What Joe Abruzzese, Ad Sales Executive Extraordinaire, Did That Changed the Ad Game

Jan 20, 2010  •  Post A Comment

In 2002, Joe Abruzzese, then the top ad sales executive at the Tiffany Network, CBS, did a most extraordinary thing. He jumped to cable, taking the helm for ad sales at Discovery Communications.

As one top media agency person told TVWeek at the time, "It’s a watershed moment. The ad sales departments at the cable networks are filled with former broadcast network managers, but it’s an incredible statement that Joey has made leaving CBS, where he was well ensconced as the sitting president of ad sales, his relationship with Mel aside." In the eyes of many, Abruzzese’s move legitimitized cable as an ad vehicle in a way it hadn’t been before.

The reference to "Mel" is to Mel Karmazin, who was running CBS at the time, and is known as a pretty tough executive. At a 2006 press conference announcing his coming to Discovery, Abruzzese, when asked about Karmazin, said,  "Mel made me better at my job." Then he compared Mr. Karmazin to a football coach, adding, "After practice you’re beaten up, but at the end of the day you’re a better football player.”

Subsequently, over the years, when asked about working for Karmazin, Abruzzese has been oft-quoted as saying that it was like the brutal first 20 minutes of "Saving Private Ryan." Every day.

The reason this anecdote is still worth repeating is that it goes to the core of what Abruzzese is all about. Clearly one of the best and brightest, he’s also big on relationships. Relationships with the buyers and media agency managers up and down Madison Ave., as well as the managers inside the company at which he works.

Today we present our recent interview with Abruzzese as part of our special report in which TVWeek has named Discovery Communications our Cable TV Programmer of the Decade.

In the interview Abruzzese begins by talking about his relationship with the man who runs Discovery these days, David Zaslav–and he even talks a little about Karmazin. Please click here to read it.

–Chuck Ross