At a gala event Tuesday in New York City, Broadcasting & Cable welcomed 12 new inductees into its Hall of Fame, including seminal newsmagazine 60 Minutes. Joined by B&C Hall of Fame chairman Bill McGorry and Reed Television Group publisher Larry Dunn, CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric hosted the 18th annual awards dinner, held at the Waldorf-Astoria.
The 2008 Hall of Fame class includes:
• Roger Ailes, Chairman and CEO, FOX News and FOX Television Stations
• David Barrett, President and Chief Executive Officer, Hearst-Argyle Television, Inc.
• Matt Blank, Chairman and CEO, Showtime Networks Inc.
• Glenn Britt, President and CEO, Time Warner Cable
• Don Browne, President, Telemundo Communications Group
• Bob Cook, President and Chief Operating Officer, Twentieth Television
• Herb Granath, Chairman Emeritus of ESPN, Co-Chairman of Crown Media Holdings, and Vice Chairman, Central European Media
• Peggy Green, Vice Chairman, Zenith Media
• Matt Lauer, Co-anchor, NBC News Today
• Pat Mitchell, President and CEO, The Paley Center for Media
• Joshua Sapan, President and Chief Executive Officer, Rainbow Media Holdings LLC
• 60 Minutes
Roger Ailes, chairman/CEO of Fox News and Fox Television Stations, led off with a lively, humorous speech that began with a reference to the lone conservative panelist on ABC’s The View. Upon taking the stage, Ailes surveyed the audience and said, “So this is how Elisabeth Hasselbeck feels.”
Noting the success of Fox News, Ailes joked, “People always ask me what’s the key to success. Well here it is: It’s not enough to hire good people. You must also take credit for everything they do.”
Ailes characterized his career as a truly American story. “50 years ago I was digging ditches,” he said. Now he’s running the top-rated cable news network.
Hearst-Argyle President/CEO David Barrett began by lamenting that he had to follow Ailes, but made the best of it. He thanked his family seated before him, singling out his daughter, who works with autistic children and often pokes fun at his “easy” job: “You sit in this big office overlooking Central Park and you watch television,” Barrett quipped.
His daughter’s ribbing notwithstanding, Barrett emphasized the importance of doing “work that matters” at the Hearst-Argyle stations, while reminding all in attendance of the great opportunities in the media business, of the significance of a free press and “the importance of localism.”
Matt Blank, chairman and CEO of Showtime, threw in some kudos to his boss, CBS Corp. chief Leslie Moonves, saying, “I am now on my seventh boss. I think [Moonves] now has the longest record for my bosses, which is some feat.”
Speaking about the incredible amount of quality programming on television, Blank couldn’t help mentioning a certain fictional serial killer behind his network’s recent success as he ticked off a list that included “the debates, Katie [Couric]’s great interview with Governor Palin, and, of course, Dexter.”
Twentieth Television President-COO Bob Cook and Peggy Green, Vice Chairman of Zenith Media, both talked about how humbling it was to be inducted into the Hall of Fame with the 2008 group, and how much they genuinely love their work.
Cook self-deprecatingly presented himself as just a sales guy from the Midwest, joking that one of the things a colleague taught him early on was “how many opportunities TV provides for C students.”
He continued the good humor with thanks to News Corp. President/COO Peter Chernin for kind words in a video message, suggesting, “That’s in lieu of my bonus this year?”
It is one of many nods throughout the night to the tough economic times.
“When you love what you do, you don’t expect to be recognized because you’re already rewarded,” Green said, acknowledging the family, friends and colleagues in attendance who had helped her get through dark days in the past. She said she was confident the group will be able to continue adapting by embracing the challenge and moving forward “with confidence and optimism,” having done it together before as a community.
Former ESPN chairman Herb Granath recounted a classic Monday Night Football story from his days as an ABC network exec. When a blowout game caused fans to leave in droves, commentators Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford and “Dandy” Don Meredith and the ABC crew scrambled to turn a lemon into lemonade.
