The next wave
The emerging generation of women in TV
By Staff -- Broadcasting & Cable, 10/17/2004 8:00:00 PM
The women who make up B&C's Next Wave for 2004 have that special spark. Although the TV business places a premium on reaching female viewers, the medium has not always placed the same importance on putting women in the executive suites. That has changed in the past several years and continues to evolve with the kind of talented executives featured here. These are extraordinary, enthusiastic women whose work is making a difference now and whose future is also the future of television. Read on.
CBS's new drama queen
By Kevin Downey
Like so many of the women featured in B&C's 2004 edition of The Next Wave, CBS's Laverne McKinnon grew up with an obsession for television. Saturday in suburban Chicago meant racing downstairs at 5 in the morning and planting herself in front of the tube.
It wasn't just television. It was storytelling that turned her on. And today, one month into a new job overseeing drama-series development at CBS, it still is. She reads voraciously and TiVos all over.
"I love everything from hardcore procedurals to soap operas to cartoons," says McKinnon. "And I don't think I'm a bad person because of all the TV I watch. In fact, it has been very beneficial to me."
So much so that it has propelled her to senior vice president of drama series development at CBS, the No. 1-ranked and fastest-growing network. At CBS, with Nina Tassler, the network's entertainment president since September and former head of drama development, McKinnon helped develop TV's highest-rated show, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and spinoffs CSI: Miami and CSI: NY; last season's No. 1 new drama, Cold Case; and other shows, including Without a Trace, the program possibly on its way to knocking NBC's ER out of the top spot on Thursdays for the first time in a decade.
"Laverne has been involved in every single one of our projects since day one," says Jonathan Littman, president of Jerry Bruckheimer Television, the production company behind those dramas. "The hallmark of CBS is that they are never satisfied. You want to be challenged, constantly. Laverne is good at that."
She also has experience on Littman's side of the desk, developing empathy, she points out, for writers, producers and directors.
After graduating in 1987 from Northwestern University, McKinnon stayed in Chicago, producing educational films. But by 1991, her love of TV led her to Los Angeles. She got a job in television packaging at Triad Artists.
McKinnon then moved to Klasky Csupo, the Rugrats animation studio. There she developed programs like Santo Bugito. Though short-lived, the cartoon landed on CBS, establishing McKinnon's relationship with executives at the network.
She began in kids television at CBS but eventually got her shot at prime time. McKinnon started working in current programming, where she met David Stapf, who ran the department and is now president of Paramount Network Television. He is one of the executives McKinnon calls a "mentor." In May 2000, with Stapf's encouragement, she was hired in drama development by another mentor, Tassler.
"The skills you use in current programming—you're giving notes to writers almost on a daily basis—are applicable in drama development as well," says Tassler. "When someone is sharing a story, [McKinnon] will make a personal connection with them. And she can identify that part of a person's experience that can be shared universally."
McKinnon ascended the ranks last month when Viacom Co-President Les Moonves reshuffled a female-dominated programming team. Tassler moved up to entertainment president, replacing Nancy Tellem, who now runs CBS Paramount Network Television Entertainment Group. McKinnon took over drama development from Tassler. And Wendi Trilling was promoted to executive vice president of comedy development. David Brownfield was bumped up to head of current programming.
So what about that glass ceiling? "I've never personally experienced it," says McKinnon. "I think the entertainment industry is on the forefront of allowing women to succeed."
Today, McKinnon is charged with keeping CBS's hit dramas coming. "I try to stay focused on the creative process," she says, "to ensure that the story a writer is trying to tell comes across on paper and is the one that lands on the screen." So far, so good.
The woman behind AOL's Running Man
By Jean Bergantini Grillo
See that AOL "Running Man" icon dancing before you at the bottom of your TV screen? Thank Faith Campbell, vice president and associate director, national broadcast, for Initiative Media.
Her cutting-edge thinking took AOL's animated logo to the TV networks, where she successfully pitched them on incorporating the activated icon on-screen in real time during numerous high-profile entertainment and sporting events. Running Man caught on with viewers during NASCAR races and recent NCAA and NFL football games. And "his" appearance on last year's Major League Baseball's World Series is cited within the industry as one of the most seamless and powerful brand placements to date.
