People Interview: Channel Surfing
Paula Madison, president and general manager of KNBC, is used to challenges, but creating the first dual-language duopoly is an experiment unique to U.S. TV
Paula Madison is accustomed to setting lots of firsts, among them becoming the first African American woman to head a big-market network-owned station when she was named president and general manager of KNBC-TV (Channel 4).
Now, Madison faces another industry first: helping to create a dual-language duopoly. General Electric Co.-owned NBC recently purchased Telemundo Communications Group Inc., including two stations in Los Angeles: KNBC and Spanish-language KVEA-TV (Channel 52). Telemundo's second L.A. station, KWHY-TV (Channel 22), likely will be sold to comply with Federal Communications Commission regulations.
Madison started her career in 1974 as a reporter at the Syracuse Herald Journal in Syracuse, N.Y. She later moved to Texas where she worked at the Forth Worth Star-Telegram pursuing her dream of becoming an investigative reporter. With little knowledge of TV, Madison gave up print journalism and joined WFAA-TV in Dallas in 1982.
Question: Do you watch a lot of television?
Answer: I watch lots and lots and lots of TV. I certainly watch primetime on NBC. I watch it in order to see what we have on our air, but also to make sure that our commercials air properly. I watch commercial television. I watch cable. What do I watch to totally mellow out, to just veg? Home & Garden Television.
Q: What do you think about news coverage in Los Angeles?
A: News coverage in the L.A. market is getting better. To a great extent, the coverage that we've seen in the past has been red carpet the gala and the glitz of stardom and studios and those are all very interesting and fun and fascinating. The other hallmark has been car chases. That is not as prevalent as it once was. What I've seen is more focus on issue coverage. It doesn't mean that we no longer cover helicopter chases, because we do and we always have. It's a question of where are they placed and what prominence are they given in light of everything else that's happening on that news day. Viewers have been less willing to accept that as news, particularly in light of Sept. 11, particularly in light of what's been happening in Israel and the Middle East.
Q: Describe the state of the advertising market in L.A. Do you see signs of a turnaround?
A: The ad market has been a little rough. But we're seeing, right now, more activity in the market. I'd say in the last month it's picked up, thank goodness. Revenue is down for everyone but the real skill is being less down than everyone else. Go create opportunities where in the past there had been none ... to make sure that you don't come out in a No. 5, 6, 7, or 8 rank in the market. You want to remain at No. 1. So far, we have maintained our No. 1 position.
Q: Has KNBC created new business opportunities to make up for the lost revenues?
A: We consider our competition to be not just other television stations. Our competition is anyone or any entity that accepts advertising. It's up to our staff me, our marketing and sales departments to figure out how to go after dollars that a year ago were not there for us.
Q: How do you do that?
A: Those are things that I'm not prepared to share.
Q: How will this year's revenues compare to those over the last couple of years?
A: 2000 was pretty go, go, go until we had a grinding halt in November. Business just dried up. In '01, we made some headway, but it was a very difficult and challenging year. This year, we had the benefit of the Olympics, which assisted us greatly in the first quarter. (But) sometimes people divert dollars from other spending to the Olympics so you aren't necessarily getting Olympics dollars plus. So far, we're holding our own, we're doing OK. It is still very challenging. I'm optimistic that by the end of the year we will make our numbers.
Q: Are this year's goals higher than those set for 2001?
A: They're always higher. That's what is exciting about this business.
Q: Several changes were made in the news department after you arrived, including replacing News Director Nancy Bauer Gonzales with Kim Godwin. Are more changes in the works?
A: Kim's still tweaking things. I began mentoring her years ago, so I'm very comfortable and confident that she is leading the news department in the direction it needs to go. There are still some vacant positions Kim is working to fill. Most of the on-air changes have largely occurred.
Q: To what extent do ratings drive news coverage?
A: Ratings can be an indication of the viewers' satisfaction with what you've produced. But it's not as simple as that because sometimes that vote can be for the wrong reason.
Q: Are there stories that don't get covered because they don't play well on television?
A: If you don't have the supporting video, it doesn't mean that you don't cover it. It means that you may not be able to cover it to the same extent as you would if you had videotape. You don't stay away from stories that don't have pictures. It depends upon what you consider to be the priority.
Q: KNBC's news has dominated at 11 p.m. but lagged behind KABC-TV (Channel 7) in the afternoons. Why?
A: We have been bested for quite some time by "The Oprah Winfrey Show." The lead-in KABC has with "Oprah" has afforded them an audience that's already there, ready and waiting. Historically, at 3 o'clock, we've had "The Rosie O'Donnell Show," and the ratings for Rosie have diminished considerably. Right now we have another program, "The Weakest Link," and try as we did, the audience has not turned away from Oprah. Come Sept 16 is the start of "Dr. Phil" on our air. "Dr. Phil" will be a great asset to our news lead-in.
Q: How will a Spanish-English language duopoly work?
A: Our COO Andy Lack announced here in Southern California that NBC will place a great emphasis on producing telenovelas in Spanish in the United States. We have many, many options before us.
Q: What synergies can be worked out between KNBC and KVEA?
A: We're sharing videotape. We're sharing our resources, our live trucks, our helicopter, our satellite trucks. When there was coverage of the archdiocesan delegation that went recently to the Vatican to meet with the Pope, we sent a reporter, with the agreement that we would ask the cardinal (Roger Mahony) questions that he would respond to in Spanish, too. We would use that tape on our Spanish-language stations. Our sales departments are cooperating. We are making joint sales calls. The research departments are working together, (as are) the programming departments and creative services. There are great opportunities for synergy.
Q: What will happen to KWHY-TV, Telemundo's second L.A. station?
A: Our petition to the FCC said that we wanted 12 months in order to operate all three stations and at the conclusion of that time it's our intention to sell that station.
Q: Have there been or will there be any layoffs as a result of the consolidation?
A: When there are mergers and duopolies, there is a certain amount of efficiency that one expects. Otherwise, why go forward with a purchase? We're going through our operations and we're taking a look at things.
Q: What have you done to increase diversity at NBC?
A: There's a diversity council that has increased to about 20 people. We have goals that we set in terms of employment, programming, content. When we first started our diversity initiative back in January of 2000, we said we would increase our minority sourcing (buying of supplies and services) by 100 percent in 18 months. We achieved that in about nine months. In the fall season of '01-'02, all of the new episodic programs that we introduced had diversity on camera and behind the scenes.
Q: Has the network done a good job boosting diversity?
A: The awareness is heightened, the sensitivity is heightened. We've increased our pool of people from which we draw from for writers, for directors, so forth.
INTERVIEW: Paula Madison
Title: President, General Manager
Organization: KNBC-TV (Channel 4)
Born: New York, 1952
Education: Bachelor's degree from Vassar College.
Career Turning Point: Leaving the Dallas Times Herald for WFAA-TV, also in Dallas.
Most Admired Person: Oseola McCarty, the late housekeeper who donated her life savings, $150,000, to the University of Southern Mississippi.
Personal: Married, with one daughter.
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.