“You could hear the TV’s clicking off,” Granath recalled. The cameras focused on an empty section of the stadium, save for one man, asleep. When the man awoke and saw that the ABC camera was pointed at him, he stuck out his middle finger. ABC execs, Granath included, were already planning on how to deal with the inevitable deluge of complaints to come the next day.
Without missing a beat, Meredith quipped, “It looks like he’s saying we’re #1!” The diffusion tactic worked, and the network never received a single complaint.
Pat Mitchell, CEO of the Paley Center for Media, a former news anchor, said she may not have been able to become “the next Katie Couric,” but said she encourages young people starting out in the business that they might one day. Mitchell also offered a suggestion for B&C, saying, “By the way, why don’t we put the Hall of Fame in the Paley Center?”
After crediting the “industry of innovators” assembled at the Waldorf-Astoria, Rainbow Media Holdings President/CEO Josh Sapan thanked his Rainbow and Cablevision colleagues for their leadership, values and independent thinking—not to mention a taste for risk-taking and their keen sense of humor.
Sapan said his fellow inductees repeatedly disproved the famous knock on TV from radio personality/humorist Fred Allen, who said, “The reason they call television a medium is because none of it is well done.” Rather, Sapan said, “When television is at its best, its power is undeniable.”
In accepting the award for 60 Minutes, Executive Producer Jeff Fager noted that the show has done “4,000 stories in 40 years.”
“60 Minutes is a great place to work,” Fager said. “And I think what’s remarkable is how consistent it’s been. Despite conventional wisdom about what Americans want to watch, we’re still thriving.”
Fager relayed the wise things his predecessor, the show’s founding executive producer, Don Hewitt, used to say: “Tell me a story. Take it one Sunday at a time. Never rest on your laurels. No, screw you, Mike.”
Fager thanked Morley Safer, who has been with the show since its inception, Phil Scheffler, Don Hewitt’s right hand for so many years, as well as current correspondents Lesley Stahl, Steve Kroft, Andy Rooney, Bob Simon, Lara Logan.
He also thanked CBS News and Sports chief Sean McManus and Les Moonves, noting that Moonves was quoted in B&C as saying that 60 Minutes would be in its Sunday-at-7 p.m. timeslot “until the end of broadcasting.”
“I think that’s a long time,” said Fager. “But there are a lot of cable people here.”
When Couric took the stage, she noted that her “good friend Jeff Fager” forgot to mention 60 Minutes correspondents Scott Pelley—“and moi.”
Glenn Britt, the affable president and CEO of Time Warner Cable, was thankful for his award, but it was more interesting to watch him during the cocktail hour, when a procession of cable network executives, ranging from Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network's Roger Ailes to Rainbow Media's Josh Sapan seemed to make a special point to seek out a private conversation with Britt, who leads the nation's second largest cable system. The Ailes-Britt sighting was particularly interesting, given that at the beginning of Fox News, Time Warner Cable, whose parent owns CNN, refused to carry Fox News Channel on it New York Citysystem.
Don Browne, the NBC veteran rising through network's news division to become president of NBC-owned Spanish-language network Telemundo said the award said, "Tonight is like seeing a dream come true, in slow motion." He said he was hooked on journalism since he was a child watching TV and reading newspapers at the kitchen table in native New Jersey, and he thanked his wife Maria for making him a success. When he met her, he said "I went from being a work in progress to great," he said. "It's been an incredible journey."
Another NBC veteran, Matt Lauer, host of the Today show, said he had one simple ambition when he finally landed a job on that program, which had always been his dream. "I just didn't want to mess it up. I didn't want NBC to offer to apologize" to the Today loyalists. "I just didn't want to screw it up." Lauer appeared late in the program and got a one sentence lecture from the night's hostess, his former co-host Katie Couric: "Dude, you have to tell them you have to go early in the program!" Couric also joked about her status as the CBS anchor of the least-viewed evening newscast, by referencing the Today show' status as the top-rated show in the time period, "which I really liked to say when I was at NBC."
As in years past, a portion of the proceeds from the B&C Hall of Fame event benefits the Broadcasters Foundation of America, which aids broadcasters in need, and Cable Positive, the industry organization dedicated to spreading information about HIV/AIDS.