Chairman, Fox News & Fox TV Stations
Roger Ailes, chairman of Fox News and Fox Television Stations, bristles at any attempt to put a political tag on him-“I guarantee you that the other 24 people on this list, their politics won’t be mentioned”-because of a “fluke” detour in his long career as a producer.
“What I did very early on in ‘The Mike Douglas Show’ was realize nobody would ever be elected again without understanding the medium of television. I began to use politicians’ wives-Hubert Humphrey’s wife, John Connolly’s wife-as co-hosts for ‘The Mike Douglas Show’ because I was beginning to see that our kind of issue-driven life was melding with the need for political people to be accepted in the entertainment medium,” he says.
He was the TV producer for Richard Nixon’s successful 1968 campaign, later orchestrating an “interplanetary split screen” showing Neil Armstrong landing on the moon and President Nixon watching from the White House.
He would go on to consult for a number of politicians, up through Ronald Reagan’s White House win, but, he says, “I always had a full career outside of politics.
“All through those political years, I was in Africa with Bobby Kennedy doing a wildlife documentary. I was doing a documentary on Canadian urban renewal or a documentary on Fellini in Italy,” says Mr. Ailes, who over the years also worked with the likes of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jack Benny and Rush Limbaugh.
“I have helped, I guess, a lot of people get through to the American people with whatever their talent or message is. I have been sort of a facilitator for a great many people, some of whom I didn’t agree with, some of whom I did. It didn’t matter,” he says.
In 1996, when he was in his third year as president of CNBC and had launched a talk-oriented cable channel for NBC, he accepted News Corp. founder Rupert Murdoch’s challenge to create Fox News Channel. He did it in six lightning-fast months with the help of a cadre of folks who followed him from CNBC.
When NBC protested his on- and off-screen recruiting from CNBC, he says he replied: “That’s the problem. You don’t know the difference between recruiting and a f***ing jail break.”
Eleven years later, with Fox long dominant in the cable news, Mr. Ailes, 67, is writing a new chapter in a colorful professional autobiography. He’ll launch Fox Business Channel this year, and it’s not hard to get him to lob verbal barbs at CNBC across the Hudson River. “I’m accepting calls from CNBC people,” he says.
He is not just competitive, he’s combative. But asked whether he likes to disagree with people, he says:
“I actually don’t, but I think it’s essential to progress. It’s essential, generally, to a good result, and I’ve never feared it. I just think I could have been a lot more popular in my life by going along with the tide sometimes, and I chose not to. I don’t know exactly why. It’s cost me. It’s cost me money. It’s cost me friends. It’s cost me probably other things, but I am not capable of going along to get along. That is not who I am.
“I think if there’s anything I added to this mix in the last half of the 20th century and the first part of the 21st, it’s another voice. It’s a voice that deserved to be heard, and needed to be heard, and somebody had to take that heat.” – Michel Greppi
Reality Television Producer
Mark Burnett didn’t set out to change the face of network television. It just sort of … happened.
“Anybody who says that they could intend that is out of their minds,” the Emmy-winning producer said. “All I intended to do is tell a good story. That’s all I continue to try to do.”
It just so happened that the story Mr. Burnett set out to tell-a choose-your-own-adventure tale, part game and part social experiment, called “Survivor”-not only generated a ratings turnaround for CBS when it premiered in 2000, but also helped establish an entire genre of programming.
“Survivor” premiered May 31, 2000, with a hefty 15.5 million viewers. The season one finale on Aug. 23 attracted 58.6 million viewers, with the final half-hour grabbing a 32.0 household rating and 48 share. Mark Burnett Productions’ first show became the first profitable reality program ever to hit U.S. soil.
The numbers were never quite that high again-though season two, “Survivor: The Australian Outback,” was the most-watched show of the 2000-01 season with 29.8 million viewers-but the foundation had already been laid.
Fast-forward seven years: “Survivor” just wrapped its 14th season and reality television, largely made up of last-person-standing competitions in which participants exhibit a talent or try to outsmart each other using the fine art of manipulation, is keeping prime-time lineups afloat as networks compete against an increasing number of distractions, including the ultra-real stuff found on YouTube.com and other usergenerated Web sites.
Mr. Burnett, 46, insists that what gives “Survivor” its staying power is the same thing that made it a breakout hit-in a nutshell, the storytelling. And although CBS was taking a risk by ordering 13 episodes right off the bat, Mr. Burnett felt confident that putting 16 strangers on an island, dividing them into tribes and making them battle it out for supremacy could make for a pretty good show.
“I understood what can come out of taking people out of their comfortable homes and putting them in a situation where they’re living with nature in the raw,” he said. “It really strips away the veneer all of us have that we like to present to other people. If you’re hungry, too hot, exhausted and bitten by bugs … it isn’t hard to relate to as an ordinary person.”
Not exactly one to rest on his laurels, however, Mr. Burnett-for whom the phrase mile-a-minute is an understatement-said he thinks of broadcasting as an indefinable concept, something that holds infinite possibilities because of its huge and fickle audience. He doesn’t think reality TV will be blowing scripted dramas and sitcoms out of the water any time soon, nor does he want it to, but he is still heading into the future with a pocketful of ammunition.
At least two more seasons of “Survivor” are in the pipeline, and “The Apprentice” is poised for a seventh go-round in 2007-08. The filmmaking competition “On the Lot,” an “Apprentice”-meets-“American Idol” concept co-produced by Steven Spielberg in which the winner will receive a $1 million development deal with DreamWorks, premieres May 22 on Fox, and the real-life treasure hunt “Pirate Masters” sets sail May 31 on CBS. – Natalie Finn
Chiat/Day Creative Director
One of the greatest television commercials ever created was the famous spot that helped introduce Apple’s Macintosh computer. Created by Chiat/Day, led by creative director Lee Clow, the spot featured a blond, athletic woman destroying the video image of an all-powerful leader, freeing the human drones in his thrall.
The ad, called “1984,” was seen only once, yet it seemed omnipresent. Nearly everyone had seen it. More important, they were talking about it. One reason was the commercial itself, which was directed by Ridley Scott, fresh off overseeing the feature film “Blade Runner.” The other reason is because the one time it was seen was during the Super Bowl.
The spot, and the reaction to it, helped create an entirely new ballgame on Super Sunday. Since “1984” aired on Jan. 22, 1984, during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII, a cottage industry has sprung up to celebrate and study Super Bowl commercials. Some companies proudly announce their plans to be on the big game and unveil their latest commercials to grand fanfare. Others take a stealth approach, looking to create surprise among viewers during the game.
Many of the commercials are given sneak peaks on the entertainment news shows, previewed just like the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Come Monday, they’re rated in many publications, a prospect that gives the willies to advertisers thinking about shelling out $2 million or more for a spot.
