Joel Hyatt: ‘A Natural Thing’ to Reclaim CEO Title

Current TV boss plays up network's tilt toward news

Current TV CEO Joel Hyatt says that the departure of his former co-chief Mark Rosenthal at the network a few weeks ago came amidst a broader push to revamp Current as a cable venue focused on news analysis. “Mark had a hugely successful career [as president and COO] at MTV,” Hyatt told Adweek. “But, you know, MTV is an entertainment network, and we now made the clear strategic decision to become a news network. And we’re a small company. There’s not a lot of room at the top for a lot of leaders. It was very amicable. It was going to be very crowded at the top. ”

Late last month, Rosenthal stepped down as CEO amid revelations that he had been sharing the top executive position at Current with Hyatt for the previous two months. At the time, sources close to the network said that Rosenthal’s departure was borne out of his frustration at the job sharing. “It was difficult for the team, and [Rosenthal] saw that,” one of those sources said at the time. “After a certain amount of time, he decided it wasn’t working for him or for anybody. ”

“Al Gore and I lived our adult lives, in different capacities, in politics,” said Hyatt of his ascension to the CEO spot. “So it was a natural thing for me to become co-CEO. We had expertise lacking in order to strategically execute the vision we’d committed to.”

With Rosenthal gone, Current announced earlier this week that it was hiring longtime TV news producer David Bohrman as network president, where his task will include building a programming slate around Keith Olbermann’s prime-time news show. Bohrman will report to Hyatt.

Bohrman was poached from CNN, where he’d spent over a decade, most recently as the network’s Washington bureau chief. Before that, he held top producing spots at MSNBC, ABC News, and NBC News. It’s worth noting, of course, that while Hyatt has a background in business, politics, and law, and Bohrman has extensive experience as a news producer, neither has the broader TV programming background of Rosenthal. But Hyatt says that as the network sought to more aggressively build up its news program, “all roads led to Bohrman. . . . He is considered to be the best in the business. ”

Hyatt adds that his network’s Olbermann-induced shift into news is paying off. This past Monday, according to figures Current released to Adweek (confirmed with Nielsen), Countdown With Keith Obermann, the network’s flagship prime-time show, drew 128,000 viewers in its target 25-54 demographic in the 8 p.m. time slot. In comparison, Anderson Cooper had 140,000 in that demo while MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell drew 172,000. (Current did not release total viewership figures). Monday's ratings were a vast improvement from last week, when Countdown averaged 85,000 viewers in its target demographic—the show's lowest-rated week since it premiered in June. (One major factor in all these ratings are the number of homes the networks reach: Current is in only 60 million households, compared to CNN and MSNBC's respective 100 million and 95 million.)

“So far, we’ve been very circumspect about [discussing] ratings,” Hyatt said, but “we are on a roll.” Hyatt also says that the network has seen a 70 percent increase in ad sale revenues in the second quarter of this year versus the second quarter last year.

Still, Hyatt and Bohrman have their work cut out for them in building up their network programming. It was just this past May that Current premiered a reality show called 4th and Forever, a program that Hyatt now says there’s no place for. “Going forward that won't fit through the programming filter. . . . We’ve gone in a different direction,” he said.

As of now, that leaves Olbermann’s program and an investigative news series called Vanguard (which airs before Countdown at 7 p.m.) as the only two cornerstones of Current's repositioning. “We’re working hard on building up a slate as soon as possible,” Hyatt said. “We have a serious development process going on right now. . . . We feel very confident that we can attract the talent necessary to leverage the success of Countdown.”