Here’s a million-dollar question that would stump even Regis Philbin: How does a network exec in charge of entertainment, news, sales, and marketing manage to fly so far beneath the media radar?
That’s the conundrum facing ABC Television Network president Pat Fili-Krushel (who, by the way, also oversees the net’s kids and sports programming). Granted, she hasn’t dated Matthew Perry (a la former ABC Entertainment prez and media lightning rod Jamie Tarses) or developed cozy relationships with the press (like her CBS counterpart Les Moonves), but even so, you’d think someone of Fili-Krushel’s status would be generating decent ink—especially now that she’s helped guide ABC to its best sweeps ratings in five years.
”Part of Pat’s charm is that she doesn’t get drunk with that kind of [power],” says Oxygen CEO and former Disney/ABC Cable Networks president Geraldine Laybourne. ”Pat can accomplish a lot more being Pat than trying to dress up as Les. And Les could never accomplish anything trying to be like Pat. There is plenty of room for different styles.”
Married with two children ages 7 and 9, Fili-Krushel started as a secretary in ABC’s sports department in the mid-’70s before leaving the company for programming stints at Lifetime (where she greenlit its first original prime-time series, The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, after the cable net picked it up from NBC in 1989) and HBO (where she kicked off its original-movie production). She returned to ABC in 1993 to head daytime and worked her way through the ranks, reaching her current position in July 1998. Her most publicized accomplishments to date include closing a lengthy and sometimes contentious deal with ABC affiliates to pay for the net’s costly NFL package and championing The View when some were dead set against it.
”There were people trying to sabotage it within the network—people more powerful than she,” says Barbara Walters, who executive-produces the highly successful daytime talker. ”In her very quiet but firm way, she stood up and got it programmed. She is very smart, very effective, and has great hair.”
EW sat down with the well-coiffed Fili-Krushel and discussed her tenure, her battle with Steven Bochco over NYPD Blue, and, of course, the programming Godzilla that is Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
How does it feel to be the most powerful woman in TV?
It’s certainly a privilege. It’s a challenging time to be in the business, but I’m glad I have the last year behind me. These jobs are so big, the learning curve so steep, and the responsibilities so wide that it takes a while to get your sea legs. But it’s a great challenge, no matter whether you’re a woman or a man.
Do you encounter certain expectations that people have for a woman at the helm?
I don’t come at things from that direction. [That] actually comes mostly from reporters. I’m sure that makes a much more interesting story. The reality is, I don’t think it matters one way or another. You just hope you got the job because you’re the right person for it.
CBS Television CEO Les Moonves is such a huge personality, as was former NBC West Coast president Don Ohlmeyer. Is it a problem that ABC doesn’t have a booming personality like that?
I don’t think that really matters. The proof is in the pudding in terms of what we deliver. My personality is not one where I need to be the center of attention. My audience is [ABC group chairman] Bob Iger and [Walt Disney Co. CEO] Michael Eisner. They’re the ones who decide if I stay in this job.
Do you have much of a presence in Hollywood?
My job is to make sure I have the right people in the right positions. Stu Bloomberg and Lloyd Braun run the entertainment division. Nothing goes on the air without a discussion, but they are the first line to the creative community. You can call and discuss things with me, but the buck should stop with [Bloomberg and Braun].