Like other content, Super Bowl spots get repurposed. NFL Network began running a sh
ow devoted to the super commercials after the game aired. Several Web sites also gather the spots for people to see them again.
These days, as rating erode, advertisers are looking to supplement television to make an impact. Even the Super Bowl is no exception. Fox is teaming up with MySpace.com to sell extensions to the Super Bowl ads it is selling right now.
Mr. Clow went on to continued success as a creative director, including being the man behind the Taco Bell Chihuahua and Energizer Bunny television ad campaigns.
Mr. Clow was unavailable to be interviewed. But it is clear that it’s not 1984 anymore: The business has evolved, and now even the best television commercials will be supplemented by extensions in new media in order to reach the biggest audiences and grab their attention. – Jon Lafayette
Joan Ganz Cooney
Founder, Children’s Television Workshop
Who said education had to be boring?
Certainly not Joan Ganz Cooney, who spearheaded the creation of Children’s Television Workshop as well as what would become the most successful children’s program in the history of either commercial or educational television, “Sesame Street.”
After a career that saw her swing from journalism to public relations to, finally, producing, Ms. Cooney announced the creation of CTW and “Sesame Street” with Ralph Rogers in March 1968. Despite discouragement from her superiors, she received support from the Carnegie Foundation and Ford Foundation as well as the U.S. Commissioner of Education to begin her company with a mission to create television that did more than entertain by providing supplementary education while still drawing broad audiences.
Today, “Sesame Street” remains a programming pillar for PBS and the names Bert, Ernie, Big Bird and Elmo remain household names for parents and their children alike.
The series first aired in November 1969 on nearly 190 public and commercial stations, and a year later, Ms. Cooney became president of CTW. She tapped the talents of a creative team that included Jim Henson, who created the show’s Muppet characters, and assembled a diverse cast that included Luis, who first appeared during the 1971-72 season-the longest-running Hispanic character on American television-and Linda, who was deaf. The series has now aired nearly 4,200 episodes, and more than 30 international versions of the show have been produced. Reports estimate that 75 million Americans have watched the series as children.
“Joan’s vision to use television as a teacher in many ways changed the face of children’s television forever,” said Gary E. Knell, president and CEO of Sesame Workshop. “She created something that, most importantly, brought about a significant and lasting change to daily life in America, and indeed the world, by making ‘Sesame Street’ a rite of passage for every child whose parents were promoting a love of learning for their child.”
During Ms. Cooney’s reign as president of CTW the company launched a number of series, including “The Electric Company” in 1971, “Feelin’ Good” in 1974, “The Best of Families” in 1977, “3-2-1 Contact” in 1980 and “Square One TV” in 1987. In 1990, Ms. Cooney stepped down as president to become chair of the CTW executive committee. – Chris Pursell
Bill Cosby’s career in television has spanned more than 40 years, but his most memorable achievement started in 1984 with the debut of “The Cosby Show.”
That series was credited with rejuvenating the sitcom genre on TV and doing so with an emphasis on family and humor. The success of the show catapulted NBC to first place and also kicked off a string of iconic sitcoms for the network, including “Seinfeld” and “Friends.”
Mr. Cosby starred in “The Cosby Show,” which was regarded as a pivotal cultural milestone for the way it portrayed an upper-middle-class African American family without resorting to the stereotypes that TV had relied on for many years. The show ran from 1984 to 1992.
Life magazine said of the show: “Cosby’s success may have changed the game as well as the scores. Before his show hit the air, many viewers had rejected prime-time television as an electronic guignol of crime, slime, glitz and glands. … Nobody actually says this family represents the whole human family, but the delicious ordinariness of its pleasures and tribulations has given millions a fresh, laughter-splashed perspective on their own domestic lives.”
The show had its share of critics too. The Museum of Broadcast Communications said on its Web site, “Some observers described the show as a 1980s version of ‘Father Knows Best,’ the Huxtables as a white family in blackface. Moreover, as the show’s debut coincided with President Reagan’s landslide re-election, and as many of the Huxtables’ ‘qualities’ seemed to echo key Republican themes, critics labeled the show’s politics as ‘reformist conservatism.”‘
Prior to “The Cosby Show” Mr. Cosby, a Philadelphia native, worked as a stand-up comedian and then landed a role opposite Robert Culp in Sheldon Leonard’s 1965 comedic drama “I Spy”-the first African American actor to star in a prime-time series. That stint was followed by the lead in “The Bill Cosby Show” in the late 1960s. He also created the 1970s cartoon series “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.” In the late ’90s he starred in “Cosby” and then hosted “Kids Say the Darndest Things.”
He has continued his stand-up work, drawing largely from his own life and from parenting anecdotes. He gave a well-received performance at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in 2003, and has written two books. – Daisy Whitney
Former CBS News Anchor-Reporter
For many Americans who came of age with television, Walter Cronkite was the face and the voice, the man who set the formative tenor of television news. For two decades as the “CBS Evening News” anchor, his was what would come to be known as “the voice of God.”
The supreme anchor, who began as a wire service reporter, talked Americans through some of the most tumultuous years of the country’s history. He told viewers that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas. He told a space-struck country that astronaut Neil Armstrong had stepped foot on the moon. He told us that the Vietnam War was unwinnable. By devoting two “Evening” newscasts to Watergate, the political break-in that had been generally treated as a local scoop by the Washington Post, he told us it was a much more significant national scandal.
Those passages also represented telling departures from his trademark avuncular remove. His eyes misted over as he doffed his glasses and delivered the JFK death knell. That did not happen again through a long weekend of televised, commercial-free national mourning. He cheered the launch of Apollo XI but otherwise played the role of a well-informed space-travel geek as anchor of marathon space-flight coverage. The very act of stating his bleak opinion of the war on which he had reported gave it a resonance that reached all the way to the White House. Then-President Lyndon Johnson said if he’d lost Walter Cronkite, he had lost the country.
There were many reasons Mr. Cronkite’s were big shoes to fill. After he succeeded Douglas Edwards as anchor in 1962, he would insist on also having the title and responsibilities of managing editor. The newscast would grow from 15 minutes to a half-hour in 1963. Nine years later, Mr. Cronkite was voted the most trusted man in America in a poll that included the occupant of the White House and other elected officials.
After he was replaced by Dan Rather in 1981, Mr. Cronkite made increasingly rare appearances on CBS and did documentaries on PBS (for which he began ushering in New Year’s celebrations in 1988) and on sober cable channels. He also popped up in such unlikely roles as host of “Fail Safe,” the live 2000 broadcast of a nuclear-era thriller.
CBS itself paid tribute to his career last week in a retrospective titled “Celebrating Cronkite at 90.”
