A TVWeek Milestone – 25th Anniversary: People and Shows That Inspire Us

May 21, 2007  •  Post A Comment

The media business, and Hollywood in particular, is partially the business of ego.

We are reminded of that whenever we do a story that lists people as “most influential” or “most powerful” or some similar nomenclature. No one wants to be left off these lists, and our phones start ringing off the hook when we do them.

Case in point: This list we publish today of 25 legendary members of our industry, as we mark our 25th anniversary by celebrating the innovation and inspiration that the TV business has been and continues to be.

When people called me in recent weeks to complain that some executive from their company wasn’t on the list, I explained that the idea

was not to say these are the only 25 people in the industry who have been innovative and inspirational-and are still living. Thus industry giants such as General Sarnoff and Bill Paley and Brandon Tartikoff and Leonard Goldenson, all of whom have passed away, are not on the list.

And, truth be told, we could have come up with an entirely different list of 25 people who have been innovative and inspirational.

But I don’t think anyone can make a good case for excluding any of the people we did choose.

Take, for instance, one of the people on the list whose name may not be immediately familiar to some readers: Joan Ganz Cooney.

During the Golden Age of television, Ms. Cooney was a publicist for the drama anthology “U.S. Steel Hour.”

She was one of those people involved in TV back then who believed that it could be-and should be-a mass medium that could make a difference. That it could be educational and informative as it entertained. And that Federal Communications Commissioner Newton Minnow was not too far off the mark when he declared that much of TV was a “vast wasteland.”

Ms. Cooney, along with some colleagues, had an idea. This was back in 1966. She engaged the support of the Carnegie Corp. and Channel 13, the public television station in New York City. At the end of 1966 she submitted her plan to the station, which rejected it.

But Ms. Cooney was not to be deterred. She kept plugging away, and about a year later she came up with a revised plan. This time, besides Carnegie, she had convinced the Ford Foundation and a number of U.S. government entities to fund her idea.

Thus, in 1968, one of TV’s grandest experiments was born-a wonderful experiment that has since become a popular cultural mainstay, and probably the best example of how TV has done societal good by putting on smart, good programming.

The organization Ms. Clooney labored to bring to fruition was the Children’s Television Workshop, and the show was “Sesame Street.”

Or take another name on our list that’s also likely to be less recognizable to a good portion of our readers: Madelyn Pugh Davis.

Ms. Davis and her partner, the late Bob Carroll Jr., were plying their trade as writers for radio in 1948-50. After the show they were writing went off the air, CBS suggested the star of the show should try TV.

The star said OK, but on two conditions: Her husband-who was much better known as a musician than an actor-had to star with her on the show, and Madelyn and her cohorts (Bob and Jess Oppenheimer) had to write the show.

So Madelyn and Bob co-wrote the pilot for the show. As the duo told us in 2001, they then bailed to Europe for a vacation. A month later they received a cable telling them to come home because the pilot had been picked up. They were in Paris at the time, having such a great time that they almost pretended they didn’t get the cable. But they were running out of money, so they sailed back to the States.

They started writing scripts upon their return. No sets were yet built, and the other actors hadn’t been cast; the writers were skeptical that this show for this new medium called TV would actually get on the air. So, as they told us, they’d say to themselves, well, the neighbors, whoever they are, enter and sit on the couch, if there is one, and talk to the husband, who we hope can act.

They knocked out 39 scripts that year. Thirty-five were filmed and four were saved for season two.

The show was a huge hit and defined forever more the TV sitcom. It was “I Love Lucy.”

Madelyn and Bob co-wrote every episode. And yes, Desi could act.

Besides saluting the 25 luminaries, we also fete 25 shows in the categories of prime-time broadcast, cable and first-run syndication. Again, our editorial staff chose shows that have made an impact. The other criterion was that, to be eligible, the show had to have debuted in its category since 1982. (“Wheel of Fortune,” for example, was a network show before 1982, but King World didn’t pick it up for syndication until 1983.)

When we started, 25 years ago this month, as Electronic Media, here’s what we wrote: “It will be our mission to cut through the haze and guide the reader through the new `video revolution,’ singling out through our sharply focused news stories the concepts and companies that have a legitimate shot at success and red-flagging through objective reporting those `can’t miss’ schemes that can and will fail.”

Our audience would be the TV station, network TV and studio TV executives, as well as “the cable system operator in the heartlands, hungering for local ad dollars, as well as the slick Madison Ave. media mogul. … We’ll talk to all segments of the media industry, enabling them to talk to you. … So whether you are a commercial TV station manager or agency media planner or syndicator … Electronic Media is for you.”

We still are committed to serving all of these constituencies, along with some we hadn’t anticipated 25 years ago. Today’s media and TV world is a digital 360-degree environment. Video content is no longer just on a TV screen in the living room. It’s on multiple screens in multiple places, seen on the Internet and viewed wherever a screen may be, from a giant screen in one’s family room to portable devices as small as cell phones. When we began in 1982 there was no video-on-demand, no digital recording devices, no DirecTV, no FiOS.

In a few weeks our redesigned Web site at TVWeek.com will be up and running. In the past year our Web traffic has increased by more than 200 percent. And we’ll have even more relevant, interactive features coming soon.

To you, our readers, we say thank you for your support. Whether you’ve been with us for all 25 years or if this is your maiden perusal, we appreciate your patronage. Let us hear from you.

And a big thank you to our advertisers. Our first issue included, among others, ads from ESPN, cable channel Eros, MTV (with classic copy reading, “Rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t enough for them-now they want their MTV”), the syndicator LBS Video and two cable networks, Cable Health Network and Daytime, that later merged to become Lifetime.

The first ad in the issue was from a competing publication, Multichannel News.

We are grateful for all the support for the past 25 years, and we plan to serve your needs for the next 25.

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