Consider the audacity of her pitch: persuading broadcast and cable networks to allow an activated logo whose message to viewers is "Hey, go log on to AOL."
Clearly, this is a young woman not easily daunted. "Facing the world is a challenge I enjoy," she says. "Life is not a dress rehearsal, and you do your best from day one."
"Day one" is no metaphor. According to Campbell, her passion for great advertising runs in her blood.
Campbell cites her dad, Rudy Taylor, a longtime spot-sales executive, as her first and truest mentor, followed by Kristin Fitzgerald, her godmother with network agency experience.
"I grew up seeing the advertising trades on our coffee table," Campbell laughs. "Every adult I knew was in advertising." She interned with Horizon Media while still in high school. Then there were those weekly dinners with Fitzgerald. "She gave me lots and lots of advice," Campbell says.
After only 11 years in the business, she now oversees broadcast buying for clients in the Eastern region while supervising TV buying for America Online. Indeed, Campbell is cited by Initiative as the "driving force behind the development of a number of creative media solutions—specifically, Running Man. She also helped create an AOL online music link with Fox's hot series The O.C, and she recently spearheaded AOL's "MillionaireIM" integration on the syndicated version of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire. The integration allows millions of AOL members, AOL Instant Messenger users and online Millionaire fans to assist show contestants by answering their questions in real time.
Tim Spengler, Initiative executive vice president and director of national broadcast, calls Campbell "the heart and soul of the national broadcast department. Her dedication to her clients and employees is unparalleled."
What's the goal? "I really would like to do more of these integrated ads," she says. "They're different and challenging because they're not actually commercials. The AOL icon runs over network programs, but it's not product placement."
Previously, Campbell oversaw national-broadcast buying for a host of companies: Serta, Dell, Leapfrog and Morningstar Financial for Bates and Ammirati Puris Lintas. But she got to lead her Initiative team of five media pros because she infuses everything with an iron-clad belief in right choices.
"My philosophy is really about team work," she says. "Quite honestly, to have a great team, you must have access to talented people, which I have, and then find the right spot for them. Everything we do is a collaboration."
Lifetime program exec is a child of TV
By Andy Grossman
Few executives would count as their influences Peggy Lipton, Kate Jackson, and Farrah Fawcett. But like a lot of kids, New York-born Lifetime Television executive Allison Wallach grew up with those TV stars.
"I lived in the city," the vice president of programming for Lifetime Entertainment Services recalled recently, to explain her heavy TV-viewing diet; in fact, she was hooked on soap operas at age 6. "My parents would rather I was in the apartment watching TV. They were happy when they didn't hear 'boo' from me."
So Wallach grew up as a huge fan of ABC's epochal one-hour dramas, including Charlie's Angels, The Mod Squad and The Rookies—shows that influenced her by putting women in more-empowering roles than the usual domestic goddesses of earlier television.
Eventually, she went to Northwestern University as a math major but transferred to its radio-TV-film school. After graduation, she landed a job at William Morris as a trainee, where "I was put through the wringer."
She continues, "When I first started at William Morris, it was still primarily an all-boys club, which was intimidating and a challenge for me and the other women there. But the business has changed dramatically over the years with new opportunities for women everywhere."
At Lifetime, there isn't much evidence of her earlier TV fave raves. Instead, shows like Any Day Now, Strong Medicine and The Division paint a more realistic version of womanhood.
When she joined Lifetime in 1997 as manager of series, "There were not any real women at the center of the show," Wallach says. "It was important to show real women in real friendships and not backing away from that. Women wanted to find real women on TV."
Besides Any Day Now, a series about an African-American girl and a white girl growing up as friends in 1960s Alabama, Wallach is most proud of her role in developing the Emmy Award-winning documentary Until the Violence Stops.
But Lifetime is emerging from a year-long mini-slump in which the former top-rated cable network had slipped a few spots in the ratings. A piece of the network's core viewership found edgier and more entertaining fare on the broadcast networks in the form of smash reality series like American Idol, Survivor and The Bachelor. Ratings recovered somewhat over the summer, but Wallach's rebuilding task remains a formidable one.
