Peter Liguori's childhood was spent about as far from Hollywood as any American could imagine. The president of News Corp.-owned FX Networks grew up in a small Bronx apartment that housed his mother, her two sisters and their families, his grandmother, and several other people.
"It was the quintessential extended immigrant family," says Liguori. "It was a warm, fun environment. And part of what I am in terms of being a programmer is rooted in my experiences growing up in the Bronx."
Liguori, who oversees both FX and Fox Movie Channel, never dreamed of working in Hollywood, but his father, who died of cancer when Liguori was 16, had worked two jobs to keep food on the table and vowed that his son would never "work with his hands."
"There were few things that were uncompromised in our family," says Liguori, "but one thing was absolute: grades. He really pushed me hard, and I thank him for that today."
Graduating as valedictorian from Harry S. Truman High School, he went on to Yale. In his sophomore year, he took over the on-campus laundry service, splitting the profits with the university. His efforts didn't go unnoticed: Procter & Gamble offered him a job right out of school at Connecticut-based Richardson-Vicks Inc.
"I was working on such exciting products as Fasteeth denture adhesives," he says. "And we were in Wilton, Conn., which was a dry town at the time and not exactly an exciting place for a single."
After one year, Liguori moved back to New York and got a job at ad firm Saatchi & Saatchi, working on the campaign for detergent Tide and the launch of liquid Tide. "I loved advertising," he says, "but I still kind of had in the back of my mind my father's pushing. He really wanted me to be a lawyer."
So in the fall of 1985, Liguori entered Northwestern University's law school in Chicago. He lasted a semester. The night before his last final, he recalls, he went to the movies and saw Once Upon a Time in America. It changed his life. "I fell in love with the movie and found a bit of a calling," he says. "I took my last final, packed up ... and drove back to New York."
He returned to Saatchi & Saatchi for a year and then spent three years at rival Ogilvy & Mather. But Liguori wanted to get into the film business.
In 1988, a former advertising client who was head of HBO's home video division called and offered him a marketing position. He jumped at it. The home video area at HBO was taking off, he says, and his position gave him his first taste of what Hollywood had to offer.
In 1994, Liguori moved to the HBO cable network as marketing VP. He headed the "It's Not TV, It's HBO" campaign and worked closely with the campaigns for HBO Pictures.
In 1996, his former boss at HBO, Tracy Dolgin, called from Los Angeles with an offer to join Fox-Liberty Networks, the new joint venture launching Fox Sports Net, FX and The Health Network. Becoming head of marketing and promotion, Liguori helped introduce Fox Sports Net and the various regional sports cable channels and also re-branded general-entertainment network FX. So impressive were his marketing campaign and ideas for FX, in 1998 that he was made president of FX and the Fox Movie Channel.
"The task was really daunting," Liguori says, "but I thought I'd have the opportunity to create some programming I would be proud of and take the network to the next level."
Since taking over, Liguori has raised FX's subscriber base from 38 million to 60 million. FX now ranks among the top 10 cable networks in adults 18-49.
He is trying not to forget his Bronx roots. "It's really easy to get lulled by the rarefied air of Hollywood. It's good for me and my kids when I go back to the Bronx and see my family and visit places like Harry S. Truman to understand that, clearly, there is a yin to our very glitzy Hollywood yang."