Twenty-five years after he “retired,” Mr. Cronkite returned to “CBS Evening News” as the voi
ce introducing the newscast now anchored by Katie Couric, who was chosen in an attempt to break the mold he shaped. Ms. Couric zoomed out of the starting gate on Sept. 5, 2006, but began sinking steadily in the ratings. Her newscast is being retooled in a more traditional format.
As “Uncle Walter” Cronkite used to sign off, “That’s the way it is.” – Michele Greppi
Madelyn Pugh Davis
Co-Creator/Writer, ‘I Love Lucy’
Madelyn Pugh Davis pioneered the American situation comedy as co-creator and writer of “I Love Lucy.” In concert with her lifelong writing partner, the late Bob Carroll Jr., and series producer and head writer Jess Oppenheimer (and later with the writing team of Bob Schiller and Bob Weiskopf), Ms. Davis was responsible for crafting every one of the series’ 180 half-hour episodes and 13 hourlong specials.
She stands among a handful of women-Selma Diamond and Lucille Kallen are others-who wrote for male-dominated network television in its earliest days, and her work is among the medium’s most durable.
With “I Love Lucy,” there was plenty of pioneering going on: Executive producer Desi Arnaz gets credit for the three-film-cameras-in-front-of-a-live-audience technique that came to dominate sitcom production and cinematographer Karl Freund is recognized for creating the complicated lighting system it demanded. But the mettle of the series is in its storylines, which, in combination with Lucille Ball’s masterful comic abilities and a brilliant supporting cast, imbued the show with a timelessness unmatched over the five and a half decades since it premiered.
Ms. Davis occasionally catches an “I Love Lucy” episode at lunchtime, when it airs on KTTV in Los Angeles. “We happened to see the William Holden episode today, where he sets her nose on fire, and I laughed out loud. Now that’s ridiculous-I’ve seen it a hundred times and I wrote it,” Ms. Davis told TelevisionWeek last week while attempting to explain the show’s longevity. “I was lucky to have all those people. They were all so good, I now realize. I was too close to it at the time, always trying to crank out the next script.”
The best episodes of ‘I Love Lucy’ adroitly combined broad physical comedy, sparkling dialogue and quieter moments of sentiment and vulnerability into storylines containing universal truths. Because the writers managed to maintain logic of character and plot development, even the most outrageous situations were able to retain believability.
In a TV career laden with accolade upon accolade, Lucille Ball always deflected credit to her writers. And for good reason: Nearly every on-screen move she made, down to the slightest facial expression, was written into the scripts. Accepting the 1953 Emmy Award for situation comedy, Ms. Ball said, “It wouldn’t be right to call our writers up here and give it to them, would it? But I wish we could.” Unbelievably, there was no Emmy category for writers at the time.
Ms. Davis’ accomplishments in television also included all of the subsequent “Lucy” series, plus “The Mothers-in-Law,” “Alice” and “Private Benjamin,” among other shows. But reflecting on her career she said, “People come up to me and tell me that when they’re feeling blue and rotten, ‘I Love Lucy’ makes them laugh. I’m very proud of that-that and the fact that we turned out 39 scripts the first season.” – Tom Gilbert
If it weren’t for Barry Diller, there might not be an “American Idol.” Or Scully and Mulder. Or even “The Simpsons.”
While working for News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch, Mr. Diller organized the formation of Fox in 1984, the fourth broadcast television network at the time and the first to challenge the hegemony of the triumvirate of ABC, CBS and NBC. In an email response to TVWeek, Mr. Diller said he considers the birth of Fox to be his biggest impact on the TV industry.
Fox launched in 1987 with two nights of prime-time programming and turned its first profit in 1990, the same year it expanded to five nights a week.
Now the TV industry refers to those four networks as “the Big Four.” Much of that credit belongs to Mr. Diller, who was chairman of the board and CEO from 1984 to 1992.
He then resigned and bought a $25 million stake in shopping network QVC. He became chairman and CEO of QVC for two years before assuming his current post as chairman and CEO of IAC. Since then he’s transformed IAC into an interactive commerce company.
His company runs the Home Shopping Network, which has taken the lead in recent years in introducing interactive features to traditional TV, allowing consumers to interact and make purchases using a remote control. IAC also counts under its umbrella the dominant dating site Match.com and popular travel site Expedia.com.
He expects the TV industry to be “vastly different” in five years and believes the biggest challenge for TV is that the Internet is resulting in a lack of leverage for distributors. National broadcast and cable programmers are the ones most threatened by the Internet, he said.
So Mr. Diller keeps his eye on the next big thing.
In late 2006, IAC acquired a controlling stake in the company that owns the Web site collegehumor.com, a transaction that came amidst a flurry of big media acquisitions in the emerging online video business. Mr. Diller launched IAC Programming in 2005 to buy online content properties.
Also in 2005, he laid a bet on Jeremy Allaire’s Brightcove, an online video site and services provider, when he participated in a second round of funding at the startup. He holds a spot on Brightcove’s board of directors. – Daisy Whitney
Former Viacom CEO
Tom Freston helped the world get its MTV.
In addition to helping to build an omnipresent brand and its parent into a huge company, Mr. Freston enjoyed a reputation as a cool boss who mentored talented colleagues. That rep survived his surprise firing last year by Viacom owner Sumner Redstone.
Mr. Freston was traveling and unavailable to be interviewed.
“He was the ultimate creative businessman,” said Rich Cronin, CEO of GSN network, who worked with Mr. Freston at MTV Networks for 14 years. “He’s also one of the funniest executives I ever worked for,” he said, recalling company management retreats that epitomized the mantra, “Work hard, play hard.”
Along with his cool, Mr. Freston possessed strategic business vision. MTV was one of the first branded channels. Before the slogan “I Want My MTV” was heard, TV networks aimed to be all things to all people. “The brand is really important,” Mr. Cronin said.
Mr. Freston understood that MTV needed to own its category, and created VH1 as a “fighting brand” to help prevent other music channels from getting distribution on cable systems, Mr. Cronin said. MTV used short-form video long before there was an Internet, and helped start the reality craze with “Real World,” a show that’s still a staple on the channel.
He also pushed the MTV brand around the world, sometimes marveling at some of the remote locations he could visit and still watch the channel.
The rest of MTV Networks flourished as well, with branded networks such as Nickelodeon, Nick At Nite and Comedy Central, and continues to be led by people who worked with and under Mr. Freston, including Judy McGarth at MTV Networks, Doug Herzog at Comedy Central and Spike TV, and Larry Jones at TV Land.
“He’s had a tremendous impact on the industry,” Mr. Cronin said. – Jon Lafayette
CEO, WPP’s GroupM
The television business couldn’t exist without advertising, and one of the most influential people in media investment management has been Irwin Gotlieb, now CEO of WPP’s GroupM, which controls more than $60 billion in advertising money.