So she is now paying extra attention to the reality genre, where she has championed Lifetime's I Do Diaries, the quarterly wedding specials, and Popping the Question, with Star Jones, a bridal special that will air in November.
Wallach realizes that her immediate future and the network's are intertwined, but she is a good change agent. Her diplomatic style underscores a collaborative approach to management, say colleagues.
"She is that unique individual everyone loves working with, and she makes sure you feel that your ideas are the center of conversation," says Rick Haskins, executive vice president and general manager of Lifetime Entertainment Services.
And Wallach knows that Lifetime and its audience are evolving. Her job is to develop sitcoms, dramas and reality programs that will challenge viewers without chasing them away.
HBO's Sex & the City, Fox's Arrested Development and FX's Nip/Tuck impress her. Those shows, she says, "raised the bar in terms of tone, of what you can get away with. It's OK to challenge a woman a little bit more.
"Women have so many options out there right now," she adds. "What we don't want to do is the traditional sitcom."
But she also would love a good new comedy. "A goal of mine is to have more fun," Wallach says. "Women like to laugh."
A unique focus on consumers and technology
By Glen Dickson
Lynne Elander's illustrious cable career has been fueled by new technology. She spearheaded Cox Communications' launch of digital cable in the late '90s and now helps Microsoft pitch its digital-TV software to cable operators and telcos.
She has no engineering or science background. But she's good at asking, What does the consumer want?
Recalls Joe Rooney, senior vice president of marketing for Cox, "In meetings, she was always asking the engineers to keep it simple for the customer."
Colleagues also note her attention to detail. Dallas Clement, senior vice president of strategy and development for Cox, remembers Elander's expertise with electronic program guides.
"She had a great appreciation for the technical complexities and how they related to the price/value equation," Clement says. "And when people came in to sell something new, she had great insights on how their product could be tweaked in order to better address a cable customer's needs."
Elander grew up in Pleasantville, N.Y., before heading to Georgetown University to study business, and later earned an MBA from the University of Virginia. She worked briefly in advertising but wanted a media career; a family friend turned her on to cable. She landed a job at Cox's Virginia Beach, Va., operation and began marketing new products like pay-per-view. And she surprised herself with how quickly she took to cable's technical bent.
"I became the marketing person you could take to an engineering meeting and not get lost," Elander says.
In 1991, Elander was promoted to Cox headquarters in Atlanta to become product manager for pay-per-view. She would progressively get more responsibility and, in 1994, became project manager of Cox's first VOD trial, in Omaha, Neb. While the trial proved that VOD didn't yet make economic sense, Elander acquired valuable knowledge of digital compression and interactive software.
In 1996, Elander became the lead project manager for Cox Digital Cable, a post she held for four years Her peers were engineers. "But Cox took the view that it was not about the technology but what the technology can do," she says. "They saw it as a marketing task: How can digital cable compete with satellite?" She became Cox's vice president of video product management in 2000 and was figuring Cox's HDTV play when her career changed big time.
Microsoft approached Elander last year with an offer to help develop and market interactive-TV software. She wasn't looking for a job but couldn't pass up an opportunity to work on what she calls "the next generation of product enhancement in the industry."
As general manager for marketing, Microsoft TV, Elander is now focused on adding functionality and control to operators' digital-video offerings with Microsoft software such as Foundation Edition 1.7, an onscreen user interface for digital-cable applications, and IPTV, a software platform that enables the delivery of digital video over Internet Protocol (IP) networks. Comcast is the first big customer, committing to deploy it in up to 5 million homes.
She's excited by what comes next.
"Up to now, bundling competition has primarily been about discounting," she notes. "But operators need to think about the future and how to make the TV product better for consumers because they get it from the same company that provides their high-speed data service. How do those two products interact together?" No doubt, she'll answer her own question sooner than later.
Belo's new lobbyist is coming home
By Alan Breznick
Although she has never told him this, DeDe Lea gives Jack Valenti credit for inspiring her to become a leading media lobbyist.
Lea, the new vice president of government affairs for Belo Corp., recalls seeing a Sunday Washington Post Magazine cover story on Valenti, the long-time head of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), at the end of her first year of law school in 1991. After reading the story, she decided that she wanted to push media causes in government circles, too. Sure enough, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) soon hired her to do exactly that as a legal intern.
