A Producer for All Seasons

Terenzio uses news lessons to beef up ratings at Judge Brown
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John Terenzio has traveled the globe in search of big stories. He spent his early years in television as a field news producer, including stints at stations in Miami and Philadelphia, as well as senior and executive producer posts at ABC News and NBC Nightly News. At ABC alone, Terenzio covered four wars and three presidential elections and worked on at least two newsmagazines.

Today, Terenzio’s primary focus is Judge Joe Brown, where he works as executive producer of the No. 2 court show in syndication. He gets high marks for his work on the show: Ratings are up across the board since he took over as executive producer in September 2003.

In February, Brown pulled in average of 6.9 million viewers and a 2.9 rating among women 25-54. The queen of the courtroom, Judge Judy, is far ahead with 11.3 million viewers and a rating of 4.6 in that key female demo. Divorce Court follows in third (5.2 million viewers and a 2.5 rating).

His full-time focus is sustaining Brown’s growth among women: The show’s biggest ratings gains have been in the youngest demo. Women 18-34 are up 15% so far this season compared with two years ago, before Terenzio came on board. Women 18-49 are up 13%, while women 25-54 are up 12%.

Terenzio says he used a simple strategy to push down the average age of his audience. He instituted new guidelines for selecting litigants, urging producers to avoid selecting people over 40. He also beefed up screening to identify the most entertaining candidates; the judge gets more animated when dealing with passionate litigants. If they sound dull on the phone, they’re likely to fail on camera, says Terenzio.

Lessons Learned

Reared in New Jersey, he graduated with a degree in journalism from Northwestern University in 1976. Three years later, he became an investigative reporter at KYW-TV Philadelphia. By 1979, he was a field producer at ABC News. In fact, he honed his booking skills while working as a producer for Ted Koppel on ABC’s Nightline.

At ABC, he met an influential teacher: Roone Arledge, the broadcasting legend who turned ABC Sports and ABC News around during the 1970s and 1980s. “The lessons learned from him were immense,” Terenzio says. “His understanding of demographics was visionary.”

He spent two years at NBC Nightly News before moving in 1991 to a far edgier format: Fox’s daily tabloid magazine A Current Affair. He came in with a mandate from then-Twentieth TV Chairman Lucie Salhany to soften the show’s sleazier edges. At one point, Terenzio bragged to Daily Variety the show would have its first sweeps with “no strippers swinging around a pole.”

He also broke new ground at Affair, axing unwritten rules that stories on gays and urban America were verboten. Terenzio also landed an exclusive interview with Gennifer Flowers, who talked about her affair with Bill Clinton. But he refused to pay $100,000 for an Amy Fisher interview and passed on videotapes in which Mia Farrow’s son Dylan allegedly described being molested by Woody Allen.

After leaving Affair in 1993, he worked as a consultant. By 1997, he took a job supervising news programming for Fox Sports Net. Instead of preparing news to fill assigned schedule slots, Terenzio built a news operation. “He is very good at thinking about his production as a business, as opposed to just a production,” says Jeff Shell, former CFO of Fox Sports Net, who becomes Comcast’s president of programming in May.

Loaded with ideas

In 2000, the enterprising Terenzio caught the Internet bug and took a post as programming and publishing president of Broadband Sports, which created multimedia sports content for Internet portals and sports Web sites. Terenzio was a good fit in the dotcom culture, says Richard Nanula, his Broadband Sports boss, now CFO at Amgen, the world’s largest biotech company. “He’s one of the highest-energy, fastest-talking, funniest guys I’ve ever worked with,” says Nanula. “His mind moves quickly, coming up with an idea a minute.”

Although Broadband Sports failed, Terenzio says it gave him valuable training in new technologies. “You can take Internet lessons into traditional media,” he says. Visitors to the Judge Brown Web site can view video clips, apply to appear on the show or get Web-based legal information by clicking through to links from another company, Nolo.

Terenzio also wants to turn the site into a profit center. He declined to discuss those details, but, given the subject of the show, logical options could include e-commerce (such as Judge Brown T-shirts and mugs), referrals, class-action lawsuit listings and a broad range of ads geared to women.

Tech savvy goes only so far, he says. It’s important to stay apace with pop culture. “When I was young, I loved going to see the Rolling Stones. But I don’t want to see the Rolling Stones today. I want to see young people on stage,” he says. “You want to keep on the forefront on what’s new, what your viewers will appreciate.”

When not immersed in Brown, Terenzio travels to China four times a year as a consultant to a government-operated 24-hour English-language news channel run by CCTV in Beijing. Time recently described the seasoned TV pro as “the first foreigner charged with putting an internationally friendly face on the mainland’s propaganda machine.”

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