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The Influentials: TV and Radio

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David Chase
Creator and executive producer, The Sopranos
Television’s auteur hero. It’s because of Chase that Alan Ball followed up his American Beauty Oscar win with Six Feet Under, that Spike Lee is directing a pilot for CBS. It’s because of him we have Deadwood and The Shield and Sleeper Cell, shows with morally ambiguous protagonists. Former HBO head Jeff Bewkes (now the No. 2 at Time Warner) deserves credit for making a home for risky TV, but it’s Chase who brought the quality along with the curse words.

Dick Wolf
Creator and executive producer, Law & Order, Law & Order: SVU, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and Conviction
Keeps New York’s television industry alive. Dick Wolf’s Law & Order factory produced 79 episodes this season, pumping $158 million into the local economy. Sure, the franchise has lately shown notable ratings softness (the flagship L&O has approached all-time original-episode ratings lows), but beyond his own enormous outlays, Wolf gets partial credit for the city’s current production boom. He helped push for the mayor’s tax credits for film crews (to his own advantage), and Wolf’s is the first name Katherine Oliver, head of the mayor’s Office of Film, Theater, and Broadcasting, mentions to sell producers on the wisdom of shooting here.

Tony DiSanto and Liz Gateley
Executive vice-president and senior vice-president, series development and animation, MTV
DiSanto and Gateley’s Laguna Beach, the first “docu-soap,” has become the new paradigm for reality shows: Lushly shot and scored, Laguna looks so much like a scripted drama that MTV added a disclaimer saying that it’s really real. A word-of-mouth phenomenon, Laguna became Monday night’s top-rated show among viewers ages 12 to 24 , besting the broadcast networks. Success has bred imitators: Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Orange County; Logo’s P-Town; and, on MTV, the execs’ own 8th & Ocean, The Shop, and the Laguna spinoff The Hills.

Mike Shaw
President of sales and marketing, ABC
Revolutionized product placement (applause, please). In the age of DVRs and VOD, many see his innovations as the future of ad-supported television. Sears’ partnership on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is the new gold standard: The appliance store is essential to the show’s plot, serving as a kind of home-repair superhero; viewers are 25 percent more likely to shop at Sears after seeing an episode. Shaw’s latest battle for TV’s business model is against media agencies; he says he won’t do business with any that refuse to recognize Nielsen’s new ratings-measurement system that includes DVR viewership.

Michael Hirschorn
Executive vice-president of original programming and production, VH1
The patron saint of micro-nostalgia. Hirschorn, the architect of Best Week Ever and I Love the ’80s, pioneered the pop-culture talking-head commentary show. Simultaneously enthusiastic and snide, the format features comedians repackaging celebrity minutiae and pop trivia and has become a required stop for ambitious stand-ups, this decade’s version of the brick-wall comedy club. Knockoffs have proliferated across the cable dial, engulfing E!, Bravo, BET, and even CNN.

Jeff Zucker
CEO, NBC Universal TV Group
Even with NBC prime time in the tank—despite promising, if not actually breakout results from My Name Is Earl and The Office—Zucker is still TV’s No. 1 comer. He gets credit for negotiating the Katie Couric–Meredith Vieira and Jay Leno–Conan O’Brien transitions. And NBCU’s cable networks, which report to Zucker after his latest falling-upward promotion, have been thriving: Project Runway on Bravo, WWE Raw on USA, Battlestar Galactica on Sci Fi. NBC chairman Bob Wright has all but named Zucker as his successor; the former wunderkind who put the Today show behind glass will be picking what you watch for years to come.

Vernon Chatman and John Lee
Creators and executive producers, Wonder Showzen
Saturday Night Live. NBC’s Late Night With David Letterman. The Simpsons. South Park. Wonder Showzen? Proudly offensive, MTV2’s fake children’s show is the latest comedy subverting television norms, transmogrifying a familiar TV setup—a talk show, a cartoon family—into something completely new. The show uses cartoons and sing-alongs to sling arrows at American values. A child reporter mocks visitors at ground zero; starving Africans are Photoshopped into obese gluttons. Often more disturbing than funny, it has a disclaimer (“If you allow a child to watch this show, you are a bad parent or guardian”) that feels necessary—any underage viewer will require serious therapy. Or lead the revolution.

Lorne Michaels and Tina Fey
Executive producer and head writer–cast member, Saturday Night Live
Forget SNL’s anemic laughs-to-hours ratio: Lorne and Tina’s institution still creates stars like nowhere else. The show is home to the comedy phenoms of the year, the boys of the Lonely Island, Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer, whose “Lazy Sunday” digital short launched a million illegal downloads, forced NBC into the iPod age, and got the guys a movie, Hot Rod—which Michaels, of course, will executive-produce. He’s also executive-producing Fey’s new sitcom pilot about . . . well, Lorne and Tina.

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