"I said I wanted to do what he does," she says. "Then I was offered the opportunity a few months later."
More than a dozen years later, Lea has moved on to her third lobbying post with a major media company or organization. The Howard University and Georgetown University Law School graduate joined Belo in early September after rising as high as senior vice president of government affairs at NAB and then completing a seven-year stint with Viacom as vice president of government affairs.
Representing the broadcasting industry in both positions, Lea played a big role in pushing the 1992 Cable Act and the Telecommunications Act of 1996 through Congress. She also pursued stronger piracy protections for television programmers and helped block various lawmakers' efforts to auction off digital spectrum to the highest bidders and impose content regulation on broadcasters.
"There's been so much [that] you forget about it after a while," she says. "It's always such a fire fight."
Lea entered the broadcasting industry nearly two decades ago. After graduating from Howard in 1985 with a degree in broadcast management, she worked in radio and TV sales for several Washington stations before setting her sights on law.
"I saw my [sales] colleagues and asked myself whether I want to do this when I'm 40," she says. But at least she tried it. "I felt, as a woman, I needed as many toys in my war chest as possible."
Now, after 23 years in Washington, Lea has just returned to her native Texas. In her new job at Belo, she will work out of the company's Dallas headquarters, flying up to D.C. perhaps a couple of times each month for lobbying blitzes. She also expects to spend time in Austin, the Texas capital, representing the company on state tax proposals and other key issues.
"It's the best of both worlds," says Lea, who's happy to be back in her home state. "I could not have asked for a better situation."
Lea and her husband, a physician specializing in spinal-cord injuries, made the switch after he was offered a prestigious position at the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center. But, even more important, they decided on moving to Dallas after Lea gave birth to the couple's first child last spring.
"When you have a kid, it just changes your focus," she says. Coincidentally, Lea and her husband had named their little boy Dallas, after his father, Dallas Jr., and grandfather, Dallas Sr.
At Belo, Lea plans to focus on persuading federal regulators to adopt digital multicast must-carry mandates for cable operators. Terming digital must-carry "the number- one, -two and -three issues" for her new company, she argues that the multicast rules are critical to ensuring an orderly digital-TV transition for broadcasters.
"We've put so much money and time and effort into the digital transition," she says. "That really is the big issue for us."
An animated journey from commercial TV to PBS
By Kim McAvoy
When Linda Simensky was in college, her classmates thought she was addicted to TV cartoons. As it turned out, the coed, who's now a veteran children's-TV programmer, was actually studying.
For nearly two decades, Simensky pursued her passion for animation as a successful cable executive responsible for putting such Nickelodeon hits as Doug, Rugrats and Ren & Stimpyon-air. Later, at Cartoon Network, she was a driving force behind the popular Powerpuff Girlsand Dexter's Laboratory,among others. Now, in the enviable position of combining her love of cartoons and children's TV at PBS Kids, she is establishing a new programming initiative designed to capture the hearts and minds of 6- to 8-year-olds.
Simensky switched to the noncommercial side of the TV business last November when she became senior director for children's programming at PBS. It was an unusual career move. But her perspective about television changed as she began watching with her then-3-year-old son, Ethan. "All he wanted to watch was PBS Kids," she says. "I became intrigued. I watched a lot of PBS Kids with him. I suddenly wanted to be working on shows I could show to my son."
At the same time, PBS was embarking on a new programming strategy targeting the 6-8 crowd. Perfect for her.
She hit the ground running, says John F. Wilson, senior vice president of programming for PBS: "With a great deal of confidence, she read scripts, looked at boards and provided notes producers could really use. A terrific plus. She couldn't have come at a better time."
Her handiwork can be seen this month with the launch of Maya & Miguel and Postcards From Buster on PBS Kids Go! Current PBS fare Arthurand Cyberchase are also part of the new programming block airing weekday afternoons and weekend mornings. She's also working on several new preschool shows for next year.
By the time Simensky was a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, she knew she wanted to be part of the TV industry. A summer internship at Nickelodeon "really got me excited about kids TV."