In a long career, Mr. Gotlieb has seen big changes in television since 1982, when TV was viewed by advertisers as the dominant medium and cable was just coming about.
“Today, both broadcast and cable are considered to be ‘traditional’ and ‘media,’ with some of the negative implications that are implied by those words, probably unfairly so,” he said.
Without compelling content
, Mr. Gotlieb said, you don’t have a medium. “Television is in a class by itself when it comes to developing mass-appeal content that attracts enormous numbers of people, and it continues to do that successfully today and continues to draw some of the most elusive media audiences in large numbers,” he said.
While many bemoan fragmentation and ratings erosion, Mr. Gotlieb says TV has a strong future. It is being re-energized by new technologies. High definition, for example, is already having a dramatic and positive impact on viewing levels, he said.
Of more importance to marketers are opportunities that a new phase of digital delivery will usher in. Those will enhance the capabilities of television, Mr. Gotlieb noted, “both as an entertainment vehicle through simple but effective levels of interactivity on the content, if one is to assume that the audience wants to interact with their television,” and for delivering more targeted advertising messages to consumers.
“From my perspective as a media guy we will one day in the foreseeable future [and] for the first time have addressability in the messages,” he said. “We will have response capability, and I am of the firm view that what today is referred to dismissively as traditional media will continue to be an incredibly effective massmarketing vehicle and an even more effective targeted vehicle.” – Jon Lafayette
Former Head of Worldwide TV, William Morris Agency
Like many retired people, Sam Haskell says he’s busier now than when he was working.
The former head of worldwide television at the William Morris Agency, who bid adieu to that post in late 2004, is keeping busy with charitable organizations, helping his wife with her new career as a recording artist and serving as chairman for the Miss America Organization.
He’s also got his ear to the ground in the TV business and still keeps in touch with close friends, such as Sony Pictures Television President Steve Mosko and CBS CEO Leslie Moonves, from his 25-plus years with the agency.
“Sam may be the most honest person I’ve ever met, and he’s great at recognizing talent,” Mr. Mosko said. “He’s one of the most caring and charitable people in the business, who gives far more than he ever receives.”
During his time at Morris, Mr. Haskell packaged some of the most popular television shows ever, including “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “The Cosby Show” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” Mr. Haskell pointed out that he worked with Mr. Cosby in partnership with his mentor at William Morris, Chairman Norman Brokaw.
Like all good Hollywood stories, Mr. Haskell’s started in the mailroom. After graduating from the University of Mississippi in 1977, he moved to Los Angeles and in 1978 landed a post shuffling letters for William Morris. In those early days, he met both Debbie Allen and Kathie Lee Gifford; they were his first clients when he became an agent in 1980. He credits them with introducing him to many others in Hollywood.
“We were negotiating the deal for Debbie Allen in ‘Fame’ and I just sort of got assigned to her and we became best friends and I handled her whole career,” Mr. Haskell said. “That relationship with Debbie Allen created relationships with other people, like Jeff Katzenberg, Brandon Tartikoff, David Geffen, Steven Spielberg.”
The meeting with Mr. Tartikoff proved particularly fruitful, as Mr. Haskell went on to become the NBC liaison at William Morris for a number of years.
Ms. Gifford was instrumental in helping Mr. Haskell establish relationships with executives at Buena Vista Television and Disney, he said.
“If I were to say what I was most proud of during my career as a packaging agent, it would be putting together shows like ‘Everybody Loves Raymond,’ with Leslie Moonves and Ray Romano. All of this is trying to explain the importance in my mind of the ripple effect of my early relationships,” he said.
Shortly after he retired, he worked with the governor of Mississippi, his home state, to put together a three-hour telethon on MSNBC to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The event raised more than $15 million, he said. – Daisy Whitney
CEO/Co-Founder, Apple; Co-Founder, Pixar
If anyone had suggested even two years ago that Steve Jobs would become one of the most powerful people in the TV industry, that person surely would have been laughed at.
Two years ago, Mr. Jobs was just the head of a tech outfit in Cupertino, Calif., that made computers for art geeks.
Now he is one of the most powerful people in TV, thanks to a device that revolutionized the television business when it was introduced in October 2005-the video iPod.
The simultaneous news of Disney’s deal with Apple to offer full-length episodes of its prime-time shows on Apple’s iTunes, and by extension the iPod, was a watershed moment in the TV business, a demarcation line between past and future.
After that deal, everything changed.
The introduction of the video iPod set in motion the online video business as it exists today, unleashing a tidal wave of similar online-TV deals between networks and iTunes as well as countless other online video venues. The success of iTunes proved consumers want their TV shows when it’s convenient to them and that iTunes consumption does not cannibalize linear viewing.
In the wake of the Disney-Apple pact, other networks struck deals with online portals such as Yahoo, MSN and AOL to carry their shows, while competitors including Amazon, Wal-Mart and AOL introduced download-to-own services.
Then came YouTube, Veoh, Revver and Break at the same time that networks started streaming shows on their own Web sites.
The Apple-Disney partnership began when Mr. Jobs came to the Burbank office of Disney-ABC Television Group President Anne Sweeney to show her a device pre-loaded with an episode of “Lost”-he said it would revolutionize the television industry. In an interview with TVWeek last October, Ms. Sweeney said she knew that availability of her shows on iTunes could help combat piracy.
“We’ve been looking at it as [part of] the different ways we serve our viewers. The average viewer of a hit TV show sees only six to eight episodes per year. So by providing them a way to catch up, or a way to own and watch on their computer, super-serves them the same way the Internet serves them with pirated versions of our shows,” she said.
Since its inception, iTunes has sold more than 50 million TV episodes. The iTunes store offers more than 350 television shows.
Mr. Jobs co-founded Apple in 1976. He is also the co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, which merged with the Walt Disney Co. in 2006. – Daisy Whitney
CBS Television Distribution CEO
According to legend within the television industry, CBS Television Distribution CEO Roger King is such a good salesman he made a deal with WPIX-TV for $50,000 with absolutely nothing to sell. That money was used to create King World Productions, the birthplace of such series as “Wheel of Fortune,” “Jeopardy!” and “Oprah.”
Whether the local station lore is true or not, it’s clear that the longtime salesman and now corporate honcho has shaped the face of syndicated television like no one before him.
In his current position, Mr. King oversees the combined assets of King World (which he sold to CBS in 1999) and CBS Paramount Domestic Television, and produces or distributes eight of the top 10 first-run syndicated shows, including all of the genre leaders.
