NAME: Donald Hacker
DESCRIPTION: Former syndie TV mogul.
LAST SEEN: Setting up a suds factory.
He was not exactly the talk of NATPE this year, but former Tribune Entertainment Co. president Donald Hacker’s name did come up in at least one conversation over a couple of beers.
In fact, beer and Hacker are about to become synonymous.
“Yes, it’s true,” says Hacker, the man who once served the TV syndication market with Geraldo Rivera and Joan Rivers. Reached at the Hotel Meridien in New York last week, Hacker confirmed that he and his brother are setting up a micro-brewery in the Denver area.
A Chicago native, Hacker was the Tribune exec who helped create “Geraldo” and “The Joan Rivers Show,” along with TEC founder Sheldon Cooper. Cooper created the company as a one-man operation in 1982, brought in Hacker in 1986 and dubbed him successor to the office of president and chief executive officer in 1991.
Over the years, Hacker oversaw not only the growth of Tribune but the expansion of the firstrun syndication business. Now, he says, “That business is narrowing. If you’re not a major player it’s difficult.” In other words, it’s a good time to get out, as far as Hacker is concerned.
“Obviously, I got to see a lot of changes,” says Hacker, including the rise of the talkshow. One of his higher-profile productions was the latenight Dennis Miller talker, which, along with Joan Rivers’ “Can We Shop?,” fell flatter than day-old lager. A lack of sustained fizz in the programming department contributed to Hacker’s departure from TEC last July, after 15 years with the company.
“You always have conflicts over objectives,” says Hacker, looking back. “Jim Dowdle had to put the striped shirt on once in a while,” he says, referring to Tribune Broadcasting Co.’s president and CEO. He lays some of the blame for his downfall on different divisions at TEC acting at cross-purposes.
“We should have had more Tribune programs on Tribune stations,” he acknowledges.
And while some TEC employees are said to have chafed under Hacker’s command, Hacker recalls his own itchiness in the corporate role.
“It’s nice to have the title of president,” he says, “but it’s so far removed from producing, being involved with talent.
“I enjoy creating things, bootstrapping,” adds Hacker, citing an entrepreneurial streak in his family that inspired first his father and now all four of Don’s brothers to run their own businesses.
Which is one reason he’s going into the beer business, says Hacker, who has relocated from the Windy City to the suburbs of Denver with his wife and son.
But as for the TV business, “Oh, I still keep my hand in,” he explains from Gotham, where he was consulting on a TV talkshow project he declined to name.
Nor would he disclose the name of the beer he’s going to bottle. But if, as they say, the past is prologue, the man who brought us Geraldo and Joan might very well label his new brew “Two Rivers.”