Matthew Weiner
Creator, “Mad Men”
I was a senior in high school when (Brandon Tartikoff) hosted “Saturday Night Live,” and I remember thinking, “Who is this executive?” I loved how funny and self-deprecating he was. It wasn’t until I got into television that I realized he was responsible for everything I liked to watch. You really got the feeling someone was in charge who really wanted to entertain people and help creative people pull that off. And also, by the way, the real Tartikoff moment … just growing up in a writers room, and hearing every executive compared to him — and often not in a positive way — I realized he was a different kind of person.

I look at his legacy, and I see that he’s like the guy who runs Baskin Robbins. “Let’s make a new flavor this month. There are all different kinds of people and they like all different kinds of ice cream.” I don’t think anybody else thinks that way.

Dennis Swanson
President of station operations, Fox
I was a general manager in Chicago, and when I was looking for a replacement for the a.m. show there, I saw an audition for Oprah Winfrey. I’m thinking to myself on a Saturday morning over Labor Day weekend in 1983, “Oh my goodness, I can’t be this lucky. This woman is the most unique, dynamic and best I’ve ever seen.” The trick for me was to get her under contract.

I knew how good she was because I was sitting there watching the audition, but I still had to get it approved. And there was a considerable divide in Chicago at the time racially. You knew that there were risks, but this was a calculated risk. You think to yourself, “This person has so much ability, that it’s worth the risk.”

Fernando Gaitan
VP of production and content, Colombia’s RCN TV and creator, “Ugly Betty”
I have always being involved in complex projects. I told the story of the Colombian coffee trade in telenovela format, and the protagonist was an impotent man who fell in love with a coffee collector woman who used to move around the country, and just appeared during the harvest, and who had the key to his sexuality.

But where I definitely risked everything was in “Yo soy Betty la fea” (“Ugly Betty”). I wanted to tell the story of beauty through the eyes of an ugly woman, but to do it, it was necessary to break the first amendment of a “telenovela” which says: The protagonist of a “telenovela” must be beautiful, unquestionably beautiful, and must be beloved by men as well as, and especially, by women.

From that moment on, I grasped at believing in my own stories. If a story makes its way, it traps you, it attracts you from the paper itself, if it generates the interior strength in the reader, if it produces the unavoidable desire to eat it up to the end, you must bet on it.

Cecile Frot-Coutaz
CEO, FremantleMedia North America
Very soon after I arrived in Los Angeles and started working in the business, I started hearing references to (Tartikoff’s) name as the gold standard in all creative matters. He loved what he did, had fun doing it and took people on the ride along with him, from his staff at the network, the producers he engaged and of course the talent.

His legacy stands as a reminder that nothing great is achieved without taking some big swings. Whether it is with the recasting of “American Idol,” the evolution of “America’s Got Talent,” the relaunching of “Family Feud,” the ongoing investment in “The Price is Right” or the launch of “X Factor,” I would like to believe that I have taken a page or two out of his rulebook, taken some risks along the way and tried to resist the inevitable pressures to compromise.

NATPE 2012
Congloms chase big footprint | Syndie concerns grow as daytime yakkers stack up | Distribs, stations guard firstrun syndie shows from web | Worthy successors | What’s coming to market | Comedies hit syndie paydirt — for now |