The Next Wave
Behind Winfrey and Laybourne are other women media execs poised for greatness
By Staff -- Broadcasting & Cable, 10/28/2001 7:00:00 PM
The concept of the next wave was simple in theory, difficult in execution.
When we saw an early copy of American Women in Radio and Television's book Making Waves: The 50 Greatest Women in Radio and Television, we wondered who might be in a sequel published 10 or 15 years from now. So we set out to identify highly regarded women in mid-management and mid-career who have promising futures. To make the job easier, we created 11 categories, representing the major areas that this magazine covers—from syndication to radio to cable operations.
In our search, we spoke with industry executives, members of trade organizations, and government officials.
We chose these 11 women, but many others rightly belong on any list of up-and-coming women. Some areas, particularly cable and broadcast programming, are filled with with qualified candidates.
But this is the first of what will become an annual special report. So this year's runners-up may have their moment next year.
It is also our intention to expand the list in years ahead to include TV and radio news talent, public broadcasting and entrepreneurs.—The Editors
Someone to rely on back home
Now that she's responsible for Fox News Channel field operations, Sharri Berg laughs about the days when she struggled to book a single satellite feed. Berg was fresh out of college in her first production job, and her boss was out sick. The feed she thought she booked never went through.
Today, at 35, Berg is Fox News Channel's vice president of news operations, overseeing the net's newsroom and in-house and field operations.
Berg majored in broadcast journalism at American University in Washington, D.C. After a brief stint in sports broadcasting, she moved to New York and took a sales job at WNYW(TV) until a production-assistant job at the new Fox newsmagazine, The Reporters, opened up.
"I found my niche in being the person back home for all the people in the field: reporters, producers, crews and engineers," Berg says. "I was the person they relied on."
Berg has been with Fox News since April 1996, when she was named manager of satellite operations.
"The first day we launched, I did everything from booking and coordinating 30 international live shots to showing everyone where to get IDs and where the restrooms were located," she says.
Berg spent four years in the early 1990s with World Television News, a broadcast service owned by ITN and United Press International. While there, she ran the New York bureau and coordinated coverage of major news events for the network, including the Gulf War and the 1994 World Cup.—Allison Romano
Title: Fox News Channel's vice president of news operations
Born: Jan. 31, 1966
Birthplace: Queens, NY
Graduated: American University, Washington, D.C., B.A., broadcast journalism, 1987
Career builder: After being hired in April 1996 as Fox News Channel manager of satellite operations, Berg helped get the Fox News Channel up and running in six months.
Cablevision's digital doer
Can Cablevision win a race it waited four years to enter? That's an issue Pat Falese must now address.
As senior vice president for marketing, Falese is charged with persuading Cablevision customers to buy advanced digital cable services faster and more deeply than other cable operators have done. Although other operators started peddling fat packages of digital channels in 1997, the only digital subs Cablevision has had were on systems the company bought from the likes of AT&T.
That's because Cablevision was prepping a more ambitious launch, planning to get digital converters in the homes of half of its basic subscribers in the next few years even if they don't pay for additional services. Further, Cablevision is employing a "smarter," more expensive converter that other operators are abandoning. The plan is that, once the box is in the house, Falese can persuade subscribers to buy additions, such as special video-on-demand services the company is developing.
Such challenges have kept Falese at Cablevision her entire career. She started humbly in 1979 at the company's Long Island system. Her move into marketing in 1993 put her in charge of selling Cablevision's ambitious Optimum TV tiers and ultimately the rollout of the Optimum Online Internet service. The online product called for Falese to get subscribers to install the equipment themselves, a major task that delivered big cost savings and high penetration.
Falese sees opportunities in Cablevision's development of new products. "It's the best professional experience I could imagine."—John M. Higgins
Title: Senior vice president for marketing
Born: Feb. 10, 1959
Birthplace: New York City
Graduated: Hofstra University, Hempstead, N.Y., B.S., communications and political science, 1979
Career builder: Falese became system manager for the northern Chicago system and, more important, part of the team securing new franchises. That led to other system-management gigs and a bump up to a vice president in charge of 160 rural systems in 1991.
At play in D.C.'s magic kingdom
The term "supermom" seems so 1980s, but Disney lobbyist Susan Fox is proof that not all women gave up on the notion.
Fox, 35, is the mother of 18-month-old twin boys, Jack and Sam. That would be job enough for many, but Fox also lobbies the FCC for Disney, reporting to well-known workaholic Preston Padden, Disney's senior vice president of government affairs.
"She is a great lawyer, a highly competent engineer and a spectacular human being," says Padden, who wooed Fox away from the FCC after George W. Bush became president and nominated Republican Michael Powell to be chairman.
