TelevisionWeek is teaming up with TV industry veteran Marianne Paskowski. The blog will give Marianne a forum to convey her deep knowledge of the industry and pass along some of the juicy morsels she's hearing on the grapevine. Marianne has covered the TV industry from the inside out and top to bottom, and TVWeek's readers are bound to benefit from her sharp eyes, ears and wit. TVWeek.com invites readers to jump online, chime in and pick Marianne's brain on the latest industry news.


Marianne Paskowski

TV Cable Nets: No Place for Senior Female Execs

November 21, 2008 8:35 AM

So much for crashing through glass ceilings is what I conclude from reading highlights of the 2008 Women in Cable Telecommunications’ PAR Initiative Survey that tracks female employment trends at both cable programming and distribution companies.

Glass Ceiling

The biggest shocker was the glaring fact that top female executives at cable programming companies dropped significantly from 32.5% two years ago to 26.1% this year.

So how to explain this glaring ebb of top female talent at the cable programming nets? Consolidation is the culprit, say the survey’s analysts.

They point to the departures of leaders like Oxygen Media founder and CEO Gerry Laybourne, who sold her company to NBC Universal.

OK, that’s one person. Who else, I ask? I can’t think of one.

The study’s analysts also say women who run cable networks might be counted as middle management now that their companies are part of larger organizations.

Might? Don’t we know?

No matter how you slice it, most top-level jobs at the cable programmers are going to men, the survey concludes.

And that’s the real answer, I say, not this mumbo-jumbo about consolidation.


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Comments (24)

David Cohen:

So THAT'S where my job search went wrong: I should try to run a CABLE network!

Marianne Paskowski:

You apparently have gender working in your favor, m

David Cohen:

Come to think of it, with some of the crap I've seen on TV lately, I might actually qualify. Ever catch "Groomer Has It" on Animal Planet? Yeesh!

Marianne Paskowski:

Can't say I have, as a dog owner, we never tune into Animal Planet, too upsetting to Maizey, our yellow lab, she hates the channel and cries when it's on.

Like all dogs, she loves the Weather Channel!

Hi Marianne,

Why would Geraldine Laybourne's departure from Oxygen lower the percentage of women running cable networks? She was replaced by a woman, wasn't she?

And I agree with you, Marianne: There's something fishy about this report. As you say, "Might? Don't they know?" Seems to me the people conducting the survey should know their own survey.


Marianne Paskowski:

Hi Cory,

Guess it has something to do with job titles at the mega media companies, Gerry's successor is a small fish in a big pond.


Arthur Greenwald:


The key word here is "survey" which has become synonymous with "meaningless unreliable information."

In all likelihood it was not a scientific random study, but a voluntary questionnaire sent to members of "Women in Cable Telecommunications" --- which means replies were limited to those with enough free time to fill it out.

Common sense observation would indicate that there are plenty of middle and top managers at cable networks. So much so that the first wave of women cable chiefs (executives who, ahem, ranged all over the competence scale) have retired or been replaced by talented female successors.

Taking nothing away from Gerry Laybourne's career, but arguably her greatest achievement was training her protegee Anne Sweeney. That's true of many of that first group of women in cable, many of whom made time to mentor up-and-coming producers and managers.


Marianne Paskowski:

WICT has done this survey for years, so there are benchmarks of comparison. Like all research, it's not perfect, and this drop in top female talent at the cable nets is indeed puzzling.

Thanks for your post, m

This is for Arthur...

Dear Arthur,

Regarding Geraldine Laybourne's mentoring of Anne Sweeney... You're right! Sweeney worked for Laybourne for 12 years, starting off as her assistant at Nickelodeon. Sweeney was then recruited by Laybourne to join her at The Disney Channel when Laybourne took it over. When the Disney thing didn't work out for Laybourne what was the first thing she did after leaving? She launched a cable network for women (Oxygen) declaring war on Sweeney and her Lifetime Network for women.

Some mentor.

