Meet the New Broadcast TV Chiefs at ABC, Fox and NBC

These 4 execs are ready to share their strategies

After assuming these roles last fall, they’re now opening up about their respective priorities.

The 2018-19 broadcast season got off to an unexpectedly turbulent start last fall when a whopping three network chief jobs turned over in the space of just two months. In September, George Cheeks and Paul Telegdy jointly stepped in as NBC Entertainment co-chairmen, replacing the departing Robert Greenblatt. A month later, Charlie Collier was named Fox Entertainment CEO in October, taking over for Fox Television Group chairmen and CEOs Dana Walden, who will be moving to Disney when the Disney-Fox deal closes, and Gary Newman, who will be leaving the company. Then Karey Burke took over as ABC Entertainment president in November, when Channing Dungey departed (she quickly landed at Netflix). While all four execs focused on getting up to speed during their first months in their new roles, they’re finally ready to open up about their respective priorities for their networks, their message to advertisers and why they still believe in broadcast TV.

Karey Burke
President, ABC Entertainment
Previous job: evp, programming and development, Freeform

Top priority for ABC: “Whether it’s up or down, ABC has always been No. 1 with women 18-49, and we lost that mantle this fall,” said Burke. “So my biggest priority is getting that back.” To that end, she’s looking for new shows with “female-forward stories that are not female-exclusive or male-repellant. But that have, at their core, an idea or character or concept that is appealing to women. I want to get back that idea—and we’re not far from it—that the home for the best shows for women on broadcast television is at ABC.”

“I wouldn’t have taken the job if I thought it was over."
Karey Burke, ABC Entertainment president, on broadcast TV’s reign

Her message to advertisers: During her seven years as a prime-time exec at NBC, including in the Must-See TV era, “I learned the importance of the kind of audience that we are delivering: 18-49, smart, upscale. That doesn’t mean we aren’t going to serve everybody, and we do, but I am focused on delivering the best quality audience to the advertisers,” said Burke. In her home, “we watch the commercials, and will often go back, if somebody’s speeding through the commercials. There’s unbelievable storytelling going on in the ad world right now—witness the Super Bowl. So I believe that storytelling in advertising is every bit as relevant and part of a deeply important partnership for us in broadcast.”

Why broadcast still matters: “I wouldn’t have taken the job if I thought it was over,” Burke said of broadcast TV’s reign. “I’ve been doing this long enough to have been at a broadcast network when the big threat was Fox. Then the big threat was cable, and then AOL was merging with Time Warner, and here we are again [with streaming]. And broadcast networks survive, because they are a great business and they’re a great way to tell stories.” From The Bachelor to Grey’s Anatomy, she said, “those kinds of cultural conversations, and of-the-moment experiences, are still, to me, the special providence of network TV.”

Charlie Collier
CEO, Fox Entertainment
Previous job: president and gm of AMC, SundanceTV and AMC Studios

Top priorities at Fox: As he waits for Fox Broadcast to be spun off alongside some other 21st Century Fox assets prior to the close of the Disney deal (“we really are building a new company while we’re transitioning an old company out,” he said), Collier is thinking ahead to next season. With Empire now in Season 5, Collier is looking for another “signature soap opera, be it Melrose or 90210 or The O.C., that has been a hallmark” of the network, as well as “continued investment” in animation. “And then some of the surprises, the ‘Did Fox really just greenlight that?’ [show order], that turns into a hit,” like midseason success The Masked Singer.

"We’re really well-positioned to partner with advertisers in different ways, and offer the very best things that broadcast has to offer.”
Charlie Collier, president, Fox Entertainment

His message to advertisers: When Fox gets spun off, “we have the opportunity to be nimble, the opportunity to invest strategically and quickly, and all of those are good for our business and good for advertisers,” said Collier. “Look at what we’re able to do next year: Besides having the Emmys, the NFC Championship Game, the World Series and the Super Bowl as the table stakes, and then build some of the best entertainment, I think we’re really well-positioned to partner with advertisers in different ways, and offer the very best things that broadcast has to offer.”

Why broadcast still matters: “I’ve always believed a healthy broadcast marketplace is good for the marketplace, wherever you sit. When the upfront in broadcast is healthy, the upfront in cable tends to be healthy,” said Collier. With increased fragmentation coupled with the explosion in binge-watching on streaming services, “it puts a premium on the live and near-live shared experience. So to have a place that can reach 40 million people in a playoff game or 100 million people in the Super Bowl, that’s one thing. But to be able to do the type of numbers we’re doing with Masked Singer or Empire, and then build integrations for advertisers that are meaningful, I love being ad-supported and I think it’s still powerful.”

George Cheeks
Co-chairman, NBC Entertainment
Previous job: co-president, Universal Cable Productions and Wilshire Studios, and president, late-night programming, NBC Entertainment

Paul Telegdy
Co-chairman, NBC Entertainment
Previous job: president, alternative and reality group, NBC Entertainment

How they’re divvying up the workload: They aren’t. “Our view is that the headwinds in this business, and the fact that we’re also managing the growth of the studio while we’re trying to manage the NBC Entertainment platform, is a lot. And so having two brains against it made a lot of sense to our bosses, and to us as well,” said Cheeks. That said, given their previous roles, Telegdy handles day-to-day issues among unscripted shows, and Cheeks does the same for late-night programs. But they work together on all “big issues,” said Cheeks. “And on the scripted side, which is relatively new for both of us, we locked arms and realized it would be best if we dove into that together.”

“We love advertising, and our commitment is to improving the consumer experience, creating more addressability, making sure the context and the relevance of ads feel so perfect to you."
Paul Telegdy, co-chairman, NBC Entertainment

Top priorities at NBC: “The good news for us by being No. 1 [in adults 18-49] is that we have very little real estate to fill,” said Cheeks. So he and Telegdy told their development team, “with this pilot cycle, pick your favorite scripts and share them with us, but let’s look at the different verticals. Let’s look at emotional dramas, at procedurals, at serialized. Let’s also consider not just comedies that might play really well in cities, but also broad-based comedies that could launch off some of our hit alternative shows as well, to try to be more strategic in terms of the pilots that we choose.”

Their message to advertisers: “We love advertising, and our commitment is to improving the consumer experience, creating more addressability, making sure the context and the relevance of ads feel so perfect to you, that you don’t resent the relationship,” said Telegdy. “But we also need the advertising community to understand that if we’re in a content arms race, where the production values of shows are skyrocketing, that the content in the commercial pods needs to be keeping pace, with content, with relevance, with adaptive creative, with interactivity and with innovation.” Going into this year’s upfront, the duo, alongside NBCUniversal ad sales chief Linda Yaccarino, “will partner with any client that puts their hand up to do things that feel like they’re radical or different, or they’re trying to shake things up.”

This story first appeared in the Feb. 25, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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