Fox was a star in Washington's firmament even before going to Disney, serving as a senior legal adviser to former FCC Chairman William Kennard and then as deputy bureau chief in the Mass Media Bureau. She joined the agency as an attorney in the litigation division in 1995 after answering a want ad while she was working at the Washington firm Hogan & Hartson as a patent attorney.
At Disney, Fox is in charge of keeping track of all issues before the FCC, particularly all things related to digital television. She says the difference between working for a government agency and a private corporation is that now she has a bundle of different issues to track, with less indication as to when one of them is going to need attention. At the FCC, she says, everything was on a schedule, and it was simpler to know when an issue was going to become hot.—Paige Albiniak
Title: Disney lobbyist
Born: July 2, 1966
Birthplace: Ellwood City, Pa.
Graduated: Lafayette College, Easton, Pa., B.S., engineering, 1988; University of Virginia Law School, Charlottesville, 1991
Career builder: Fox was a senior legal adviser to former FCC Chairman William Kennard; prior to joining the FCC, she worked with the Washington firm of Hogan & Hartson as a patent attorney.
She couldn't wait to get going
Wendi Goldstein didn't exactly start out at the top at CBS.
Goldstein, CBS senior vice president of comedy development, got her start as an assistant in the network's programming division in 1990. Goldstein, who grew up in Boston, had been working as a copywriter at a large advertising agency when a friend told her of the assistant's position.
"I literally quit my job and started working at the network the day after they offered me the job," says Goldstein. "I was already 26 at the time; in terms of changing careers, if I was going to start over, that was the time."
Goldstein hit the fast track and, in 1992, was named manager of both comedy- and drama-series development. She moved to strictly comedy development a year later and now oversees all of CBS's comedy development. Goldstein has played a part in developing all the network's current sitcoms, including Everybody Loves Raymond; Becker; The King of Queens; Yes, Dear; and The Ellen Show.
"Raymond is the show I'm most proud of because it was a show that really didn't have fancy bells and whistles, it didn't have a big star, and it went on in a very quiet time period," she says. "We sort of willed it to succeed, and it's so gratifying to have the public agree with us."
But Goldstein says she hasn't forgotten where she started at the network.
"I feel like I never knew more about what was going on at this network than I did when I was an assistant."—Joe Schlosser
Title: CBS senior vice president of comedy development
Born: Aug. 21, 1964
Birthplace: New York City
Graduated: Clark University, Worcester, Mass., B.A., screen studies, 1986
Career builder: Since 1992, Goldstein has helped CBS build its comedy lineup into a winning team, particularly on Monday nights. It's her work with Everybody Loves Raymond that makes her proudest, because she stood by the show until viewers believed in it as much as she did.
Talking tech with the boys
Of all the awards and accolades Seachange International Vice President of Interactive Technology Yvette Gordon has received in her career, the award of which she is proudest is being named "Signal Processing Engineer of the Year" by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in 1995. For a young woman working in the highly technical, male-dominated field of digital-cable television-systems design, it proved that she had arrived.
With digital technology driving the business, her career continues to speed forward as well. Gordon oversees product development and strategic marketing for emerging technologies such as video-on-demand and interactive television.
She earned a master of science degree in mathematics from the University of Central Florida in 1993 and is often the featured speaker at Society of Telecommunications Engineers and Women in Cable and Telecommunications gatherings. In 1997, Gordon received the Woman in Technology award from both organizations. She also holds several patents on technologies related to digital cable and signal processing.
Prior to joining SeaChange, Gordon worked as director of engineering on Time Warner Cable's Full Service Network in Orlando, Fla., the world's first digital interactive television project.
So what's it like being a woman in a field dominated by male engineers? "The men in this business judge you based on your knowledge," she says. "I'm completely comfortable with that."
Title: Seachange International vice president of interactive technology
Born: Oct. 29, 1965
Birthplace: Cristobal, Panama
Graduated: Central Florida University, Orlando, Fla., B.S., mathematics, specializing in digital compression, 1987
Career builder: Gordon was director of engineering on Time Warner Cable's Full Service Network in Orlando, Fla., an interactive TV and VOD trial that has been a career launching pad for many of those involved with it.
Into the newsroom frying pan
At 22, Angie Kucharski was a TV reporter in a rural Midwest market when she found herself on the other side of the camera. "I went into reporting because I wanted to be a storyteller," she recalls. "My lifelong career plan went out the window. I realized that, in management, you get to shape several stories throughout the day."