But Mr. King may be better known as the face of a feisty but thriving independent than as a suit for a corporate conglomerate. The first defining moment for King World came after Mr. King and his brother Michael set their sights on a 7-year-old network game show, “Wheel of Fortune,” which was produced by Merv Griffin Enterprises. When King World set out to sell “Wheel” to stations, it not only demanded no barter time as part of the licensing agreement but also decided to bypass the top markets of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago and let the show grow. “Wheel” premiered in September 1983 with 59 stations and a 43 percent marke
By September 1984 the series was the top-ranked syndicated game show, appearing in 181 markets, including the top three, and the company had “Jeopardy!” launching that same month. The success of the two series boosted King World’s net income by 418.5 percent that year.
Soon after, Dennis Swanson, then general manager of WLS-TV in Chicago, brought to Mr. King’s attention the host of “AM Chicago,” who was beating the powerhouse “Donahue” on a regular basis. Her name was Oprah Winfrey, and she was quickly signed to a deal with King World. As the company met with stations to sell the series, Mr. King required every station that bought the show to run it at 4 p.m., a unique demand for a series. But the move paid off, as “The Oprah Winfrey Show” quickly overtook “Donahue” nationally in ratings and drove millions of ad dollars to the stations.
By 1999, consolidation was fast sweeping the syndication business and Mr. King agreed to sell King World Productions to CBS for $2.5 billion.
“It became very difficult to sell TV shows,” Mr. King told TVWeek in 2004. “You couldn’t go it alone anymore. We thought if we built an alliance with CBS, we’d have owned-and-operated stations and a network behind us. Disney has Buena Vista, NBC has NBC Studios, Fox has theirs, Tribune has theirs. And we got a premium.” – Chris Pursell
Chairman-CEO, Oxygen Media
Geraldine Laybourne has seen the TV landscape expand from three broadcast networks to hundreds of channels. But the change she thinks is most interesting is who is manning-or womaning-the ship.
Women, she observes, are running some of the biggest television companies in the country. Ms. Laybourne has been a role model, if not mentor, to many of them, first by helping to turn Nickelodeon into a powerhouse, then reviving Disney’s kids programming and then starting her own media company, Oxygen.
“When I started, Kay Koplovitz [of USA Network] was the only woman running anything,” Ms. Laybourne said. “Recently, we looked at what women had run a cable network in the last decade, and there were 20 women on the list.”
Ms. Laybourne said the rise of women in television coincided with the growth of the cable business. The old boys at the broadcast networks “looked at us like we were pathetic, working in cable,” she said. That meant the path was clear in cable for anyone with ideas and stamina.
“We’re particularly good at putting ourselves in the shoes of our consumers, and as the media has moved to being more oriented to specific consumer groups, that’s been a really helpful thing.”
The networks women run these days aren’t small. Ms. Laybourne points to Judy McGrath at MTV Networks, Judith McHale, who recently left Discovery Communications, and Anne Sweeney, head of Disney ABC Television Group Networks, as running huge groups. Close behind are USA’s Bonnie Hammer, A&E Television Networks’ Abbe Raven, BET’s Deborah Lee, MTV’s Christina Norman, Nick’s Cyma Zarghami and Bravo’s Lauren Zalaznick. And the list goes on.
“There’s a lot of evidence that women are great leaders in this arena, and that is a dramatic change from when I started in this business,” Ms. Laybourne said.
Whatever happens next in the TV business, she expects her cable colleagues to capitalize first. “We look for the next thing and we have our eyes wide open,” she said. For example, she thinks cable people moved quickly to seize on the Internet as an opportunity rather than a threat.
“The cable companies went into the Internet with a great deal of force in the late ’90s, got a little bit burned, retreated,” she said. “I think, having been burned, we’re going to be smarter in the second round.” – Jon Lafayette
Few producers have been able to create Americana as effectively as Norman Lear. With series that ranged from “Sanford and Son” and “One Day at a Time” to “Diff’rent Strokes” and “The Jeffersons” as well as the unforgettable “All in the Family,” Mr. Lear remains a living legacy to the maturity of the television medium.
The biggest chapter of that legacy begins in 1970 when Mr. Lear, after years of producing movies and writing for series such as “The Colgate Comedy Hour,” attempted to sell a concept for a sitcom about a blue-collar American family to ABC. The series, named “All in the Family,” was turned down by the network only to be sold to CBS and premiere on Jan. 12, 1971. The series, which introduced Archie Bunker to the world, opened to disappointing ratings but held on to become the top-rated series on television for more than half a decade.
As his career and reputation grew, Mr. Lear became known for groundbreaking situation comedies that featured families regularly confronted by major political and social issues of the day. In “Maude,” he faced a firestorm of protest from the Roman Catholic community when the title character opted for an abortion. Mr. Lear and producing partner Bud Yorkin brought minority families into network prime time with “Sanford and Son” and “The Jeffersons.”
With as many as six series on the airwaves at once, Mr. Lear was known for always attending the story conferences for each of his shows. Despite the groundbreaking issues tackled by his shows during the ’70s and ’80s, Mr. Lear believes that the best television wasn’t during that era, but today.
“Critics and others always speak of the ‘Golden Age’ of television,”‘ said Mr. Lear. “I think that if that term ever truly applied to a time in TV history that time is now. I feel that way (a) because this is the moment we are alive to feel and to experience and it is all that really matters, and (b) because some of the best drama in television history has been produced in this period, as well as some of the most outrageous comedy.”- Chris Pursell
Chairman, Liberty Media
There are cable cowboys, and then there’s John Malone. He’s the definitive cable cowboy, the reason the moniker exists.
He’s the television executive who made the bold claim in 1992 that it was possible to have a 500-channel television universe.
He spoke to TVWeek in 2003 about that seminal remark, saying, “I guess if I’m surprised or disappointed, it’s that the evolution of interactive kind of got put on the back burner because the high-speed data business became so strong. The progression in my mind at that time was lots of channels through the digital set-top [box], and the digital set-top would bring with it a lot of interactive services. …
“I always thought there was going to be a lot of value-and there still may be-to the consumer and for the advertiser and for the guy doing it, by providing that impulse quick-response interface. And in a sense you could cross platforms. You could jump to Internet-like random access on the television side and, of course, you could jump to video on the Internet side, so that there would be a blend, or convergence, of the applications across both sides.”
He sure got that last part right. Today, TV and the Internet are close bedfellows, with TV networks serving up shows online and using Web properties as fodder for new on-air programs. But the industry is still searching for that perfect technological bridge between the TV and the PC.
John Malone currently is chairman of Liberty Media, a spot he has held since 1990. He’s best known for his tenure at TCI, where he served as CEO from 1973 to 1999, shuttling the company from a 1 million-subscriber operator in the early days of cable to a 13-million customer behemoth that would become the guidepost for the cable industry during the ’90s, just as Comcast is today.
In his book on Mr. Malone, “Cable Cowboy,” Mark Robichaux wrote, “Malone had picked TCI because (Bob) Magness, fatigued and running out of luck, was ready to relinquish power and let a new man run the entire show-and because, if Malone could make it work, he might become extremely wealthy.”
