NATPE 2012: Dennis Swanson's One Concern When He Discovered Oprah: Whether She Could Handle Success
Tartikoff Legacy Award honoree also gives kudos in NATPE Q&A to Chase Carey on retrans stance as Fox TV Stations look ahead to renewing Comcast carriage contract
By Melissa Grego -- Broadcasting & Cable, 1/25/2012 2:20:45 PMComplete Coverage: NATPE 2012
Few execs have – and continue to have – the kind of impact on the broadcasting business that 2012 NATPE Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award honoree Dennis Swanson has. In a wide-ranging interview at NATPE Wednesday with B&C contributing editor Paige Albiniak, Swanson discussed his decades-long career. Topics included his early conversations with Oprah Winfrey (Swanson gave Winfrey her big break) and the future of broadcasting and Fox TV Stations, where he is currently president of station operations. Following are some highlights.
On Oprah: "She had a natural ability. It was so obvious, I'm not sure why other people didn't see it," Swanson said. "I thought, 'Wow, this solves our AM Chicago problem.'"
"She said to me, 'Are you are sure you want me? I'm black, I have a problem with my weight, I have terrible hair," Swanson said of the discussions he had with Winfrey when he was hiring her. "We had a very direct, pointed conversation."
"She said, 'I'm black,' I said, 'Yeah I got that.'
"She said, 'I have a weight problem.'" Swanson said he did too. But he said her vulnerability would help people relate to her. He told her he didn't want her to lose weight. "What I saw on this audition is exactly what I want to put on air," he told her.
But he did say he had one concern: "I've seen so many people become successful and they push it right up their nose and I said, 'I wonder if you can handle success.'"
Winfrey asked whether Swanson really thought she'd be that successful and he said it would cost him in the negotiation, but told her, "Lady, I think you'll shoot the lights out."
Retrans: "I've got to give Chase Carey all the credit. When he came back to News Corp., the retrans arguments and discussions wound up at his desk and not somebody else's and he understood it," Swanson says, pointing to the successful carriage agreements the company has made with numerous distributors, including Time Warner Cable, Cablevision and DirecTV.
"Comcast is at the end of this year," he says. "We've had the support of Chase and our leadership and it [retrans] will have a tremendous impact, not just for our local stations but our network. It will give our network resources to renew the NFL, which we did, and keep quality program on primetime."
On broadcast spectrum: "They're going to take us out of the digital business if they're not too careful," he says. "And if you take us out of the digital business, we're out of business."
But Swanson also says "things have calmed down a bit." He points to the experience in Washington during Hurricane Irene, when "Washington went to over-the-air stations." He says he thinks the experience helped further educate lawmakers about the value of local television. "We [local broadcasters] have a role to play in this society and if we use our spectrum wisely hopefully we'll come out OK."
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