Her official entry into cable programming was at Showtime in 1986, and she moved on to become a scheduler for sister network Nickelodeon. Two and a half years later, Nickelodeon's newly created animation department recruited her. "It was a dream come true," she says.
Simensky was director of animation when she left Nickelodeon for Cartoon Network in 1995. Her nine years at Nick, working for Geraldine Laybourne, were invaluable: "I learned to strive for excellence, to think about kids all the time and never take no for an answer."
At Cartoon Network, she backed original product like Samurai Jack, Ed, Edd N Eddy and John Bravoand pushed for the channel's own animation studio, which opened in 2000. She's proud of her efforts in getting Cartoon Network to greenlight Powerpuff Girls. The show was already developed when she got there, but it hadn't tested well. Simensky believed in it. "It was one of the few times I fought for something completely against the tide," she says.
Now at PBS, she'll get to create a whole new kind of programming style. Says PBS's Wilson, "We have a lot to learn from her."
Engineering cable-customer satisfaction
By George Winslow
Last summer, when a congressman sent a letter to Comcast complaining about problems that a few customers had with their phone bill, the letter quickly landed on the desk of Suzanne Keenan, the cable giant's senior vice president of customer service.
"It would have been easy to get those few customers a refund and tell the congressman we'd solved the problem," notes David Cohen, an executive vice president at Comcast Corp.
Instead, Keenan dug into the roots of what turned out to be a complex problem that had been created by an outside vendor. She worked to identify the 200-300 customers that had also been affected by the snafu and then set up a new system so that the situation wouldn't occur again.
That kind of action didn't surprise Cohen. "It's a typical example of how Suzanne will dig into a problem and drive a solution that will improve our overall customer base."
Faced with brutal competition from DBS and telcos that are trying to poach disgruntled cable subscribers, Comcast needs to keep its customers happy.
The company receives 175 million phone calls a year, and its technicians make 25 million trips, or "truck rolls," a year. It's Keenan's job to make sure that most of these end up as success stories. Her relentless drive to improve customer satisfaction also goes a long way towards explaining her extraordinary career.
Her skills in customer care grew out of an unusual background in nuclear engineering. After getting a BS in nuclear engineering at Penn State and an MA in physics from the University of Pittsburgh, she got a job as an engineer in 1987 at PECO, a major Pennsylvania energy utility.
Working in an industry where mistakes can be catastrophic, she quickly learned that "my greatest skill was helping the company fix processes and work with outside [regulatory] agencies," she says.
Those skills helped her quickly rise through the ranks, eventually becoming vice president of customer and marketing services. In 1999, a headhunter contacted her about the top customer-service job at Comcast.
"It was a hard decision," she admits. She was happy at PECO. But she was fascinated by cable and impressed with Comcast. "What really matters is the people you work with and the trust you have in them," she says.
At Comcast, Keenan's skills at improving customer- service management were put to the test when the MSO acquired AT&T's cable operations—essentially the old TCI, a giant in cable but never its best operator. That deal not only tripled the number of customers Comcast had in 1999; it also put enormous pressure on the MSO to quickly integrate AT&T systems and show skeptical investors Comcast hadn't made a mistake.
Within a year, Keenan's team managed to expand seven call centers, build eight new ones and hire about 3,000 new representatives. Service got a lot better.
To further improve the customer's experience and deal with those complexities, Keenan's team recently implemented a campaign dubbed "Think Customer First."
As part of that project, about 10,000 customers are interviewed each month, providing a massive amount of data on how demographic groups in all regions are responding to the company's offerings and its customer service.
"It gives us a clear understanding of what we need to do," says Keenan, who was also recently put in charge of the training programs at the company's "Comcast University."
All of this seems to be boosting customer satisfaction. Internal Comcast surveys found that customer-service satisfaction improved by 4 points in the second quarter of 2004.
Says Cohen, "Suzanne's leadership, her great people skills and her ability to collaborate with every part of this company has really made a difference."
Helping Latin America get its MTV
By George Winslow
For MTV Networks and many other programmers, political and economic turmoil in Venezuela has posed an insolvable problem in recent years. "We just weren't able to do any business in the market," notes Pierluigi Gazzolo, the senior vice president of distribution for MTV Networks Latin America.
