Mergers Make for Fewer Top TV Jobs

Dec 22, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Heading into 2004, fewer top jobs are open in the television industry than have been in recent years.
That’s due at least in part to consolidation, which continued to march through the industry in 2003, said one television business staffing expert.
“There are less big jobs available right now than there have been,” Brad Marks, chairman-CEO of executive recruitment firm Brad Marks International, told TelevisionWeek. “All the redundancies caused by mega-mergers have squeezed a lot of people out. A lot of talented people have been forced to find a different part of the business to hang their hat on, a different business altogether to hang it on, or to go into business for themselves. It’s actually created a lot of entrepreneurs.”
Mr. Marks said start-up cable programming networks and Spanish-language broadcasting are the main areas of the TV business likely to see growth in the number of job opportunities.
Right now, the bulk of open jobs is among established cable businesses, at outfits such as ABC Family, Comcast, FX and Game Show Network.
On the broadcast side, staffing is stable. Among the very few searches that are in progress, ABC is looking to replace “Jimmy Kimmel Live” executive producer Daniel Kellison, who left the late-night show in October. ABC’s VP of Alternative Series Duncan Gray has been handling showrunner duties in the interim.
NBC’s merger with Vivendi Universal Entertainment is likely to bring with it a slew of management changes once the $14 billion transaction wins approval from regulators in the United States and Europe sometime in the second quarter of 2004. Though it is too early to tell, business units that could see activity include syndication, production and marketing, all of which are areas where NBC and VUE overlap. However, that situation will likely contribute to the pool of available talent, rather than create new openings.
While candidate lists for the open jobs may be long with out-of-work players, the gigs may not be filled right away. Due to the many mergers and acquisitions, many companies have deep executive ranks they can rely on to mind the stores until they find new shopkeepers, giving them the luxury of time to find the right candidate-which can be harder than it looks.
“People usually underestimate how tough it is to fill a job with the right person,” Mr. Marks said. “A lot of the industry practice in the past has been, `Let’s hire my friend at such and such place because I’m comfortable with them even though they may not be a superstar.’ The real challenge in today’s marketplace is to identify the real talent in the marketplace and the company that needs to find that person.”
In other words, there may be a lot of talented people available, but whether they meet the requirements and fit the culture and chemistry of the company in need is the big challenge, Mr. Marks said. Being able to make matches “will separate the successful companies and the less successful companies.”
Here is a rundown of some of the biggest open jobs in TV:
* Comcast has been searching for an executive to oversee its programming investments. Comcast either owns or has majority stakes in Comcast SportsNet, E! Entertainment Television and Style, The Golf Channel, Outdoor Life Network and G4. The company is reportedly looking for someone with a strategic programming outlook. The assets are currently overseen by Amy Banse, VP, programming investments, who is more of a business affairs executive. The new executive will be responsible for growing the value of Comcast’s current assets as well as possibly targeting acquisition candidates.
* Game Show Network is on the hunt for a new senior VP of programming. Bob Boden stepped down from the position this month.
The network, owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment and Liberty Media Corp., has hired a search firm to help it select an accomplished executive with expertise in unscripted TV. The executive will be charged with broadening the programming slate to include reality-based, game-related programming in addition to the classic game shows that still dominate its schedule. The network already is developing casino- and video-game-related fare and its first relationship show.
While Mr. Boden has served in top jobs at a range of companies, he is best known as a game show guru, having overseen such shows as “Greed,” “Family Feud” and “The $25,000 Pyramid.” However, at GSN he oversaw the development of a range of originals-including game shows such as “Cram” and “Lingo” and broader game-related fare such as the Chuck Woolery reality project “Naturally Stoned” and a documentary on a classic game show scandal.
In the interim, GSN’s VP of programming, Kevin Bellinkoff, is handling programming at the net, which also is poised to change its name in the new year. Mr. Bellinkoff is reporting directly to the network’s topper, Rich Cronin, who joined the company in May 2001.
* The top original programming job at FX has been open since Labor Day, when former President of Entertainment Kevin Reilly left the basic-cable network to take the top development job at NBC. Mr. Reilly accepted the NBC job in June, so the search has been on for several months.
Although the job likely will be filled in 2004, FX probably won’t rush into anything. Heading originals at FX-which comprises oversight of movies, scripted series, miniseries, reality programs and live and special-event programming-will be crucial to FX as it tries to build on the momentum it has gained with such projects as “The Shield” and “Nip/Tuck.”
FX also has a history of taking its time to carefully choose programmers. When Mr. Reilly joined the network about three years ago, for example, the job had been open for months after Jeremiah Bosgang left the executive VP of development and production post.
While FX continues to look for Mr. Reilly’s successor, the network’s senior programming executives-some of whom Mr. Reilly hired-are reporting directly to Peter Liguori, president and CEO of FX Networks. There appears to be no internal candidate within FX, and the network declined to discuss any candidates that are under consideration. Insiders said the network is determined to exercise patience until it can find the right person.
* Two major posts at Disney’s ABC Family basic-cable network are likely to be filled in the coming year, following the exit of Angela Shapiro as the network’s president and the recent death of head of programming Linda Mancuso.
Ms. Shapiro, former head of ABC Daytime, left ABC Family after Disney reorganized its cable holding in October. The reorganization resulted in Ms. Shapiro’s reporting to ABC Cable Networks Group head Anne Sweeney, instead of directly reporting to Disney President Robert Iger. The shift gave Ms. Sweeney-who is credited with turning the Disney Channel from a quiet pay service for kids into a booming basic-cable business-sway over all of Disney’s cable investments, except for its sports networks, which are headed by ESPN. Recently installed ABC Family General Manager Mark Silverman is running the ABC Family operation until a replacement for Ms. Shapiro is named.
Strategizing for the future of ABC Family, which Disney acquired two years ago for $6 billion, is expected to precede a full-blown candidate search. Ms. Sweeney’s group is in the process of evaluating where ABC Family needs to go in both the short and long terms, and a search for who might best be qualified to take the network there is expected to follow, insiders said.
The ABC Cable Networks Group already handled distribution, and Disney Channel helped program its kids block, but finding the right programming mix for the channel historically has proved a challenge. Originally, Disney saw ABC Family as an outlet to multicast many of its shows as well as an opportunity to strengthen its position in the kids market. The network has featured ABC series, including “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” and “Less Than Perfect,” and reality programs, including “The Bachelor.” Cable operators balked at that programming strategy, turning affiliate re
newal negotiations into difficult battles.
Disney created business units designed to program and sell ABC and ABC Family over different dayparts and demographics.
A year ago, Ms. Shapiro brought in Linda Mancuso as head of programming for ABC Family. Ms. Mancuso had been chief operating officer at Peter Engel Productions, which produced some shows on NBC’s old Teen NBC block.
With the network’s kid viewership continuing to drop precipitously, earlier this year ABC Family announced a new programming direction. It was aiming to be a younger version of ABC, with lighthearted entertainment aimed at viewers in the 12 to 24 demo.
Jon Lafayette, Leslie Ryan and Jay Sherman contributed to this report.