Then there's the whole content thing. Look at the track records of these chicks at Nickelodeon, The Disney Channel, and Oxygen. They made a lot of money for their shareholders, to be sure. But between the two of them they have done more than any other two women in this country's history to denigrate education, to turn children against their parents, to pimp out said children to advertisers, to portray women as drunken stupid sluts, and to marginalize the nuclear family. Together they form a compelling argument for a la carte cable TV pricing, yet somehow Laybourne became the cable industry's spokesperson against a la carte, which means consumers who want cable TV have no choice but to pay for these two women's excrement.

The irony is stunning.

Marianne Paskowski:

Think you're getting off message her. I look at Laybourne and Sweeney as great role models for younger women.

They have both done a lot of help younger women climb the corporate ladder.



Even The New Yorker published a piece about what a rotten role model Angelica Pickles...Laybourne's iconic little girl at Nickelodeon...was to little girls.

I guess we will always disagree about this.

Laybourne and Sweeney might be role models in how to become the most powerful women in the world, but they rose to power by becoming enemies of and declaring war on parents, families, and, ironically enough, Walt Disney and his Mickey Mouse. If you're going to hold up Laybourne as an argument to appoint more women to powerful positions in cable TV, I don't think I'm off message at all to question how she grabbed her power. Nor am I off message to ask if you really want subsequent generations of women to emulate Laybourne by turning children against their parents, pimping out children to advertisers, portraying women as drunken stupid sluts in the media, and disseminating farts and boogers in children's television programming.

Farts and boogers and drunken stupid sluts = good role model for women???

And do you really think the woman who launched Oxygen in Forbes magazine by spreading her legs wide apart to draw attention to her vagina and its metaphoric denial of a penis is a good role model for women?

Or maybe this is precisely why you think she's a good role model to women. Geraldine Laybourne has the balls to tell men to go stuff it.

Even though she has no balls at all.

Like I said, the irony is stunning.

And though we disagree, I still love you.

Jeff Mulligan:

Marianne --

Let's take a breath here. You cite "top female executives at cable programming companies dropped significantly from 32.5% two years ago to 26.1% this year. So how to explain this glaring ebb of top female talent?

Considering the underlying quality of most such industry surveys with their self-selecting samples, a decrease as cited probably isn't at all statistically significant. It hardly qualifies as a "glaring ebb."

You need qualitative analysis of what's going on. One hypothesis: The aging lionesses of cable's entrepreurial age are retiring, and some are smart enough to pick talented heirs regardless of gender.


Marianne Paskowski:

Pretty sure the HR departments fill out these surveys about the workforce. HR, being AR, follows the rules to a T, so if a chick were the head of a net, but didn't have a title president, that might explain the discrepancy here.

Retirement, doesn't.Men retire, too. However, here's another thought, the generation following the Yuppies has very different ideas about careers, and the women might be more interested in balancing families with work, instead of sacrificing everything for the corner office.

Thanks for your post, m

Marianne Paskowski:


Sorry I overlooked your rant about Gerry and Ann.

So Hugh Heffner is a great role model?

He made his living exploiting young women who were more than happy to play the game. I don't hold that against him.

And you have got to get over this obsession. Face it, it's not a perfect world, and a lot of people will do anything, women, kids, their parents to get their 15 minutes of fame.

Remember this is only television. I'm much more concerned about real kids.

But thanks for you post, although we agree to disagree, I understand your passion, m

Thurston Last:

You know, it's telling though. Women helped build the cable industry for the better part of the 1990s to the mid-2000s, and yet nowadays, they're not so vocal. You know, in addition to her founding of Oxygen, Laybourne was one of those that helped make Nickelodeon a marquee brand to this day as well as helped turn around Lifetime.

And let's not forget about Betty Cohen, who was another part of that Nickelodeon trio and one of the creators of Cartoon Network who was forced out by a group of idiots who think the definition of what's a cartoon is fluid at best that such time-honored treasures as Son of the Mask, Kicking and Screaming, and Batman and Robin air on an irregular basis. Oh, and Linda Simensky at PBS Kids and Dea Perez at Discovery Kids, both CN vets now in charge of making quality channels.