Undaunted, Adeline Delgado, now MTV's vice president of program sales for MTV Networks Latin America, flew down to Caracas earlier this year. There, she learned that the broadcaster RCTV still wanted to buy the programming, but in the uncertain economic climate, network executives needed to find a way to boost ratings to justify the purchase.
So Delgado proposed that they create a co-branded block of Nickelodeon programming. That alliance would allow RCTV to increase ratings and revenues by drawing on Nick's cachet with advertisers and audiences. And it would give Nickelodeon an outlet for its programming in a market with low pay-TV penetration rates.
"Adeline's great strength is that she is always finding solutions to problems," notes Gazzolo, to whom Delgado reports. "She never comes to me with an issue without being able to offer a potential solution."
Those qualities have long guided Delgado's career, earning her four significant promotions in the past nine years at MTV Networks Latin America.
Delgado admits that her interest in television and the entertainment industry goes back to her childhood in a Cuban-American family, when Delgado and her twin sister did some modeling and performed in a musical group. "Because my mother was a seamstress, we were always around fashion and entertainment," she recalls.
After getting a bachelor's degree from Barry University in Miami Shores, Fla., Delgado got her first break in television in 1993 when she landed a job as an assistant at Telemundo. She knew she'd landed in the right place. "I always loved television, international travel and different cultures," she says.
Her can-do attitude got her noticed, and within a year, she was an account executive, selling Telemundo's soaps overseas. She sold telenovelas to Indonesia and Turkey, markets that hadn't previously acquired such fare.
Those successes landed her a job at MTV Networks in 1995, where she played a key role in the Latin American launch of Nickelodeon a year later. While Nickelodeon is now available in about 90% of the region's cable and satellite homes, its early success was by no means assured; the market was sluggish.
Now she's head of program sales for MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and Spike TV in Latin America, and her track record of finding new ways to sell is helping the division respond to a number of problems in the region's pay-TV business.
Since being promoted to spearhead Latin program sales, Delgado has boosted syndication revenues by 13%. She helped expand the distribution of their brands with broadcasters, negotiating broadcast deals for the MTV Video Music Awards Latin America in eight territories reaching 47.5 million homes.
The traveling mother of two young children found a successful balance between work and family life. "It is very difficult to be away from the children and family," she admits. Her supportive husband is a big help but she has other assistance: "Whenever the kids really miss me," she discloses, "they can look at my twin sister."
Give this agent a goal, and then look out
By Kevin Downey
Kathy White is getting ready to run. A literary and television packaging agent at Creative Artists Agency, White will be waking up with the rising sun for the next 19 Saturdays, heading out into the morning mist with more than a dozen colleagues, encouraging them, laughing with them and guiding them to what will be a hard-won victory.
For the second year, White has recruited co-workers and clients to run the Los Angeles Marathon. The race is in March, and the idea is to raise funds for charities. But the months-long training, which will culminate with most of White's team crossing the finish line for the first time, is also meant to accomplish another goal: It's one intensely important to White and one that underlies the work she does at CAA with such clients as Will Smith's Overbrook Entertainment; Betsy Borns, the co-creator and executive producer of UPN's All of Us; and Julie Hebert, a supervising producer on NBC's ER. Mainly, her clients are writers, and it's her job to keep them happy and working.
"It's a good example of where hard work pays off in the long run," says White, who also competes in triathlons.
"A lot happens as the result of completing something. It's confidence-building; it's about believing in yourself; there's a sense of competition. And competition is part of [the television] business."
White's colleagues are familiar with her "hard work pays off" message. Dawn Ostroff, UPN's entertainment president, says it came through when the network was negotiating with Will Smith for the hit sitcom All of Us.
"She's able to figure out everybody's needs and bring them together," says Ostroff. "We worked through many issues, but always in a very amicable way."
White's clients are also familiar with her passion to guide other people to success.
"I love the fact that she is as passionate and committed and enthusiastic about my career as I am," says Jonathan Shapiro, a supervising producer on ABC's Boston Legal. "The bonus point with her, from my standpoint, is that she has always had enormous integrity. She has a passion for it, and there is always the long run: 'What is the right thing to do, not only for today but also for tomorrow and down the road?'"
