The Influentials: TV and Radio

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. TV & Radio: Howard Stern, Luis Jimenez, Moonves Vs. Freston …

Howard Stern
Host, “The Howard Stern Show”
If money is power, then Stern has been promoted from King of All Media to King of the World. His absence was blamed for CBS Radio’s 6 percent decline in first-quarter revenue. Even though Stern’s audience on Sirius is a sliver of his “terrestrial” listener numbers, he’s already raking in about $100 million a year.

Luis Jimenez and Ramon “Moonshadow” Broussard
Hosts, “El Vacilón de la Mañana”
Wildly popular Spanish-speaking shock jocks with proven political power—the “El Vacilón” team mobilized thousands of listeners to last month’s City Hall immigration-bill protest. Post–Howard Stern, Jimenez and Broussard are New York radio’s top dogs, ensconced atop the wake-up-radio ratings heap with nearly a million weekly listeners on La Mega (97.9 FM). Critics say the raunchy twosome get away with murder because the FCC doesn’t speak Spanish. Their views are not doctrinaire.Unlike some of their more militant West Coast radio counterparts, they oppose singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” in Spanish and urged fans to ignore last Monday’s nationwide May Day boycott, saying it would “cripple too many businesses.”

Moonves Vs. Freston
Modern-day Solomon Sumner Redstone split his Viacom empire in January, giving half to Les Moonves’s CBS and half to Tom Freston’s Viacom. The CEOs say it’s not a competition (sure), but both have made big moves to try to jolt their stock prices.

Photo: Patrick McMullan

January 3: The race begins. Will everybody love Les?
Starting price: $25.60

January 24: Moonves merges its money-losing UPN with Time Warner’s money-losing WB. “It will clearly be greater than the sum of its parts,” says Moonves.
↑ 90 cents

January 26: Moonves announces plans to sell the Paramount theme parks, saying they don’t fit with CBS’s content-driven business.
↑ 26 cents

February 28: CBS sues Howard Stern for breach of contract. “I’m the one who kept you on the air, and I knew I could sue you afterwards,” Moonves told Stern (according to Stern).
↓ 20 cents

April 5: CBS hires Katie Couric to anchor its evening newscast. “I’m personally so excited,” says Moonves.
↑ 3 cents

Current Price: $25.75
↑ 15 cents since the split

Photo: Patrick McMullan

January 3: Can the MTV king pump up his stock price?
Starting price: $41.12

February 1: Paramount buys DreamWorks for $1.6 billion. “We couldn’t be more excited,” Freston says.
↑ 76 cents

March 1: Freston says Viacom will launch a social-networking Website to compete with MySpace. “We don’t believe the game is over,” he says.
↑ 93 cents

March 17: Freston sells DreamWorks’ film library for $900 million. Now, Freston writes in a memo, “we can focus solely on our most important work.”
↑ 49 cents

April 24: Freston buys online gaming community Xfire for $102 million in cash. “It’s a bull’s-eye against our young audiences,” he says.
↑ 26 cents

Current price: $39.01
↓ $2.11 since the split Next: The Influentials in Wall St.

The Influentials: TV and Radio