1983-84 White House Fellow, Office of Cabinet Affairs, The White House (President Ronald Reagan)
1984-89 NBC Programming Department, Comedy:
1984-85 Associate (management trainee), Comedy Development
1985 Manager, Current Comedy Programs
1986 Director, Current Comedy Programs
1986-88 Vice President, Current Comedy Programs
1988-89 Vice President, Comedy Development: part of team assigned to Golden Girls, Alf, A Different World; oversaw, at various times, Cosby, Family Ties, Cheers, Golden Girls, Alf, Night Court, A Different World, Facts of Life, Silver Spoons, Diff'rent Strokes, Molly Dodd, Empty Nest
1989-1992 Principal and Executive Producer, Grantwood Productions, 20th Century Fox developed and executive produced Drexell's Class, half-hour comedy on Fox starring Dabney Coleman, Brittany Murphy, Jason Biggs
1992-96 President of Programming, Channel One Network; Executive Producer,
Channel One News
1996-98 President, Walt Disney Television and Touchstone Television, The Walt Disney Company oversaw Home Improvement, Ellen, Boy Meets World, Unhappily Ever After, The Wonderful World of Disney
1998-2000 head of programming and development, Digital Entertainment Network (internet video startup) developed original, made-for-the-web scripted comedies and dramas, news, reality, and news and information programming
2001-2003 Chief Programming Officer, CNN oversaw programming and development for CNN
2004-2009 President of Programming, Current Media (Current TV and current.com) oversaw the launch of an original content network dedicated to news and information for young adults, including 30% user-generated content
2009-present consultant to Current Media and CNN on programming
I came to UCLA, “fresh off the boat” from the Midwest, intending to be an MP/TV major. In the Spring quarter of my Freshman year I took Jeff Cole’s Comm 10. He’s a superb lecturer, as we all know, and I was really awoken, intellectually, by the subject matter. The way Jeff teaches it, it’s very seductive. You think every class is going to be as fun and illuminating as Comm 10. So I applied for the Comm major at the end of my freshman year (which in itself was another plus, relative to MP/TV) and got in. I thought I could always apply to MP/TV the next year, and switch if I got in, but I was nervous about whether I would be accepted, and also not so sanguine about the MP/TV major’s Fine Arts prerequisite requirements (e.g. foreign language) so I stuck with Comm. Now there were times down the road—usually when taking some upper-division psych or sociology course—when I looked back a bit ruefully on Comm 10, as if I had been “baited and switched.” I wasn’t aware that it was mostly a theoretical and abstract liberal arts major, and there weren’t going to be any other classes where we watched great episodes of popular sitcoms. It’s like the punchline of the old tv-business joke: “that was the pilot, this is the series.”
As I said, Jeff Cole was such a great teacher and that class was so fun, I sort of got seduced into it. The next class I took was Geoff Cowan’s Comm 101; of course he is also a terrific teacher and again, the subject matter was compelling, even if it was a tough course with a lot to learn. Even Comm 100, which was dryer and not nearly as “fun” was nevertheless very intriguing to me. (You’ve got to love any course that has “the Structure of Scientific Revolutions” as a core text. IMO, that should be required reading for any college student.) So, by then I was a ways down the road and decided to stick with it.
Paul Rosenthal was sensational—his course in Legal Communication, Comm 170, was fascinating and very memorable for me. I still remember how he described the law itself: “the only time that the collective power of the entire society is brought to bear on the individual.” That’s heavy. Neil Malamuth had a casual style and a gentle sense of humor that I really enjoyed. Waldo Phelps was a giant, of course, and everybody loved him. I really miss that guy.
Steve Doyle’s Speech 1 and Marde Gregory’s Speech 2 were important in my own development, too. Marde was very tough but in just the right way––it was a dry run for the “no excuses” environment you experience in the business world. Diana Meehan taught political communication(Comm 160, why do I still remember the course numbers?!) from a cultural perspective—as myth and ritual—and I still think it’s the most illuminating way to understand American political behavior, much more so, to me, than the social science perspectives that dominated the Poli Sci department. I wish Diana had written more about that subject—she was uniquely brilliant. Answering this question makes me want to go dig up my course notes—which I still have. (See “Hoarders.”)
Patrice French, who was very eccentric, taught Comm 102, “The Code of Human Communication,” and Karen Malmuth and I would sit together and for the first eight weeks look at each other like we were lost in a psychological thriller—we just didn’t get it. But then one day—luckily before the final—I really did “get it” and I thought it was one of the most brilliant courses I ever took. For you Star Trek fans, her final was like the “Kobayashi Maru.” I felt a sense of triumph when I walked out of there, having really “grokked” what she was saying about language and meaning.
There was some serendipity for me at times too. During my time in the major I was especially looking forward to Theater Arts 106A—the History of the American Motion Picture. I couldn’t wait to sit down and enjoy Citizen Kane and all of my favorites, but I applied a few times and couldn’t get into the course. Come to think of it, I could almost never get into any Theater Arts course. Then the quarter I finally got in, the professor, Nick Browne, decided that the whole course for that term would focus on silent film exclusively. I was so disappointed and depressed—eight hours of screenings a week, of movies that I was sure I would loathe. Instead it was mesmerizing and really opened my eyes to some amazing works of art. Sunrise, (F.W. Murnau, 1927) to me, is still one of the most emotionally affecting films ever made.