Much of Jon Hookstratten’s Job involves hammering out agreements with Fox’s litany of distribution partners amid the ever- changing rules of network engagement. It makes for some tense negotiations, but Hookstratten learned from the best. Son of the late, legendary entertainment lawyer Ed Hookstratten, Jon absorbed his father’s debate style as a kid, and later when they were law firm partners. The senior Hookstratten, known as the Hook, could be blustery and intimidating. The junior Hookstratten developed his own style of getting to yes.
“He stuck by his clients through thick and through thin,” says Hookstratten. “But I learned that you can’t always be like that. In today’s world, you’ve got to be able to understand everybody’s side of the situation.”
A key part of being executive VP of network distribution is keeping more than 200 affiliated stations happy. While Fox and its partner stations have feuded bitterly at times in the past, with the network pushing hard to maximize retransmission returns, it’s difficult to scare up a negative word about the low-key Hookstratten among the station representatives. “When Jon comes back to deliver a message from the network, it may not be something we like to hear,” says Jeff Rosser, Fox affiliates board chairman and group VP at Raycom. “But he can deliver that message better than anybody I know. He takes time to explain things, and we’ll debate with mutual respect.”
The King and I
Hookstratten is a true child of Los Angeles. His father’s clients included Johnny Carson, Tom Brokaw and several top-shelf Los Angeles news anchors. His mother, Patricia Crowley, played the mom in the ’60s family comedy Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, among other TV and film roles. “All of our friends were clients or people from the entertainment business,” he says.
That included a certain hip-shaking southern entertainer. Hookstratten figures he was around 7 years old when he met Elvis Presley. “My parents brought him into my bedroom,” he recalls. “They knew it was important to have him meet us.”
Hookstratten knew early on that his future was in show business. After getting his law degree, he signed on with the holding company McAndrews and Forbes, serving as right-hand man to fabled financier Ronald Perelman. He then moved on to his father’s law firm, working with news, sports and entertainment clients and handling business affairs for Johnny Carson’s Carson Productions.
Hookstratten witnessed the obvious respect between his father and the entertainment titans and news chiefs he battled with on behalf of his clients. Even when negotiations got intense, and they often did, those adversaries were frequent guests at the Hookstratten home for cocktails and dinner. “Those people were his friends,” Hookstratten says of his dad.
Through his law work, Jon attained a certain comfort level with local TV execs that served him well as he embarked on his career’s next phase. Ed Wilson, then president of CBS Enterprises, knew Jon through his father and hired him in 1996 as senior VP of business affairs, with oversight of the division’s domestic distribution. When Wilson moved to NBC, Hookstratten was his first hire. And when Wilson was named network president at Fox, Hookstratten followed a short while later as executive VP of distribution.
Wilson recalls that he wanted someone with deep understanding of the television business and a unique perspective. “Jon is just an incredible team-builder,” says Wilson, now a co-owner in the digital studio New Form. “He’s extremely fair, and people like working for him.”
Hookstratten cites Wilson and Tony Vinciquerra, former Fox Networks CEO, as key figures in making him a complete television executive. “Ed makes you believe anything is possible, and Tony is the practical, feeton- the-ground person,” says Hookstratten. “The two guys balanced my life out.”
Balance is a word that comes up frequently when people discuss Hookstratten—a man who works for a powerful television network in Los Angeles but enjoys visiting station folks in small markets; whose idea of a flashy vacation is an RV road trip to a national park with his wife and children; and who never lets ego get in the way of a robust negotiation. “Old-school integrity,” is how one prominent Fox affiliate exec puts it.
“You rarely see Jon lose his cool,” says Raycom’s Rosser. “In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that.”
One might suspect a degree of entitlement from a kid who grew up around Hollywood royalty, but that does not seem to be the case. Says Hookstratten with a laugh: “My sister and I ended up being the most normal, boring people you can imagine.”