By Dom Serafini
When the television industry was a product of “Main Street,” and making billions in the international arena, the sector was populated by “screamers,” executives who liked to yell at their underlings. The late Norman Horowitz liked to tell the story of the time when he asked his boss at Columbia, who was yelling at him, if he’d “like to solve the problem, or keep yelling.” His reply was: “I’d like to keep yelling.”
Among the more famous screamers are said to be Barry Diller, Jonathan Dolgen, Dawn Steel, Michael Eisner, Harvey Weinstein, and Lew Wasserman, just to mention a few U.S. studio executives. But there were famous yellers in other fields too, like Steve Jobs (Apple), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Bill Gates (Microsoft), and Jack Welch (GE/NBC), who were known to raise their voices at their employees. In academic books this practice is often referred to as a “management style.” But on the studio lots in Hollywood, this was simply known as “tough love” (from the 1968 book by Bill Milliken), meaning that if someone was yelled at, but not fired, that was because the screamer recognized that that person had talent.
However, the point of this analysis is not to disparage the screamers, but to recall fondly how different those high-decibel times were as compared to when Main Street got hijacked by Wall Street and the screamers were replaced by the milder streamers. While the execs in days of yore screamed to get more sales from international broadcasters by dreaming up more windows for exploitation, today’s streamers typically vie for fewer international sales in order to keep content for their own platforms, thus changing a business model that worked wonders for over 50 years.
In my opinion, the screamer times were more rewarding in terms of sales, creativity, and business environment. Only time will tell how the streamers eventually fare.
For now, here’s a collection of VideoAge moments from different stages of the “screamers'” era.
The above photomontage depicts some of the “Main Street” events that marked VideoAge‘s amazing life back then. From l. ro. r., first row: This writer with German-born Henry Kissinger (Secretary of State under U.S. President Richard Nixon) discussing his take on Latin America; with Italian media mogul Silvio Berlusconi; with Venezuela’s Peter Bottome (at right), founder of Radio Caracas; with Dr. Roberto Marinho, founder of Brazil’s Rede Globo. Second row: With Fox’s Rupert Murdoch and Rede Globo’s Roberto Ireneu Marinho; with Monaco’s Prince Albert, and Worldvision’s Bert Cohen at the Monte Carlo TV Market; With moon-landing astronaut Buzz Aldrin at MIP-TV; with Gustavo Cisneros of Venezuela’s Venevision, and Pedro Leda of Argentina’s Ledafilms at the International Emmy Awards. Third row: At NATPE with Ricardo Salinas Pliego, founder of Mexico’s TV Azteca; with Austrian-born actor and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at MIPCOM; with Subhash Chandra Goenka, founder of India’s Zee TV (Essel Group); with America’s Funniest Home Videos producer Vin Di Bona (the show has been on the air in the U.S. since 1989).
Missing from the list, but squarely part of the screamers’ era, is the (late) bombastic media baron Robert Maxwell, who could often be found at the Martinez Hotel in Cannes during MIP-TV. Once, this reporter got stuck with him in the Martinez elevator, but the woman who accompanied him to his suite quickly cut off any and all conversations. In 1990, Maxwell had founded the weekly tabloid The European, and this reporter used to regularly visit its media editor David Short in London. When the paper closed in 1998, Short (who died in 2019 at age 65) became a VideoAge contributor.