In building the careers of her clients, White is also building her own career, which began far removed from Hollywood.
White grew up in Stockbridge, Mass., in the 1970s and 1980s, watching a lot of TV—something she still does today. But she had no aspirations to parlay that into a career. After graduating from the University of Massachusetts, White began working in Boston at her brothers' consulting firm.
But a fateful meeting reawakened her passion for entertainment, specifically TV.
"One day, on New Year's Eve way back, I met a friend of my brother's who happened to be an agent at CAA," she says. "We were discussing television—my sad, too much knowledge of television—and he said I should become a television agent. I said, 'That sounds great. I have no idea what that means.'"
But the thought stayed with her. A couple of years later, she moved to Los Angeles and within a month was working at CAA. She started out in the mailroom and as an assistant, most significantly to literary- and TV-packaging agent Sonya Rosenfeld. Lucky move: "Sonya is one of the smartest, most effective and greatest people I've met. She is truly a mentor," White says.
She made the jump to agent in 1996 and since then—as with the upcoming L.A. Marathon—has been focusing on the success of her clients with the same determination she focuses on her own.
"The more effort you put into base training, the more you get out of it," she says. "Hard work will result in success."
Grass Valley communications chief makes it look easy
By Ken Kerschbaumer
When it comes to seeing the technological forest for the trees, there aren't many more-articulate guides than Thomson Grass Valley's Laura Barber-Miller. A lifelong resident of Oregon, in what is now sometimes called "The Silicon Forest," Barber-Miller keeps Thomson Grass Valley on top by being good at getting its story across. As the vice president of worldwide communications for Thomson Broadcast and Media Solutions, Barber-Miller must find ways to market complex and ever-changing technology to the techie world. It's complicated work, and she gives credit to her former Grass Valley boss Tim Thorsteinson for making smart decisions. But she says she inherited her strong work ethic from her immigrant Norwegian grandparents. Thorsteinson and her current boss, Marc Valentin, have her positioning the company with a vast global reach.
Attaining such a lofty marketing position without having to bounce around the country makes Barber-Miller unique in the technology market. High-tech career paths typically require stops in Silicon Valley or in New Jersey at Sony or Panasonic.
Barber-Miller's technical trajectory began when she was a child. Her father worked in information technology, and she would play with keypunch cards growing up. She graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in technical journalism. "The idea was that journalists would learn how to take highly technical subjects and make them more palatable for the lay reader," she says.
Her first marketing job was at a company called Floating Point. Two years later, she moved to the agency side, working at Portland, Ore.'s KVO, a public-relations firm for high-tech companies, where she handled Mentor Graphics, which liked her enough to hire her as a marketing communications manager. But she left for the Tektronix Video and Networking Division, formerly known as the Grass Valley Group.
Her early Tektronix experience was a formative one. "On my first day, someone in HR said, 'Welcome, and hold on—it's gonna be quite a ride,'" she recalls.
He was right. In September 1999, about 18 months after she arrived, the Tektronix Video and Networking Division was spun off to private investors and once again became known as Grass Valley. The company faced a tough environment and nearly went under. Fortunately, French-based Thomson bought Grass Valley in 2002. That gave Grass Valley strong backing, and the challenge went from surviving to helping Thomson improve its presence in the U.S.
Two years later, Barber-Miller finds herself making the big decisions concerning trade shows, marketing and industry educational efforts. And while being in a male-dominated industry like technology might faze some, she isn't one of them. For one thing, she jokes that she doesn't know any better.
"I haven't worked in an industry in my life that hasn't been male-dominated," she says, "so I think I'd have to go through some sort of deprogramming exercise before I enter into another industry."
The challenge facing women today? To develop a thick skin, toughness and discipline while also offering the nurturing or softness that is sometimes expected from women. "You can try as hard as you can to deliver to everyone's expectations, support your management, staff and programs. but, to be honest, a little bit more is expected of women."
Despite spending time on the road at industry events or heading to Paris and beyond for meetings, she stays focused on balancing work and her family, especially now that her daughter Sophia is about to turn 3. Says Barber-Miller, "That balance makes me a better spouse, parent and employee."
A dynamo who runs two daytime syndicated shows.