Mr. Malone did both, landing the 486th spot on Forbes’ 2006 list of the world’s richest people. And TCI became the most powerful cable operator during his years at the helm, making it all the more enticing for AT&T, w
hich bought TCI in 1998 and sold the cable unit to Comcast in 2002.- Daisy Whitney
President-CEO, CBS Corp.
More than any other major television network, CBS knows that crime can, indeed, pay.
And although CBS Corp. President and CEO Leslie Moonves gives credit to his entire team for cobbling together a prime-time schedule that has made theirs the most-watched network week after week for the majority of the 21st century, many others would credit Mr. Moonves himself for nurturing a little Jerry Bruckheimer production called “CSI” and taking a risk on a game show-meets-“Lord of the Flies” concept called “Survivor” back in 2000.
Mr. Moonves, 58, formerly co-president and co-chief operating officer of Viacom and chairman of CBS (shifting into his current post when CBS Corp. became a separate entity on Dec. 31, 2005), remains modest about the creative influence he brings to the table.
“You put shows on and hope for the best,” he said.
But obviously it’s a bit more complicated trying to stay a step ahead of entertainment trends while helming a multimedia corporation that must meet the demands of an audience clamoring for a bigger say in when and how it gets to watch television, a development that has changed the business for every network. CBS, for instance, makes many of its series available for viewing on its recently launched broadband channel Innertube, found at CBS.com. ABC, NBC, Fox and The CW all do the same.
“It’s the idea that you can’t just plan the next month or even the next year,” Mr. Moonves said. “You have to constantly be thinking of how your schedule’s going to change and how it’s all going to evolve and what’s going to be the next move that you have to make-and you have to think of the next best thing. That’s what we constantly do around here.”
Ten years ago, however, it was nigh impossible to envision how quickly the Internet would factor into the marketplace, and even the rate of change in the past several years-with the onslaught of cell phones, iPods, satellite radio, YouTube, MySpace, Google and the thousands of other digital options people are turning to for entertainment-is keeping the TV industry on its toes.
Referring to the 2007 upfronts, Mr. Moonves said, “Everybody, in terms of dealing with the advertisers, has to have a game plan that incorporates everything. It’s not like the old days where you could just care about one source and one form of distribution, so I think any media executive right now has to have their eye across a lot of different playing fields.”
It’s safe to say the so-called “slow-growth” businesses, such as CBS Interactive, that Mr. Moonves inherited in the Viacom-CBS split aren’t going to remain that way for long.
They can’t, really.
‘”‘We’re the content providers,” Mr. Moonves said, “and I think it’s really important as we look toward the future that the content provider and the forms of distribution go hand in hand, and that’s why we want to put everything everywhere and just hope they watch our content.”- Natalie Finn
Chairman-CEO, News Corp.
Arguably the world’s most powerful media executive. Autocratic media titan. Force of nature.
They’re all expressions that have been used in the past year to describe Rupert Murdoch, News Corp.’s chairman, CEO and founder, who at 76 seems only to be tightening his grip on the reins of his ever-expanding empire, maintaining a personal stake in everything from billion-dollar buyouts to which pilots Fox is ordering up for the fall.
Exercising a combination of energy, passion, curiosity, veteran foresight and good old-fashioned clout, Mr. Murdoch continues to help set the agenda not only for News Corp.’s myriad broadcast, cable, satellite and multimedia holdings but for the television industry as a whole.
Mr. Murdoch was not available to comment to TelevisionWeek. But those privy to his style of conducting business are in agreement on just how ready the Australian-born mogul is to guide them into an era when in which the way programming is consumed is as much of an issue as what audiences are given to watch.
At the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s Cable Show ’07 earlier this month, News Corp. Chief Operating Officer Peter Chernin put it like this: “Big companies are going to get bigger.”
Meaning, his company’s moves in the last two years-purchasing social-networking site MySpace.com for $580 million, acquiring a 51 percent stake in mobile content provider Jamba!, joining up with NBC Universal to create an online video service that will distribute their networks’ TV shows to Yahoo and other Web sites, etc.-are not just Mr. Murdoch’s way of shoring up for the future. That sort of action is the future.
“We need to get our product in front of viewers wherever and whenever they want it,” said Tony Vinciquerra, president and CEO of the Fox Networks Group.
And all of that product, despite the long chain of creative and executive command between Mr. Murdoch and the finished outcome, easily reflects the big boss’ spirit, whether it’s the dominance of Fox News and its outspoken personalities, the edginess FX brought to basic cable with series such as “The Shield” and “Rescue Me,” or the fact that Fox currently has the biggest show on television in “American Idol,” a ratings juggernaut on which none of the other major networks would take a chance.
“You look at what Rupert’s really done,” Mr. Vinciquerra said. “He’s created businesses, he’s introduced businesses to longstanding competitive environments by surveying the landscape, looking for the weakness in the market or the part of the market that’s underserved, and then developed the product that serves that market. And I think that’s really his genius and what he’s done incredibly well.
“He has the nerve and the willpower, and the intestinal fortitude, to risk a lot of money and, once in a while, almost lost it-but mostly has succeeded.”- Natalie Finn
Former CEO, A.C. Nielsen Co.
Arthur Nielsen Jr. always knew he was going into the family business. At age 13, using the money he’d earned by cutting grass and washing windows in Winnetka, Ill., he even helped keep it afloat.
A.C. Nielsen’s first 17 years in the fledgling business of measuring TV viewership were spent in the red. The company had shrunk from 45 employees to six and there had been a vote as to whether to continue what seemed, to one Nielsen relative at least, to be “this crazy business”-a business his mother once called a “rat hole.”
Art Nielsen Sr. “had one prospect left in New York, but he didn’t have enough money in the cash register to get home if he didn’t get the order. He always got part of the pay up front,” recalls Art Nielsen Jr. He gave his dad his $56 in savings and in return received 14 shares of stock in A.C. Nielsen.
He says the company that keeps track of his assets tells him that stock today is worth $.0001.
But Nielsen Media Research, which survived at least three competitors’ startup attempts to become a natural monopoly, is invaluable to an industry that creates programming to attract as many eyeballs as it can and to the advertisers who are asked to pay for the commercial time within that programming.
Nielsen changed the landscape when it proved television was a more efficient way for advertisers to reach consumers-cost per thousand households, or CPM, was the senior Mr. Nielsen’s concept. “He gave me the job of making it practical,” the junior Mr. Nielsen says.
The landscape itself has changed so much, from the cable explosion to viewing on delay, on demand and on the new and often mobile platforms of the digital age.
What hasn’t changed is the goal of delivering more data about who is viewing what and in what quantities, and delivering it even more quickly and comprehensively. What once was a 10-week collection and crunching process is now accomplished overnight in the majority of the country, where meters have replaced diaries.
