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The 10 most powerful people in TV news

Sep 10, 2001  •  Post A Comment

What a difference a year makes in Electronic Media’s sixth annual list of the Most Powerful People in Television News.
Promotions have taken some familiar faces-Andy Lack and Jeff Zucker’s among them-off the list. Mr. Lack, who ranked first for the last four years as president of NBC News, has stepped up to the network presidency, and Mr. Zucker, who ranked third last year and fifth the year before as executive producer of “Today,” has taken over the network’s entertainment division.
Not exactly TV business as usual, but not nearly as unexpected as the appearance of Jamie Kellner and Garth Ancier-two guys best known for having given the world “Married … With Children” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”-at the top of CNN’s masthead. They wield an immense amount of hands-on power.
We could no more leave them off the list than we could omit new CNN Chairman Walter Isaacson. After only two months on the job, Mr. Isaacson has shown that he will change the culture at CNN instead of the culture changing him. The era of moving chairs on the deck of the Titanic is over at CNN. We’ll see who’s still aboard next year.
Roger Ailes ascends to the top of this year’s list not just because the path suddenly was cleared but because where others have authority, he has power-pure, concentrated, almost self-contained and surely self-sustaining power, which he exercises fearlessly and precisely, even entertainingly. Last week, faced with an offer for Paula Zahn from CNN, his troops took to the Fox News Web site to declare Ms. Zahn “terminated” and in “breach of contract.” That fierceness, more than political tilt or tone, is what makes Mr. Ailes and Fox News Channel an almost primal power. That and a PR department that keeps an enemies list.
Speaking of the landscape, the local scene demanded to be addressed this year, when duopolies and station groups with increasing news muscle are having a dramatic effect.
Meanwhile, “60 Minutes”’ Don Hewitt took himself off the list by sounding like a million other guys who felt life-and Gary Condit-had passed them by. Dan Rather was off the list because since the election-night fiasco took the bluster out of much of the network news world, he has spoken up only to explain why his newscast shunned the story everyone else was talking about this summer and to urge his viewers to read newspapers.
Barbara Walters may still have “The View” and an unquenchable work ethic, but she was ditched and dissed by the very network that had given her a humongous new contract the year before. If she’s ever going to learn to laugh all the way to the bank, this would be the perfect time.
And we’re betting we see her on the list next year.