By Paige Albiniak
Look out for Amy Rosenblum. The executive producer of both NBC Universal's Maury and Home Delivery is a whirling force of nature. A tiny hurricane who barely sleeps, Rosenblum fell in love with television as a child, and she still goes at it with the enthusiasm of a teenager. "I used to think that, if I was a television producer, my life would be so perfect," she says. "Once it hit me that I wanted to do it, there was no stopping me."
Always ambitious, Rosenblum spent her formative years volunteering for political campaigns and other ventures pursued by overachieving high schoolers. But it was during her senior year at Hofstra University on New York's Long Island that she learned another student had gotten a TV internship.
"Competitive person that I am," Rosenblum says, "I went home that night, called Channel 5 [now WNYW] and asked, 'Do you have an internship program?' They said, 'Can you come in next week?' I took a test on current events, passed, and all of the sudden I was working at Midday Live and booking shows with guests like Regis, Brooke Shields and Sarah Jessica Parker when she was Annieon Broadway."
When that ended, she ended up as the assistant to Pat Collins, then Good Morning America's film critic. Collins hired Rosenblum the first time she met her.
"From day one, it was clear to me that she has what it takes to be a television producer," says Collins, now the film critic and entertainment editor at Fox-owned WWOR New York. "She had the three requisite skills: chutzpah, gut instinct about what the public wanted, and a dogged determination."
Rosenblum appears to have exited the womb with a talent for nabbing guests. In one of her first assignments at CBS This Morning, she was asked to book a farmer named Howard Johnson for the next day. She had him booked in record time. The old-time CBS guys were impressed.
That evening, Rosenblum got a phone call. "Miss Rosenblum, this is Mr. Johnson. We really can't be on CBS This Morning tomorrow morning."
Rosenblum thought fast: "Listen to me. You can't cancel on CBS News at 5:45 p.m. the day before."
And that did it. Johnson and his wife were on the program the next day.
"From that experience, I learned the raw power of chutzpah," she says. "I used any trick to book any guest."
Says Good Morning America's Diane Sawyer, with whom Rosenblum worked on CBS This Morning, "I have known Amy since she was a tiny prodigy booker with a fabulous instinct for stories and outsized nerve. Now she is a tiny grown-up executive with that same instinct, nerve and fizz. And she is a kind of nuclear reactor of unending curiosity about this weird and glorious world. No wonder she's a star."
Finally, marriage and babies intervened, and the CBS job required too much travel. She became a segment producer on Joan Rivers' syndicated talk show. There she learned that, while she loved news, she was really made for daytime talk.
"What made Amy and I click is that, the minute I met her I knew she was smart, smart, smart," says Rivers. "She has a great sense of humor, which I adore in people, and she dresses amazingly well. Anyone that can dress that well and has those kind of legs will always be in my heart."
After Rivers, where she ended her stint as senior producer after a year and a half, Rosenblum took a break to have her second child, Brett. She was out for only a couple of months before she got a call from Burt Dubrow, formerly of CBS News, asking her to help out on a new show, Sally Jessy Raphael.
"I told Burt I would do him a favor and work for four weeks, and I ended up there for seven years. The most creative experience of my life was working at Sally," Rosenblum says. "It was like being reborn."
While at Sally, Rosenblum climbed up through the ranks, eventually becoming co-executive producer. She remained as competitive as ever, dispatching staff and herself to sleep outside of guests' hotel rooms in fear that other shows would poach them.
"Amy is the teeniest woman, but she is the most competitive woman I have ever met," says Holly Jacobs, who was then a producer on Sally and is now executive vice president of alternative development at Fox Television Studios. "Her drive and her passion for television and what she gives to her job are unmatched by anyone I know."
After seven years at Sally, Rosenblum was ready to move on. Luckily for her, Universal had just acquired Maury.
She immediately put Povich in a turtleneck and persuaded him to cut his hair. "Out came this unbelievable guy. He's so good-looking, he looks like a movie star," she gushes. "He's the best of anyone I've ever worked with."
But the real key to success in daytime? It goes back to her booking days: "You have to make people care about who is on your show," she says. "I can tell if someone's going to be a good guest from the second I get on the phone with them."
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