One current focus in the industry is rating the commercials in addition to the programming. “That’s going to be tough,” says Mr. Nielsen. “Now t
here’s so many of them. The more you slice them up, the more inaccurate it gets.”
Also unchanged is the junior Mr. Nielsen’s work ethic. At 88, the former Nielsen CEO still spends several days a week in his Chicago-area office, where he says he reflects on all that has happened and receives many visitors. He recently went to the University of Wisconsin, his and his father’s alma mater, where a $2.5 million fellowship in his name was dedicated.
He has a number of DVRs and watches a lot of sports on them.
Does he ever skip commercials? “Well,” he says, “I have to confess, yeah.” – Michele Greppi
President-COO, Univision Communications
Ray Rodriguez is in the business of milestones.
In his 17 years at Univision Communications-the last two as president and chief operating officer-Mr. Rodriguez has not only witnessed the tenfold growth of the largest Spanish-language television network in the United States, but has helped turn it into a multimedia conglomerate with the fifth biggest network on the air and the most visited Spanish-language Web site.
During the 2005-06 season, the first year the Univision network was included in Nielsen’s National Television Index, it averaged a 2.0 household rating, nearly triple that of its biggest rival, NBC Universal-owned Telemundo, and almost equaling The WB. Univision, however, averaged 300,000 more total viewers than The WB and bested the youth-centric network’s performance in the highly coveted 18-34, 18-49 and 25-34 demographics.
Univision’s telenovelas such as “La Fea Mas Bella” and “Barrera de Amor” regularly top the freshman CW network’s strongest shows, such as “Gilmore Girls” and “Smallville,” in viewership as well.
After Univision started to be measured against CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox and The WB, “We began receiving a tremendous amount of interest from people who in the past had shown none,” Mr. Rodriguez said, calling the network’s addition to the NTI its biggest milestone in the past five years, one that “finally allowed people to see that we are the fifth largest network in the country-regardless of language.”
Just like his competitors, Mr. Rodriguez has been focusing on diversifying Univision’s multimedia holdings in order to better serve a rapidly growing audience.
According to a survey by Simmons Market Research, 54 percent of 18- to 49-year-old Hispanics are watching prime-time Spanish-language television now, compared to 47 percent just five years ago. While 79 percent of U.S. residents use mobile phones, 90 percent of the Hispanic American community is toting a cell.
And Univision viewers, in addition to wanting the latest technology, online options and wireless content, are hungry for culturally relevant programming that keeps them connected to both the greater Spanish-speaking world and the communities they live in.
Univision’s role as a news and entertainment provider has become even more significant in the last few years, as immigration and political relations with Mexico and Central and South America have become increasingly hot-button issues in the U.S.
“The importance of a network like Univision to every segment of the U.S. Hispanic population is immeasurable, and the relationship we share with our audiences is not duplicated anywhere in the media universe,” Mr. Rodriguez said, adding his network’s expansion into new platforms has been years in the making.
Since 2001, more than 20,000 pieces of original content have been created for Univision.com, which as of September 2006 was pulling in 11 million unique browsers per month. All of the network’s domestically produced shows are available for viewing via a new broadband channel where users can browse videos by title and genre. Last year, Univision’s World Cup soccer programming for mobile phones became the second most popular V-Cast ever for Verizon, in any language. A social networking site called Mi Pagina is in the works, as well, and Univision continues to weigh partnership offers from other content providers.
“We offer a product that is 100 percent catered to our Hispanic audience in the language they speak and topics they care about,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “We know that our audience depends on us for the information and entertainment that they cannot get anywhere else.” – Natalie Finn
CEO, Sinclair Broadcast Group
The Sinclair Broadcast Group is not afraid to wear its politics on its sleeve or to make enemies.
And company CEO David Smith hasn’t met a retransmission battle he won’t fight.
Earlier this year Sinclair and cable operator Mediacom engaged in a heated two-month retransmission dispute that ended with Mediacom restoring signals for 24 Sinclair stations just in time for the Super Bowl. The agreement was seemingly civil in nature, but Sinclair appeared to have won, as media reports pegged the price Mediacom paid to carry the stations at between 40 cents and 50 cents per subscriber. Sinclair owns or operates 58 stations in 36 markets.
Indeed, Sinclair has played the poster child for broadcasters’ rights during the recent spate of retransmission battles because Mr. Smith believes stations should be paid for their content.
In the company’s May earnings report press release, he said, “We have made significant progress on our retransmission consent agreements and now have over 80% of the multichannel video programming distributor subscribers in our markets under long-term contracts. For 2007, we are now estimating revenues from our retransmission consent agreements to be approximately $59 million as compared to $25.4 million last year, a 132% increase. This new revenue stream has helped to offset weakness in automotive ad spending, national agency buys for the MyNetworkTV programming and softness in the Ohio market.”
Mr. Smith is well-known for his conservative views. During the 2004 presidential race, Sinclair chose to air on many of its stations a documentary highly critical of Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry’s antiwar activities from more than 30 years ago, preempting regular prime-time programming to do so. The documentary featured Vietnam veterans making claims similar to those made by the anti-Kerry veterans group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
Also in 2004, Sinclair preempted a “Nightline” special in which Ted Koppel read the names of Americans who died in the Iraq war, claiming the special was motivated by an antiwar agenda and undermined the war effort. The stations instead ran their own special debating the “Nightline” program.
Mr. Smith has been president and CEO of Sinclair since 1988 and chairman since 1990. Before joining Sinclair, he founded Comark Communications, a company that makes high-power transmitters. – Daisy Whitney
President, Station Operations, Fox Television Stations
A motley crew of TV icons owe all or the best part of their successful careers to Dennis Swanson, now president of station operations for Fox Television Stations.
After a formative stint in the Marines, Mr. Swanson worked in TV news and sports as a producer and reporter until a light-bulb moment in his mid-30s. “I realized that if I stayed on the air, I was always going to be at the mercy of somebody else’s decision-making. I really didn’t have a way to deal with that. I thought, ‘Well, gee, maybe I should be the guy in the corner.”
He has occupied a variety of corner offices in local TV and at ABC in sports, daytime and children’s programming, and has led three network-owned TV station groups.
As general manager of ABC’s WLS-TV in Chicago, he launched “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and gave “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!” their first big clearances.
As head of ABC Daytime, he hired Kelly Ripa for “All My Children.” As head of the ABC-owned television station group, he also had hired Kathie Lee Gifford as Regis Philbin’s co-host on “Live,” a role Ms. Ripa graduated to five years ago.
As head of children’s programming at ABC in the early ’90s-and one of the few members of the department who had kids and knew what it was like to watch Saturday morning TV with them-he resurrected plucky cart
oon dog Scooby-Doo. “It was a no-brainer,” he says now. But Mr. Swanson is one of those executives who makes many things look easy.
