Randy Falco is, according to, oh, just about everyone, a tough guy. He earned his chops on the bare-knuckle blacktop of a Bronx basketball court, and thrived in the alpha-male crucible of NBC— jetting around the world in 007-esque fashion to hammer out billion-dollar deals in smoky boardrooms and staring down dozens of angry station owners with his new rules of engagement.
After almost single-handedly reshaping the network television business, Falco moved on to new sectors—digital, Spanish-language—to conquer fresh frontiers.
Other accounts of superhuman toughness—blocking a bolt of lightning about to strike 30 Rock with his bare hand, taking down Chuck Norris in tequila shots and mixed martial arts—had not been confirmed at presstime.
But we can only assume they’re true. “Randy is a guy’s guy,” says Bob Wright, former NBC president and CEO. “No question about it.”
But wait. There’s another side of Randy Falco. The guy that proudly hangs artwork from coworkers’ children in his office. The guy who calls his grandson “the love of my life.” The guy who mists up when staring at a framed photo of Bentley— the golden retriever that cost so much that Randy and his wife, Susan, quipped they could’ve bought a luxury automobile instead—who he recently had to put down.
“He was my best friend,” says Falco with a slow shake of the head.
Falco is tough, and he’s sensitive. He is a man in full—and is perhaps the most accomplished executive in television today. “Don’t ever underestimate Randy Falco,” says former NBC mate David Zaslav, now president and CEO of Discovery Communications. “He doesn’t come in raising his voice, he doesn’t pound on the table. He listens, hears the data and moves forward hard. And if you’re not with him, watch out.”
Falco grew up in the Parkchester section of the Bronx, and still wields the Noo Yawk accent to prove it. His childhood passions were sports (all of them) and TV (all of it). “I was totally enamored with television,” he says.
His father, a Navy man, was recruited by RCA, then owner of NBC, as an engineer. When Falco graduated from Iona College, his father wrangled him an interview with the network. He started in operations in 1975, coinciding with the debut of another NBC legend, Saturday Night Live.
“I remember them coming around trying to give tickets away,” he says. The cast members, Falco recalls, were “a fun bunch.”
Shrewd and savvy, Falco rose quickly. In 1986, he was named VP of finance for NBC Sports, and became a key Olympics figure at the network. Dick Ebersol had ironed out a joint deal with ABC for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, but Falco had another idea: a deal to be the sole U.S. broadcaster in Sydney—and Salt Lake City in 2002. NBC couldn’t make money with Australia’s funky time zone, he figured, but Salt Lake looked to be a gold mine.
He pitched the idea to Bob Wright, who looped in Jack Welch. The then-GE chairman/CEO asked Falco how much NBC might lose in Sydney. Falco crunched the numbers on, quite literally, the back of an envelope and came up with a figure. “Seventy-five million?” Falco says in his best Welch impersonation. “That’s a wart on the ass of GE!”
Falco and Ebersol jetted off that day, New York to Sweden, to meet with International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch, and then straight to Montreal to pitch IOC VP Dick Pound. “Pound and Ebersol both smoked cigars,” Falco recalls. “We were all choking to death.”
When the smoke cleared, the blockbuster $1.25 billion deal was done—the first multiple-Olympics TV package ever.
Falco ended up obliterating another paradigm when Wright approached him about undoing the affiliate compensation deals that were costing NBC hundreds of millions a year. With Falco on the job, the figure came down to $50 million three-and-a-half years later, Wright says. Before long, affiliates were paying the network. The relationship between networks and affiliates had changed forever.
“It went from us-to-them to them-to-us,” Wright says. “No one else was doing that. It changed the entire broadcast industry.”
Then Falco left it all for some dotcom. OK, not just any dotcom, but AOL, where he was chairman and CEO from 2006 to 2009. “It was a very tough decision for me—I had peacock feathers in my butt,” he jokes. But Falco wanted to master the increasingly ubiquitous digital world, and set out fixing the flagging Web giant: Taking it from a subscription business to an adsupported one. Getting it in shape for an IPO. Boosting homepage traffic dramatically. Making it profitable.
He moved to Univision in 2011 and grew the media giant from three networks to more than a dozen. He launched the online video network UVideos. He changed primetime from 7-10 p.m. to 8-11 p.m. “If we were really going to compete with the English-language networks, we had to compete on the same playing field,” he says. Univision came in fourth in this year’s February sweeps—ahead of NBC.
“Randy has transformed Univision from a Spanish-language television leader to a force in the media landscape,” says Tonia O’Connor, Univision president of content distribution. “Univision has a lot of momentum in all areas of the business, and make no mistake—it’s all because of Randy.”
When he’s not charting the course for Univision, Falco relaxes with his family. And while Bentley will always hold a place in Falco’s heart, a photo of a fluffy puppy named Rowdy is now on the windowsill too. “My wife made the decision that I had to get over it, so we got a new one,” he says.
The consummate media maven has no plans to stop running with the big dogs. “I will continue to do this as long as I’m having fun,” Falco says. “And I’m having a lot of fun.”