Back to work, I guess.

Marianne Paskowski:


Thanks for your post about what has happened to female leadership in cable, especially for reminding me about what happened to Betty Cohen, m

Dear Marianne,

I copied and pasted this little exchange of ours about Geraldine Laybourne in my blog Leprechaun Lexicon.

One of my readers responded:

"Cory! I'm surprised you could say you still love Marianne after what she said. Even I find it egregious that G.L. and A.S. could be called role models for young women. You wouldn't even vote for Barack Obama because G.L. was on his list of "advisors!" What are your readers to think of this inconsistency?"

It got me to thinking, Marianne.

You didn't respond to my specific questions about Laybourne's track record. What about The New Yorker's article declaring Angelica a rotten role model for millions of little girls?

Please comment.

Nickelodeon's Big Idea is "Us versus Them," where "us" is kids and "them" are parents, teachers, and other responsible adults.

Please comment.

And what about that picture of her from Forbes? (http://coryoconnor.livejournal.com/604038.html)

She used it to launch Oxygen.

Please comment on the message of that photograph, and the appropriateness of it to launch a women's brand.

Sure, Geraldine Laybourne is a woman of many accomplishments. But at every turn in her career Gerry opted for the low road.

There are other, better examples of role models for women.

What about Oprah Winfrey?

What about Jean Picker Firstenberg, CEO of the American Film Institute?

What about you?


PS: We've been through this before. Let it sink in. I'm not giving up on this "obsession," but I do appreciate your acknowledging my "passion."

Dear Marianne,

It's been four days and we haven't heard a peep out of you about this.

You seem to have lost your will to defend Geraldine Laybourne.

Am I wrong?

Your readers, presumably including a large share from the cable TV industry, Gerry's playground, aren't rushing in to defend her either.

Wonder why.


Marianne Paskowski:

You are wrong. I think we've beaten this subject to death, that's all. Nothing new to respond to....m

This makes two.

Dear Marianne,

We now disagree on two things.

One: You say Geraldine Laybourne is "a great role model for younger women." I say women you couldn't come up with a worse role model than Geraldine Laybourne.

Two: You say we've beaten this subject to death. I say we've only begun. Folding your arms and saying you don't want to talk about it anymore and refusing to answer specific questions about Laybourne's track record is anathema to the spirit of open discussion you have nurtured here in this blog.

Why oh why will nobody here...including you...address the following facts:

1.) Fact: Laybourne's Big Idea behind Nickelodeon is Us versus Them...turning kids against their parents!!!

How can you say this is the attribute of "a great role model for younger women?"

2.) Fact: Nickelodeon was losing money when Laybourne took over. Her solution? Advertising. Thus, the best interests of advertisers...not children or families or parents or educators...are Nickelodeon's Holy Grail, and today such advocacy groups as the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for Science in the Public Interest are working to undo the substantial damage (childhood obesity, hedonism, materialism) Laybourne has inflicted upon little children and American culture.

How can you say this is the attribute of "a great role model for younger women?"

3.) Fact: Faced with new competitive threats from Cartoon Network and The Disney Channel's move to basic cable, Laybourne repositioned Nickelodeon on the low road, delivering farts and boogers and rotten role models in the forms of Ren & Stimpy and Angelica Pickles. In the words of The New Yorker, Angelica is a "rotten role model for millions of girls."

How can you say this is the attribute of "a great role model for younger women?"

4.) Laybourne told Bill Carter of the New York Times that without the Big Help...a kid-centric volunteer program Nickelodeon launched in the mid 1990's...Nickelodeon would just be "exploiting kids."

How can you say this is the attribute of "a great role model for younger women?"

5.) Laybourne's Oxygen Network portrayed women...in the words of The New York Times...as "stupid sluts."

How can you say this is the attribute of "a great role model for younger women?"

6.) Laybourne has said she looks forward to the day when mediocre women are CEO's of companies.