After moving to producing and assigning, Kucharski became a news director at KAAL-TV Austin/Rochester, Minn.—before she was 24. And in early 1999, at 33, she took over the newsroom at KCNC-TV Denver, CBS's O&O station, only weeks before that market gained the national spotlight with the Columbine High School shooting. In addition to generating a positive buzz inside the CBS group, she has emerged as a leader within the TV-news industry's trade group, the RTNDA.
"What I learned from my staff during the Columbine story was incredible," she says. "When you're new, you want to be able to show that you can lead the group." But without much experience in that newsroom, she felt "that, by necessity you have to be there for people but also hang back and let your people do their jobs. I was fortunate to see the people, the resources we have here early on."
"What stands out about Angie is her energy, her passion, her commitment," says Marv Rockford, a former news director and the man who hired Kucharski for the Denver job.
Whatever she does in the future, Kucharski says, "I want to be in a position where I can continue to have fun. I'm excited about doing news each day."—Dan Trigoboff
Title: news director, KCNC-TV Denver
Born: June 26, 1965
Graduated: Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill., B.A., M.S., journalism, 1987
Career builder: Soon after joining KCNC-TV Denver, Kucharski found herself and her staff thrown into coverage of the Columbine shootings. She has shared her insights into crisis coverage in many forums, including a session with her peers at the 1999 RTNDA conference.
Sold on learning by doing
For 17 years, Val Maki has been with Emmis Communications, working at numerous stations in multiple capacities, but one thing remains constant: her desire to always do more than what's required.
"It's always good to make it so that the company owes you instead of you owing the company," she advises.
Maki is currently senior VP/market manager for KPWR-FM and KZLA-FM, two Emmis stations in Los Angeles. Maki's career began in the early '80s when she began working at KRSP-AM/FM Salt Lake City before she had graduated from college. "I started out in the office doing everything and anything, and, for the first nine months, I would do whatever I could do," she recalls. "But I very soon went into sales. And then you start making more money than MBAs so going back means it has to be the right school at the right time."
Maki put off school and didn't graduate from DePaul University until 1998 with a B.A. concentrating on management. Her career is proof that experience counts more than formal education.
In 1984, she joined Emmis, where she worked as a co-op vendor director for WLOL-FM Minneapolis. At the time, Emmis was in an acquisition mode, and Maki soon found herself in a corporate gig sharing business-development strategies among the stations.
"Emmis has given me some great open doors that I've taken, and I've learned a lot," she says. "There are companies like Emmis that promote totally on merit."—Ken Kerschbaumer
Title: Senior VP/market manager for KPWR-FM and KZLA-FM Los Angeles
Born: May 3, 1962
Birthplace: Thief River Falls, MN
Graduated: DePaul University, Chicago, B.A., concentration in management, 1998
Career builder: Until she finally decided to complete her degree in 1998, Kucharski let experience lead the way. It didn't take long for Emmis to notice her strengths as she got involved in business-development strategies.
Always the news junkie
TV's Mr. Rogers gave Vicki Regan an early lesson in management. "If it is mentionable," the now retired children's television icon told Regan 20 years ago when she was a young production assistant, "it is manageable."
Of course, Regan's intention to join the ranks of television management predated even Mr. Rogers. As a child, says Regan, "whenever a station said it was experiencing technical difficulties, I wanted to know what those difficulties were." A news junkie, she added journalism to her speech and theater studies at Duquesne University and interned at KDKA-TV Pittsburgh.
There were many who helped guide Regan to her position as general manager of Hearst-Argyle's WPBF(TV) West Palm Beach, Fla. Past mentors include John Conomikes, who would become Hearst-Argyle president and CEO, and Judy Girard, later president of the Food Network.
Her association with top-level mentors goes back to when Fred Young, now Hearst's news head, spoke to Regan's journalism class at Duquesne. Young was news director at WTAE, the station that provided Regan with much of her professional development. Young knew early on "that she would be one of the bright people in television."
This is Regan's third job as a GM at a Hearst station, and the ABC affiliate competes with more established network affiliates. Hearst CEO Tony Vinciquerra says she's an enthusiastic, energetic and focused manager with a terrific background in production and programming.—Dan Trigoboff
Title: General manager, WPBF(TV) West Palm Beach, Fla.
Born: March 12, 1959
Birthplace: Red Bank, NJ
Graduated: Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, B.A., 1981
Career builder: Left Hearst-Argyle briefly after years at WTAE-TV Pittsburgh to begin her career as a general manager, but Hearst execs kept their word to bring her back. The career that started in Mister Rogers' Neighborhood will likely move to Hearst's larger markets.
Building on the right foundation
According to Diane Robina, TNN: The National Network's general manager, work is all about play. She believes playing sports will help young women become better businesswomen in the future.
