out?

Recently, I ventured into a creative risk by expanding my production company to offer development and production services. Thus far, the endeavor has proven to be highly successful, and I have no regrets at this point. Fingers crossed for continued success!

What project are you most proud to have worked on?

The most impactful project I’ve participated in so far is the documentary I created and developed, titled “Surviving R. Kelly” for Lifetime. While working on this highly successful documentary, we encountered various challenges behind the scenes that often went unnoticed by many. This project holds a special place in my heart because it empowered the voices of Black women and left a significant mark on the realms of music and culture, ultimately earning an Emmy nomination for its profound impact.

What’s the best part of your job? What’s the most challenging?

The most enjoyable aspect of my job is the constant variety; each day and every project presents a unique challenge. It’s akin to assembling a grand puzzle, one piece at a time, and witnessing the projects take shape.

On the flip side, the most challenging part is pouring months or even years of passionate work into a project, only to encounter networks that may not grasp the project’s significance or align with my perspective.

What do you look forward to most as a new Judging Council member?

As a new Telly Award Judging Council member, I’m most excited about the opportunity to witness and evaluate the incredible talent and creativity within the industry. I look forward to being part of the process that recognizes outstanding work and contributes to the growth and recognition of exceptional creatives. 

How do you unwind from work mode?

To unwind from work mode, I have two favorite activities that help me relax and satisfy my thirst for knowledge: watching movies and reading. Watching movies allows me to escape into different narratives and unwind, while reading enables me to continue learning and expanding my horizons. These activities provide a perfect balance between relaxation and intellectual stimulation.

How do you stay up-to-date in your industry?

I stay up-to-date in my industry through a combination of methods. These include regularly reading industry news and publications, attending relevant conferences and seminars, networking with peers and experts, and participating in online forums and discussions. It’s crucial to maintain a continuous learning mindset to keep pace with the ever-evolving landscape of my industry.

What inspired you to join the field and create the kind of work you do?

I was initially drawn to the field of documentaries by a profound curiosity about real-life stories and a desire to shed light on important and often underrepresented topics. The power of documentaries to inform, inspire, and evoke empathy resonated with me deeply. I wanted to use this medium to bring meaningful stories to a wider audience and make a positive impact on society through storytelling. This inspiration continues to fuel my passion for creating the kind of documentaries I do.

When did you realize your worth?

I began to realize my worth when I saw the impact of my work and contributions in both personal and professional aspects of my life. It wasn’t tied to a specific moment but rather a gradual understanding of the value I brought to projects, relationships, and my own growth. Recognizing my worth has been an ongoing journey of self-discovery and self-belief.

What’s a work tool you use every day and what’s one that is obsolete that you wish still existed? 

One work tool I use every day is a powerful digital project management software, which keeps tasks organized and facilitates collaboration. It’s essential for efficient workflows.

As for an obsolete tool I wish still existed, I would say physical Rolodexes or contact organizers. While digital tools are efficient, there was something satisfying about flipping through physical cards to find contact information. Also may I add while video conferencing tools like Zoom have become very popular, it’s worth remembering that good old conference calls are still a practical and effective way to communicate. They offer simplicity and can be more convenient for quick discussions or when video isn’t necessary. Sometimes, the classics are just as valuable.