How is this the attribute of a great role model?

7.) First at Nickelodeon, then at The Disney Channel, Laybourne stripped out all vestiges of educational programming.

How can you say this is the attribute of "a great role model for younger women?"

8.) According to a former colleague of hers, Laybourne is "...a cold warrior. There has to be an enemy." To Laybourne, this colleague declared, the enemy is parents.

How can you say this is the attribute of "a great role model for younger women?"

9.) You hold Laybourne up as a mentor, but given the chance, the first thing she did was to declare war on her greatest protege...Anne Sweeney...by launching Oxygen as a broadside against Sweeney's Lifetime.

How can you say this is the attribute of "a great role model for younger women?"

10.) When Laybourne arrived at The Disney Channel, she introduced herself at the first all-employee meeting this way: "I had to promise Michael Eisner I wouldn't bring farts and boogers to The Disney Channel before he would give me the job." Even Laybourne acknowledges she built her career on farts and boogers.

How can you say this is the attribute of "a great role model for younger women?"

I could go on and on and on and I do...but you don't want to hear any of this. Your mind is made up and you refuse to discuss it further. I thought this was a conversation.

Several weeks ago I was invited by the Chapman University Mortar Board to speak at one of their upcoming events. My topic?

"Fart Lady: A Scholarly Look at the Most Sinister and Influential Woman in the History of America."

This is the Gerry Laybourne you want young women to emulate.

Let's pray for the America that elevates the likes of a Geraldine Laybourne as a role model for younger women, because an America that elevates a Geraldine Laybourne as a role model is doomed.

To The Readers of Marianne Paskowski's Blog:

Presumably many of you are cable television savvy. Presumably many of you are familiar with Geraldine Laybourne and her track record. Presumably a number of you have worked with or for Geraldine Laybourne over the years.

So why is it none of you will defend her?

What about you, Arthur Greenwald? You say Laybourne's "greatest achievement was training her protegee Anne Sweeney," yet when I point out to you the first thing Laybourne did upon leaving Disney was to launch Oxygen, a direct assault against her protege Sweeney, you all but disappear.

Grow a pair, Arthur.

And as for you, Marianne, what the hell have you been smoking? I cannot fathom for the life of me how you can possibly think Laybourne is a great role model for younger women. Even Oprah Winfrey found Laybourne so reprehensible that she fled their Oxygen partnership.

I have itemized here ten significant examples that illuminate Laybourne as anything but a positive role model to younger women, yet you not only refuse to respond to these specific charges but you insist we have beaten the issue to death.

How ironic.

How is the issue beaten to death when you won't answer my questions? We're not having a conversation here; I'm trying, but you're stonewalling.



Едем с подельником на встерчу. На его авто(грузовик Scania). Едем не на скорости, торопиться незачем, хоть и время позднее. Голосует на обочине девушка. Нам в ту же сторону. Девушка изрядно поддата. Прыгает на сиденье. Только начинаем поездку, у нее гудит мобильный телефон, и не успев услышать голос на том конце провода, она начинает кричать: "Да, #лядь! Еду уже, зае#ал, скоро приеду!!! Еду, #лядь!".
В ярости бросает трубку в сумочку. Спустя пару минут, очень нежным и ласковым голосом:
- Ребят, а нельзя ли немножко поскорей, а то меня мужик дома вые#ет...
На минуту задумывается. Понимает, что в культурной компании так себя не ведут, и добавляет:
- Ну, это конечно же в переносном смысле...
Уходит в себя. Начинает копаться в своей сумке. Мы чувствуем, что про себя она никак не закончит внутренний дискурс. И вот, уже больше для себя, она с небольшой грустинкой в голосе произносит чуть-чуть тише:
- А вот в прямом, возможно, уже вряд ли...
Находит в сумке сигаретку, закуривает ее, выдыхает дым (нас уже нет для нее, все на полном автопилоте). И мстительно-мечтательным голосом:
- А более мне сейчас, вобщем-то, и не надо...

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