Tribune Broadcasting's chief programmer, Marc Schacher, can't remember a moment when he wasn't immersed in the TV business. From his childhood obsession with CBS' WinkyDink and You-
somewhat to the chagrin of his parents-to overseeing content on 23 stations covering about 30% of the U.S., he has never wanted to be involved in anything else.
"From what I remember and what my family tells me, I was always fascinated by TV. And I liked Winky Dink," says Schacher, pointing out that the show offered an early form of TV interactivity by encouraging kids to play along with the show using coloring kits. "But when I was a kid, my mother and father wouldn't let me get the kit. My father was always trying to get me to stop watching television and go do my homework, saying, 'You need to go and prepare yourself for life!'"
His father's sentiments have evolved into a running family joke: "I tell him that little did he know but I was
preparing myself for later in life."
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 1970, Schacher landed research positions at station rep firm Katz TV and later at KTLA Los Angeles, but he never lost his taste for programming. He admits that it was "satisfying" when he eventually jumped to the arguably more creative side of the business, snagging director of programming titles at KWGN-TV Denver in 1982 and WGN-TV Chicago in 1986.
Yet Schacher, Tribune's vice president of programming and development since 1995, acknowledges that "research was a big part of" his 2001 acquisitions, which included strips Ananda
and Talk or Walk, new weekly hour Mutant-X, and off-net sitcom Just Shoot Me. "You have to know your numbers, study what people like. But I think, very simply stated, I love to watch television. Look, we have to work very hard and very long to succeed in this business, and to be able to do something that I truly love makes it a lot easier to put in that time and effort."
Specifically, Schacher enjoys polling his station executives in order to get a well-rounded assessment of whether he should OK a particular program. He notes that Tribune's large size translates to "there not always being" unanimity "about what we should do."
However, he adds, "my greatest satisfaction is being able to work in that context and pull all those people together to achieve some sort of consensus."
Looking at past team efforts, Schacher relishes the time when Tribune took a chance on a relatively obscure NBC Saturday-morning show, Saved by the Bell, which ended up doing gangbusters in syndication, premiering in the early 1990s and running into the last part of the decade.
"Economically, it was a good deal for us and we made a lot of money with it. When we acquired it, I think there were a lot of people who asked, 'What are they thinking?'" he fondly recalls. "But when it hit the air, we did nice ratings, and there were some surprised people."
Opening his ears to different opinions at Tribune is similar to Schacher's treatment of the various studios. It upsets him to hear about grumblings that he prefers products originating from sister studio Tribune Entertainment to shows from rival companies.
Noting that Ananda
is from King World and Just Shoot Me
is from Columbia TriStar, Schacher says, "There's not enough good programming as it is. To think that we could do it on our own with virtually everything coming from Tribune Entertainment would be foolhardy. If we increase our choices, we have a greater chance of success."
As for his future in broadcasting, he says he is here to stay, excited by the new challenges facing traditional stations, such as cable and the Internet.
Besides "not knowing how to do anything else," he jokes, "change keeps things interesting. We are in a very interesting time in our business."