Does gender play a role in how someone programs a TV network? It's a question I put to the network programmings heads on both sides of the border in a story that appears in today's Toronto Star. You can jump to the full story here, or, hell, better yet, buy a newspaper.
The hook is that the programming bosses at all three national Canadian networks are women: Susanne Boyce, president, creative, content and channels, CTV, Barbara Williams, executive vice president, content, Canwest Broadcasting and Kirstine Layfield, executive director network programming, CBC.
Williams (right), in particular, seemed wary of the story (probably because the last time I spoke to her in person, I was taking pictures of her shoes). "Honestly Bill, I think it’s a bit of a silly question," she told me this week, "because I think people are people and we’re all a collection of a lot of things." She wondered why I was still asking the gender question in 2008.
"Tell that to Hillary Clinton,"said Boyce (left, with Sandra Oh at last year's Crystal Awards), when I mentioned that some of her colleagues though the topic was a bit last century.
CBS's Nancy Tellem--who has risen even higher in the corporate programming ranks as Nina Tassler's boss--remembers what it was like when ABC named Jamie Tarses the first female head of programming among the U.S. networks in 1996. "It became a huge thing, there was all this controversy as to whether it was exploitive or whatever," said Tellem. "Once she got it, the idea of me becoming [a programmer] was kind of a non-issue, and I really think now, at least here, the person who is promoted to that position, gender is truly irrelevant."
Two of the executives I spoke with were cut from the Star story for space: Peter Ligouri, chairman, Fox Entertainment, felt it probably is an advantage, in some ways, to be a female programming chief. "More women watch TV than men," he said. "I sit there and I start out watching TV I like and what I hope my wife will enjoy. And, frankly, I’m not going to stand here and say my wife does not have influence over my programming—she absolutely does. She has an influence on all my decisions! But I think you inevitably program what you like."
Benjamin Silverman, co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and NBC Universal Television Studio, thinks picking shows is more about nuance than gender. "You have to understand your whole country in the case of the CBC or NBC. I don’t think gender plays any great advantage. I think just being intuitive does."
Let's give the last word to CBS CEO Les Moonves (right), who has handed off most of his programming chores but still tinkers with casting decisions on his network's schedules. Moonves feels everybody has a masculine side and a feminine side. "When I look at [The New Adventures of Old Christine] or [Tassler] looks at Christine, we come from different perspectives because we’re different people but we both like it."
ABC entertainment president Stephen McPherson says in today's Star piece that, if you didn't know him and had to guess who was picking ABC's shows, you'd think it was a 35-year-old woman. Moonves says that's B.S. "I really think Stephen MacPherson genuinely likes Desperate Housewives himself. It’s a great show."