Jed Petrick, president and CEO of The WB, always wanted to be in television. He wasn't sure what role he wanted to play—sportscaster, game-show host, network news anchor—but he knew television was for him. He never dreamed, though, of running a broadcast network.
Petrick started his professional life by taking the journey many TV executives do, leaving the East Coast for sunny Los Angeles. Having graduated from Ohio Wesleyan College, he went to live with his uncle, a famed entertainment attorney.
He spent six months commuting on a bicycle from tony Hancock Park to downtown Los Angeles to work the night shift as a copy boy at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. When the holidays came and temperatures remained near 70 degrees, Petrick missed the cold and returned home to New Jersey.
He began his television career as a media planner with Grey Advertising in New York and spent four years helping clients decide where to place their ads for best effect. He then took a job as an account executive at the CBS Television Network after deciding not to go with upstart cable network ESPN, even though his heart was in sports.
Petrick stayed at CBS for five years but found it a less-than-perfect fit. "I was a little more independent, and their way of doing things was more regimented."
In 1988, he heard about a network that was more his style. Rupert Murdoch was launching Fox and planning to target 18- to 34-year-olds with fresh, edgy programming. Jamie Kellner, Garth Ancier and Barry Diller were running it. Petrick got hired on, reporting to John Nesvig, who came to the network from NBC.
Seeing a chance to finally get involved with sports, he began working on a plan to bring to Fox the big sports packages: the National Football League, Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League.
"We developed a whole platform to tell the NFL how important young people were and why Fox was the place to reach them," he says. "Jamie and I set the table really."
Says Kellner, now chairman of Turner Broadcasting System, "It's one of the things that first impressed me about him. I like people who want to contribute more than they are asked."
Fox didn't pick up any major sports contracts while Petrick was there, but his efforts laid the groundwork for many of its later sports deals, including the NFL.
When Murdoch changed direction to target 18- to 49-year-olds and Kellner left, Petrick branched out on his own, starting a sports-marketing business called The 27 Co. Shortly thereafter, though, he became vice president of sales at The Baseball Network, a joint venture of Major League Baseball, NBC and ABC. Major League Baseball's strike in August 1994 stopped that business short, but, luckily for Petrick, Kellner had decided to start up another TV network targeting young adults.
Reading about The WB in May 1994, Petrick wished secretly that Kellner would call. In July, Kellner's assistant phoned, and Petrick knew his chance had come. He started at The WB on his birthday.
Two years ago, Petrick became president and chief operating officer of the young network. He handles the business of producing programming that is mainly targeted at young women and includes not a whiff of sports, but he says he couldn't be happier.
"I think The WB has been successful" he says, "because we've paid attention to our own business, our own goals, and to achieving our own plan and by not being distracted by the successes or failures of others."
His advertisers agree. "He's very straightforward about how his network can benefit various clients with different targets," says Magna Global USA Chairman Bill Cella. "He's expanding a youth-oriented network to the 25-34 age group. The WB has been very successful with that effort."