A crowd that included Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav, USA Network/Sci Fi Channel president Bonnie Hammer, New York City Mayor’s Office theater, film and TV commissioner Katherine Oliver and General Electric vice chairman Bob Wright gathered at the Pierre Hotel here to toast -- and roast -- the former NBC Universal executive.
Today executive producer Jim Bell spoke of first meeting Falco at the airport in Barcelona, Spain, for the 1992 Olympic Games, remarking on Falco’s “toe tap” and “wide stance” next to him in the rest room. Bell then said the bulk of his job at the time was carrying Falco, hobbling about on a cast, around on his back.
Tongue firmly in cheek, Bell credited Falco for spearheading NBC bombs such as Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and The Black Donnellys, then said he’d remember 2006 as “the year we unloaded the two biggest pains in the ass in the industry” as the screen showed Falco and Katie Couric.
Acknowledging the massive layoffs at AOL of late, Bell said the remaining staffers were all in attendance. “Table 10 -- how you doin’?” he jibed.
After a taped segment with Brian Williams saw the NBC anchor quip, “You’ve got challenges!” another video had Time Warner CEO Dick Parsons offer his kind words to Falco, with each line accompanied by a fresh product placement (such as a Gatorade spot as Parsons cited Falco’s “unquenchable thirst” for knowledge).
Next to the podium was Bob Costas, who said Conan O’Brien was actually Jeff Zucker’s first choice to speak, but Zucker didn’t want to pay a kill fee in case the lunch was canceled. Costas heaped praise on Falco, his wife and three kids -- “he used to have five,” added Costas, “but he had to lay off two.”
Finally, Falco, a 31-year NBC veteran, went to the stage to collect his award and deliver some yuks, too. “I’m a trained GE executive, so I’m not used to a lot of humor, I’m not used to a lot of awards,” he deadpanned. “I am used to a flat stock price.”
Falco then said he had a few things to get off his chest: He loves Desperate Housewives; he was out the day Dick Ebersol decided to partner with the XFL; MSNBC -- and Secaucus -- sound like a disease; and he could offer a top 10 list as to why a certain late-night host should’ve stayed at NBC.
Falco then explained how he ended up at AOL with a humorous video clip of him trying to cancel his dial-up service, which saw him bounced to several different service representatives over the course of a 45-minute call before ending up on the line with Time Warner chief operating officer Jeff Bewkes. He suggested to Bewkes AOL’s e-mail service be ad-supported and free to users, whereupon Bewkes offered him the CEO job.
The media executive sounded a serious note at the close. “AOL is worth fighting for,” Falco said, “and me and my AOL colleagues are gonna fight -- and fight very hard -- for it.”