The stories of Lou LaTorre are the stuff of TV industry legend, befitting a man who hit dynamic network sales heights. “Lou can captivate a table with charisma and charm,” says Bruce Lefkowitz, executive VP of advertising sales at Fox Networks Group. “He would draw people in by painting vivid pictures of a situation and then build to what was usually a roaringly funny punch line.”
Humor has always been one of LaTorre’s reliable sales tools, one arrow among many in a quiver that includes a mind for figures, a love of research, a mastery of long-term relationships and an ace copywriter’s ability to creatively mold a story for rapt clients. These talents stood out in a career that included an early, transcendent period handling national sales for Turner back when Ted Turner was running the store, and stretching to a 17-year stint as president of ad sales for Fox Networks, which ended in January. “He knows numbers like nobody’s business,” says Donna Speciale, president of Turner Broadcasting ad sales, also a 2015 B&C Hall of Fame honoree. “He did wonders at FX.”
There are many good stories, but they’re only part of the LaTorre legend. The more memorable tales actually have less to do with the value of a buy than with the value of paying it forward, corporate-style. As successful as LaTorre ever was—overseeing sales strategy, pricing and planning, and revenue generation at Fox Networks, as a pioneer in product integration in the 1980s and numerous network triumphs—he left an even greater impression with character and generosity.
“Lou’s word was his bond,” says John Muszynski, chief investment officer at Spark SMG. “If Lou said he would deliver on something, he would.”
“Lou reminds me of the legendary Hollywood execs in his ability to collect, foster and manage talent,” says Lefkowitz, whom LaTorre hired out of college—one of a good dozen TV industry names he famously hired in his career.
Among them is Frank Sgrizzi, whose dad, concerned about his son’s place in the world, turned years ago to his close friend LaTorre, who groomed Frank and set him on a path in the TV ad business. “He’s very instrumental in literally every major decision I’ve made along the way,” says Sgrizzi, now executive VP of sales for TBS and TNT. “And it’s not just for me. He’d go out of his way for so many people.”
Peggy Green, former vice chairman at ZenithOptimedia, knows this well. She and LaTorre worked deals together for decades, but at Green’s lowest ebb, her friend was there. “I lost my husband and six months later, I lost my son,” Green says. “At 5:30 the morning after my [son died], two people were at my door—Lou LaTorre and Seth Winter. Lou knew I needed help. That defines his character. I know he’s a good person; that comes from his heart and not from an expense account. He’s very special.”
Ask LaTorre and he’ll say his parents were the special ones. His father Sal, one of 11 siblings, worked as a youth to help feed his family and eventually became an accountant (following a stint as a prison warden); his mother Mary, one of 12 siblings, gave LaTorre and his three siblings a model of generosity regardless of what your means were. “My example was pretty incredible,” he says.
He’d planned to follow in his father’s field, but accountancy didn’t suit him; fortunately, Beth, his college girlfriend at Baruch College, suggested he switch majors to marketing. He still follows her council, now 39 years into a marriage that’s produced two beloved sons, Jason and Justin.
After Baruch, LaTorre bought radio, became a media planner for Grey Advertising and then found a calling at RKO General as research director and then an account exec. It was at RKO in Atlanta that he first met Ted Turner.
“He was so compelling, this bigger-thanlife genius, and you had to believe the guy would make things happen,” recalls LaTorre. “And he did.”
He did with LaTorre at his side, as national sales manager for the nascent WTBS beginning in the late-1970s, and later spending 10 years as executive VP, sales and marketing for Turner Entertainment Group. He supervised marketing and sales strategy and all business operations and helped launch TNT, Cartoon Network and Turner Syndication. In a sense, LaTorre helped the cable industry grow up.
“What I loved about it back then was that it was all instinct and visceral; you would will things to happen,” he says.
By the time he got to New World Communications after a brief stop as president of satellite encryption company Prostar Entertainment, the network world was changing swiftly. LaTorre’s gifts for understanding algorithms and ad markets , ratings and relationships, helped him foster deals equally well, first as COO of New World Sales & Marketing and then, upon Fox’s acquisition of New World, as president of ad sales for Fox Cable Networks, his strategic sense guiding the revenue generation and growth of, among many others, FX and MundoFox.
He long witnessed—and ran with—watershed moments. At TBS, a series called Starcade that featured video games, sponsored by Parker Brothers, was, in the early 1980s, a pioneer of product integration. The success of The Shield in 2002 on FX was the moment when, “everybody in cable realized they could compete with the broadcast boys and do original dramas.” For LaTorre, each innovation and renovation, in series and in networks, has led to a rush of enthusiasm, and the great wonders of getting to work with people he cares about.
“I still believe something becomes a sale after you have worked with a client as a partner, collaborated then aggregated and employed the assets,” he says. “It’s like the quarterback trying to throw a touchdown; it’s all about the series of plays, and then it ends up on the scoreboard.”
By any tally, LaTorre’s a winner—and every indication is he’s on his way back. At 62, he’s not done strategizing, operating and influencing. As David Levy, president of Turner Broadcasting, puts it, “I would not be the executive I am today without having a little Lou LaTorre in me.”