He learned how to make decisions under pressure in uniform.
“I have been professionally trained by the United States Marine Corps to lead. I can’t tell you how invaluable that experience has been,” Mr. Swanson says. “In this business, we really don’t adequately train people to be managers and we don’t do much to help them along the way.”
The Marine Corps “principles are so good that if you execute them properly,” you can’t fail. “The whole idea is that you take care of the troops first, take care of yourself last-you lead by example.”
Mr. Swanson’s examples range from a 45-year marriage (“My wife still speaks to me and loves me”) to his long association with the Emma Bowen Foundation, which helps bring minorities into the media, and his stint as chairman of the board of trustees for the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
At 69-“and still employed in an industry that prefers younger demos”-he already has pushed back his retirement target date several times. “One of these days it will be time,” he says. But he’s still enjoying work and is really looking forward to 2008.
“I think that’s going to be a unique, special year in this country. The presidential election is going to be unlike any election we’ve had since 1952. There are no incumbents on the ticket. In those days it was white men on the tickets. This year you’ve got everybody in the thick of it.”
After the election, he says, “Maybe it will be time to start bass fishing.” – Michele Greppi
Ted Turner is a maverick who saw the potential of cable and built the medium, first with CNN, the news network that grew from an industry joke into a worldwide force, then with entertainment channels such as TNT, TBS and Cartoon Network. Along the way he tried to buy CBS and sparred with Rupert Murdoch and Time Warner, which acquired his company.
In Mr. Turner’s opinion, the development of satellite and cable revolutionized TV. “Before satellite and cable TV, television was a medium of scarcity with almost impossibly high barriers to entry because there were so few over-the-air frequencies,” he said. “Satellite and cable turned television from a medium of scarcity to a medium of plenty.”
That enabled the industry to serve distinct audiences and viewer interests, with channels ranging from Home & Garden Television to the Food Channel to the Weather Channel to CNN. “There’s more of everything,” he said. “I think freedom of choice is a very good thing.”
Looking forward, Mr. Turner noted that some technical improvements are taking place in TV, such as high definition, but he added, “It’s hard for me to conceive that there will be much more programming than already is there today because individual needs are being served, and with television on demand, you can see anything you want, any time you want it.”
Even for a visionary like Mr. Turner, there’s not much more one can expect out of a device sometimes derided as the boob tube.
“That’s probably about as far as you can go. To have everything that’s been produced available everywhere any time, that’s pretty close to the end of major developments,” Mr. Turner said.
As a figure who has tried to make peace between America and Russia and a philanthropist who has donated huge sums to U.N. causes, Mr. Turner sees other fields where he can make an impact. “That’s why I’m working on solar energy,” he said. “I think that’s more important now than further improvement in television.” – Jon Lafayette
When the definitive Who’s Who of the late 20th and early 21st centuries is compiled, Barbara Walters will have interviewed most of them, at least once.
For more than three decades, she has been the queen of the big “get,” getting up close and personal with world and American leaders and their first ladies, profiling great and enduring stars and dishing with people famous for everything from high crimes to assorted political and pop-cultural misdemeanors. She still finds time and interest to do high-rated prime-time hours about subjects as diverse as heaven and transgender children.
But ask Ms. Walters, who is scheduled to produce her autobiography next year for Knopf-“It will be truthful,” she says-what her television legacy is, and she says it is opening doors.
“I don’t think I did it on purpose. I didn’t do it deliberately. I didn’t wave the flag. If my perseverance or the quality of my work made things possible for the thousands and thousands of women both in front of and behind the camera, then I would be very proud.”
Her career path is well known. She labored for more than 11 years on NBC’s “Today” before winning co-host status-“and that was just a fluke because the host died,” she says. Then in 1976 it was off to ABC News for a 31-year stay that started with her doomed assignment as the “World News” co-anchor that Harry Reasoner did not want. While she still was occasionally stymied by boy’s club rules-a proposal for a story on the women’s movement was dismissed by an ABC news executive as holding “not enough interest”-she found the perfect platform for her many interests as co-host for 25 years of “20/20” and host of specials that bore her name and the name of her Barwall Productions company.
For the last 10 years, with longtime collaborator Bill Geddie, she’s also proved herself at home in daytime as creator, co-owner, co-producer and co-host of “The View.”
She is indefatigable. She’d have to be, to have weathered the hurricane of headlines about the exit of Star Jones Reynolds and the season of volatile co-host Rosie O’Donnell with such outward equanimity.
“The View,” Ms. Walters says, has been “dessert” for her. The last year, she says with characteristic understatement, has been “a heartier dessert, a sweet-and-sour dessert, and it’s been enormous fun.”
She has always made it look easier than it was. “When I came to ABC, I was finished. I was a failure,” she says. “I had to work my way back. It was the best thing that happened to me, because I was able to prove to myself that it wasn’t just luck.” – Michele Greppi
Producer, Actress and Talk Show Host
The public transformation that started at Nashville’s WLAC-TV and led to the rise of the person Time magazine dubbed “arguably the world’s most powerful woman” is not yet complete.
The distinguished resume of daytime legend Oprah Winfrey grew a bit longer last week when ABC announced it was adding unscripted series “Oprah Winfrey’s The Big Give” for its fall 2007 schedule. Clearly, another success is in the books for the daytime queen.
With a net worth of more than $1.5 billion, the top-rated talk show in the country, the sway to launch two successful spin-off series in “Dr. Phil” and “Rachael Ray” and a piece of the Oxygen Channel, Ms. Winfrey’s brand and reach have shown few weaknesses.
“Oprah is the most powerful communicator I have ever seen,” Dr. Phil told TVWeek in 2004. “She is completely in the moment when she’s speaking to you.”
The launch of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” on Sept. 8, 1986, aired on 130 stations; it’s now seen on 214, representing 99.87 percent of the country. Estimates place revenues for the first season alone at $125 million, and they’ve only grown from there.
Ms. Winfrey’s ability to capture the elusive interview adds to that success. In 1993, Ms. Winfrey hosted a rare prime-time interview with Michael Jackson that became the fourth most watched event in American television history as well as the most watched interview ever, with an audience of 100 million people.
Perhaps the biggest question surrounding Ms. Winfrey in the past decade and a half, for audiences as well as company executives, has been how much longer she is willing to tackle the grind of daytime television. When the news hit Wall Street that she signed a contract extension in 1995, King World’s stock rose $3.75 per share.
Her current deal with distributor CBS Domestic Television assures tha
t audiences will get their Oprah fix through the 2010-11 season, which would mark the 25th anniversary of the long-running series and, in all likelihood, her last with the show. However, the Oprah mystique will always leave audiences wanting more.