B&C Hall of Famer Roger Ailes clearly made an impression at last year’s Hall of Fame gala. After the Fox News chief landed so many killer laugh lines in his acceptance speech, the message to future inductees was unmistakable: Better bring the funny. The 2009 class got the message.
Kicking things off was Linda Bell Blue, executive producer of ET and The Insider, who cited her late father’s inspiration but admitted that he never watched her show. “He watched Jeopardy!,” she quipped. “But he would always flip back [to ET] at the end to see my name in the credits.”
Initiative Worldwide CEO Richard Beaven expressed relief that he was early in the evening’s lineup and didn’t have to follow the high-octane Canoe Ventures CEO David Verklin.
But it was CBS Senior VP of East Coast Operations Bob Ross who got the first big laughs of the night with an extended paean to the folks toiling in the “engine room” of broadcast and cable facilities. “You’ve seen them-they wear pocket protectors, they’ve got a flashlight and a screwdriver, and they’re always rushing to put out a fire somewhere.” He then posed a challenge to all the TV executives in the room: “Before the week ends, get out of your shiny 50th floor office, grab your SVP of engineering, and go find an engineer and give him a hug. Because they deserve it.”
Next up, Fox Networks Group chief Tony Vinciquerra said, “Bob Ross actually was my chief engineer, and I did hug him once or twice-maybe even kissed him.” Peppering his speech with baseball references, Vinciquerra invoked Ailes himself when he paid tribute to his corporate colleague’s famous scrappiness, saying, “if a fight breaks out on the field, you want Roger on your team.”
The evening’s host, NBCNightly News anchor Brian Williams showed why he is The Jay Leno Show’s most anticipated guest. Arriving mid-program following his newscast, Williams introduced Monday Night Football, this year’s program inductee, by noting that ESPN chief George Bodenheimer happened to be a neighbor-who often strolled by his house with alarming frequency. Accepting the honors along with MNF’s Frank Gifford and Mike Tirico, Bodenheimer explained to Williams that he’d thought the house belonged to ABC World News anchor Charles Gibson.
In a speech hailing the U.S. as “a wonderful country for impossible stories like mine,” Univision anchor Jorge Ramos joked about his thickly accented English when he first arrived from his native Mexico: “Even I couldn’t understand myself.”
A&E Television Networks chief Abbe Raven recalled the recruiting event she attended for Daytime, the network that would become A&E, which was held among the bras and panties of the Macy’s lingerie department.
Before recalling his efforts to bring diversity to the industry at a time when “‘diversity’ wasn’t even a word,” TV One chief Johnathan Rodgers harked back to the days when he was Williams’ boss at WCBS, saying, “Brian, if I’d have known you had this much personality, you’d still be the 6 o’clock anchor at Channel 2.”
After joking that Williams had slipped him a note reminding him that the night was “all about Jeff” (as in Zucker, Williams’ boss), Belo Corp.’s Jack Sander got serious about the importance of local broadcasting-which may or may not have inspired Cox Communications President Patrick Esser to make a show of picking up Sander’s note cards with the quip: “I’m just a cable guy, cleaning up after a broadcaster again.”
After David Verklin played it straight with an earnest call to advertisers to “keep the faith” in this tough economy, Williams wondered why Mad Men’s callow ad man Don Draper couldn’t be more like Verklin.
Finally, after riffing throughout the night on how awkward it was to have to introduce your boss, Williams said, “Unless there is an inductee named “Xylophone,” it’s time to induct Jeff Zucker.”
After acknowledging that he was “the only thing standing between us and watching the Yankees on Fox,” the NBC Universal chief began by immediately addressing the elephant in the room: the prospect that Comcast could soon become a majority stakeholder in his company. “I want to thank Brian Roberts for everything he’s done for my career-oh, wait, that’s next month’s dinner.”
He added that he received the honor “just in the nick of time,” joking that he “may not be in the broadcasting and cable business” this time next year.
But Zucker followed the levity with an expression of gratitude, saying, “It would be easy to be jaded, but in truth, it’s nice to be recognized.”
And with that, a final congratulations to a Hall of Fame class worthy of recognition.