Women Execs Take Over the Television World | Adweek Women Execs Take Over the Television World | Adweek
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The 10 Most Powerful Women in Television

Actually, the most powerful people in television are women!

Credit: Michael Nagle

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For 50 years, television was a man’s business. It was an industry about dominance—winners took all. Big egos, brilliant gamesmanship, great wealth characterized the men who shaped the business. They all played the role: Bill Paley, David Sarnoff, Leonard Goldenson, Roone Arledge, Michael Eisner, Barry Diller, Tom Murphy, Dan Burke, Larry Tisch, Bob Wright, Dick Ebersol, Mel Karmazin, Sumner Redstone, Jeff Zucker, and Les Moonves—perhaps the last real TV guy standing. Showmen and sharks.

And then the business started to change. Television networks, bought by larger companies, became more bureaucratic than egomaniacal. Then cable complicated and reduced the business. Television became more about nuance than reach. Gerry Laybourne, the school teacher who built Nickelodeon, became a model for television’s new leadership—sensibility defined the brand. Tom Freston may have been the boss at MTV, but Judy McGrath—who after 30 years has just left the network—shepherded the organization in a new television order where the team was all.

Television, once a monolithic business, became an archipelago of much smaller ones—less about big moves, sweeping pronouncements, and mega hits, more about fine-tuning, reduced budgets, and narrowed goals. Not that television still wasn’t making a lot of money—you just had to work harder for it. Face it: Much of the glamour was gone.

Oh, yes, and women watched it. Except for when it comes to sports, men are a difficult and unreliable audience. Women, who account for the vast amount of consumer goods purchases anyway, are the sweet spot audience—and if you served them right, an eager one.

There are still men in high positions in the television business. But now, in quite a short time—CBS appointed Jo Ann Ross, the first woman to run a network sales department, in 2002—there are lots of women in high places. They’re in programming, sales, and executive suites, rising faster than men. And, arguably, they are having a disproportionate, and even subversive, effect on television’s business culture—its style, its processes, its sense of itself, its management feng shui, if you will.

The scorecard is striking. After CBS’ Les Moonves, the two figures at the network that will take the lion’s share of this year’s upfront monies are Nina Tassler, head of entertainment, and Jo Ann Ross, the sales chief.

At NBCU, after Comcast’s Steve Burke, the heavyweights include Lauren Zalaznick and Bonnie Hammer.

At ABC, Anne Sweeney runs the show.

At A&E there is Abbe Raven, the CEO, and Nancy Dubuc, who runs programming.

At BET, Debra Lee is the CEO.

At Turner, Linda Yaccarino is the powerhouse of sales.

At OWN, there is Oprah herself (Christina Norman, OWN’s founding CEO, lost her job 10 days ago).

The archetypal male television executive is bluff, charming, full of bonhomie and indirection. He eschews conflict and details, picking your pocket as cleanly as it’s ever been picked. His art is the schmooze.

His female counterpart is focused, down-to-business, sometimes brusque, and, often—not least of all because home life invariably intrudes—slightly harried.

For the former, being a television executive is a lifestyle; for the latter, being a television executive is a to-do list.

One is a mogul, the other a manager.

One is larger than life, the other dealing with life.

Television’s ruling women are all coiffed and manicured—with evident personal shoppers—and yet, except for Oprah, lacking the plumage and grandiosity of the men who once had their jobs.

Those men ran sprawling empires; these women run tight ships—but with better margins.
 

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