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Paley gala: The fast and not so furious

POSTED BY STUART LEVINE

There probably wasn’t a lot of love for the striking writers in the ballroom at the Grand Hyatt in Century City last night, but with the Paley Center for Media honoring NBC Universal honchos Jeff Zucker and Dick Ebersol that was to be expected.

It was a company night, for sure, and a quick one at that (more details later on).

Ebersol (pictured here with Paley topper Pat Mitchell and Zucker) has been NBC’s sports maven for a while now, though he began his career at the Peacock in the entertainment division, starting up “Saturday Night Live” with Lorne Michaels in 1975. Eventually, he would become one of, if not the top, most important figures in the history of the Olympic Games. Paley_2

NBC has a bunch of Olympics lined up over the next few years — Beijing in 2008, Vancouver in 2010 and London in 2012 — so there’s little doubt Ebersol will remain busy.

Only half-kidding about Ebersol’s influence when it came to the 2006 Olympics, newsman Brian Williams said in a videotaped message: “He renamed the city of Turin to Torino. That’s the kind of power Dick has.”

Al Michaels, who introduced Ebersol to the podium, added: “He may be the most important person in the history of sports television after Roone Arledge.”

It’s a bold statement but one that would be hard to argue. We’ll forgive him for the ill-fated XFL.

In a very classy acceptance speech, Ebersol took time to acknowledge the importance of former NBC programming chief Brandon Tartikoff (“He treated failure and success in the same way”) and colleague Ron Meyer, calling him one of most respected guys in Hollywood.

Throughout the portion of the evening dedicated to Ebersol, there was no mention of the tragic plane crash that took his son Teddy’s life in 2004, but at the conclusion of his speech, Ebersol said, “I’d like to thank everyone in this room for the way they embraced my family three years ago.”

Again, very classy.

In a very funny taped intro, the accomplishments and failures of Zucker were shown before his moment on stage. Included, of course, were his producing days at “Today,” which helped catapult his career, and his rare moments in front of the camera as well. And what would a tribute to Zucker be without showcasing some of his historic flops, such as “Inside Schwartz” and “Good Morning, Miami.”

Zucker soon took the podium and seemed much more business-like and less personable than Ebersol in accepting his award. He quickly addressed the strike — “It’s a difficult time for all of us. We’re in the middle of a seismic shift and I hope the issues will be resolved soon.” — and congratulated his fellow honoree.

Zucker’s speech might’ve set a record for expediency. I didn’t time it but it felt like it couldn’t have lasted more than 5-7 minutes. Geez, I had barely finished my key lime dessert. As soon as he was done, he introduced John Mayer to sing a few numbers for the crowd and that was it.

With a meal that started around 7:30, I was in my car by 8:50 (though I didn’t sit through all of Mayer’s performance), making for a short evening. Maybe it was Zucker’s master plan, as he hoped people would be home to watch “Heroes” at 9. “We could use the eyeballs,” he said, not kidding.

The quick night wasn’t a bad thing at all. Just wasn’t expecting the lovefest to end so soon.

— Stuart Levine

(Photo courtesy of Kevin Parry/Paley Center for Media)

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