By Lee Alan Hill
Special to TelevisionWeek
Johnathan Rodgers, president and CEO of TV One, said it took him a while to fully appreciate the advantages of his chosen industry. “I didn’t always love cable,” he said. “I came out of the broadcast world, but I’ve come to realize that this is where the innovation is, and it’s a pleasure to be a part of it.”
The National Cable & Telecommunications Association will return the compliment this week when it honors Mr. Rodgers with a Vanguard Award for his accomplishments as a cable programmer.
TV One, which launched in January 2004 to serve black adults, has made significant strides in programming, distribution and viewership during the brief time since, many of which have been attributed to Mr. Rodgers’ talent and character.
“Johnathan is a truly, truly fine individual,” said Alfred Liggins III, chairman of TV One, who knew of Mr. Rodgers’ reputation as an executive but did not know him until seeking him out with the idea of starting the network. “He has extreme knowledge of the industry and of programming. As a leader he has a patient temperament, great diplomacy. People like to work for him. And he’s fair.”
Mr. Rodgers said TV One fills a niche that businesses appreciate. “Getting on the air did not include all that many obstacles,” he said. “Madison Avenue saw the value in what we were doing. The cable industry saw the value.
“Surprisingly, it was others in the industry who said to me, ‘Why today do you want to do something that’s white or black or red? People all watch the same shows.’ Well, it’s true that African Americans watch ‘American Idol’ and ’60 Minutes.’ But African American adults have always been underserved by television. TV One is a home base.”
After earning his B.A. in journalism from the University of California at Berkeley and his master’s degree in communications from Stanford, Mr. Rodgers began his career in sports journalism, writing about college basketball and track and field for Sports Illustrated. He also worked as an editor at Newsweek before beginning a 20-year career at CBS. He served as VP and general manager of KCBS-TV in Los Angeles and rose to become president of the CBS stations division.
Before joining TV One Mr. Rodgers was president of Discovery Networks U.S. for six years, overseeing networks including the Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet and the Travel Channel. Under his leadership, TLC grew to more than 80 million viewers, and Animal Planet became, at the time, the fastest-growing network in TV history.
Discovery Network programs earned more than 400 awards during Mr. Rodgers’ tenure, including a George Foster Peabody Award for “Walking With Dinosaurs” and 11 Primetime Emmys.
Mr. Rodgers now serves on the boards of the Peabody Awards, the NCTA and the Children’s Defense Fund. He is also on the board of directors of Procter & Gamble.
TV One has already begun to make a name for itself under his guidance. The network features original programs such as “B. Smith With Style,” “Living It Up With Patti LaBelle” and “Gospel of Music With Jeff Majors” as well as acquired off-network series, including “Boston Public” and “Starting Over.”
“A portion of what we do is always going to be acquisitions,” he said. “The challenge is to develop well-scripted, well-performed dramas that appeal to African American adults. If we can’t acquire them, we’re going to have to create them.
“My programming philosophy only works in cable,” Mr. Rodgers said. “In broadcasting, you program for the largest denominator. In cable, I believe you pick the audience you want to serve and then serve them well.”
Just the Facts
Title: President and CEO,
How long in current position: Since March 2003 (network launched in January 2004)
Year of birth: 1946
Place of birth: San Antonio; raised in San Francisco
Who knew? Mr. Rodgers reads five newspapers before he gets to work in the morning.