"Sports give you a great focus and sense of team work," says Robina, 41, an avid sports fan who played softball when she was younger. "You have to excel yourself, but people are depending on you, and what you do dramatically impacts the whole."
Balancing these notions has helped Robina rise through the ranks in her 14 years at Viacom Inc.'s MTV Networks.
Last September, she was tapped to remake The Nashville Network into a mainstream general entertainment network. She revels in the challenge of branding a network. "I love taking all the puzzle pieces and putting them together," she says. "I've always built things at MTV, I helped build Nick, TV Land and Nick UK."
Robina, who now oversees TNN's programming marketing and daily operations, credits two accomplished female TV execs for helping to shape her career. Former Nickelodeon exec Geraldine Laybourne, who is now Oxygen's chairwoman, showed her how to balance family and career. "No matter what meeting she was in, who she was with, if one of her kids called, she would pick up the phone," says Robina, who has two daughters, ages 12 and 9.
Robina also credits ABC Cable President Anne Sweeney for teaching her how to operate in the business world. "I learned how to be professional and be a negotiator."—Allison Romano
Title: TNN: The National Network's general manager
Born: July 18, 1960
Birthplace: Englewood, N.J.
Graduated: University of Delaware, Newark, Del., B.A., history and communications, 1982
Career builder: During 14 years with Viacom, Robina has helped build networks like Nickelodeon, TV Land (where she spent three years as associate general manager and senior vice president of programming) and Nick UK.
CBS's queen of drama
After working in the theater in New York City and as a talent agent in Hollywood, Nina Tassler realized that what she really wanted to do was to work for a TV studio.
And Tassler, now senior vice president of drama-series development at CBS, didn't want to work for just any TV studio. She wanted to work for Les Moonves at Lorimar Television (now a part of Warner Bros.).
"I just begged and did everything I could to get an interview with Leslie. I knew that was going to be the biggest audition of my life," she says. "I ended up having a great meeting with him, and he hired me way back in 1990, and I've been with him almost ever since."
Moonves, now CBS president and CEO, assigned Tassler to be director of movies and miniseries at Lorimar. She later moved into the drama department there and eventually ran the whole division, developing such series as Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and Sisters. She also had a hand in NBC's ER.
In 1997, two years after leaving Lorimar to take the top spot at CBS, Moonves brought Tassler over to be vice president of drama development at CBS Productions. A year later, she was running the CBS drama division. This season, she added five new dramas at the network, including The Education of Max Bickford and The Guardian.
"It's been a great couple of years, and I think we have been very, very lucky," Tassler says of CBS's successful run of new dramas. —Joe Schlosser
Title: Senior vice president of drama-series development at CBS
Born: June 19, 1957
Birthplace: New York City
Graduated: Boston University, Boston, B.A., fine arts, 1979
Career builder: After working with Les Moonves at Lorimar, Tassler made the jump to CBS with him to head the network's drama development. Judging Amy and one of this year's critical hits, The Education of Max Bickford, are just a couple of the projects in which she has had a hand.
A flood of opportunities
Most people are thrilled to get one lucky break in their lifetimes. Terry Wood, vice president of programming at Paramount Domestic Television, got two.
Wood's first break came when she was a camera operator in the WSMV-TV Nashville, Tenn., studio. The news director told her to go live covering a flash flood when the reporter couldn't make it through the water in time for the newscast.
"First, I got sick in the waste basket," recalls Wood. "But they came back to me three times in that hour, and I thought this is what I want to do."
Today, she's immersed in readying the fall 2002 launch of Dr. Phil. "I've been given incredible opportunities," she says. "And I just want to keep finding them."
Wood left WSMV-TV for WCBS-TV New York, where she was instrumental in its first ever noon newscast. Then she jumped to the CBS network, where she went on the road to produce stories on the Gulf War and Bosnia while working at CBS Evening News and 60 Minutes.
Later, in 1998, when she joined Paramount's production team, Wood kept up her ambitious ways. She and her boss, Paramount Domestic
Television Programming President Greg Meidel, are now looking at using the Entertainment Tonight video library for ET spin-offs that would be directed to kids and teens.
Wood has a knack for accomplishing big things, probably because she "sets the bar pretty high. But I am confident that I can achieve it. I guess that I am a bit of a maverick."—Susanne Ault
Title: Paramount Domestic Television vice president of programming
Born: March 21, 1959
Birthplace: Nashville, Tenn.
Education: University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tenn.
Career builder: Within seven months of joining Paramount, Wood saw an opportunity to get revenue out of the ET footage library. With more than 20 years of video on hand, she helped launch Entertainment Tonight Weekend, a biographical-format program that has racked up hefty ratings gains since its launch.
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