Co-president and Co-COO, Viacom Age 55
Moonves has had the most tumultuous year of any TV exec: There were protests over the Reagan miniseries, FCC fines for Janet Jackson's halftime show-and-tell, and public flagellation for last month's 60 Minutes blunder, which some say could cost Dan Rather his news-anchor job. ''Obviously there have been some things that were difficult this year,'' says Moonves, who promptly dismisses the negative to concentrate on the positive. ''The high point was [CBS] winning the 2003-04 season as much as we did.''
That's a shockingly tunnel-visioned comment from a guy who was promoted (along with MTV Networks' Tom Freston) to Viacom's co-COO. But then, Moonves, who sends tremors through the industry like no other TV exec, always plays it like a don. When he fired two supporting CSI actors who demanded raises, he quickly cut them off at the knees. And his competitors just as quickly paid their respects: ''We're not going to renegotiate contracts with guns to our heads. I applaud him for saying it out loud,'' NBC Universal TV Group head Jeff Zucker told EW.
Moonves gets the respect for a reason: His deft leadership and keen sense of programming pushed the Viacom networks he supervises to their best years ever. CBS is now the most profitable net in prime time and just won the 2004-05 premiere week. UPN is enjoying the kind of critical buzz usually heaped on The WB. And Oprah and Jeopardy! two syndicated shows under his watch are up double digits in their 19th and 21st seasons, respectively.
Will he succeed Sumner M. Redstone as Viacom's chairman and CEO in mid-2007? He could get plucked to replace Michael Eisner as Disney's CEO first. As many in the biz will tell you: It's Les' world we just live in it.
Chairman and CEO, Home Box Office Age 52
He packs the greenlighting power of a big-studio chief (budgeting his upcoming Rome series at a movie-size $100 million, for instance), and HBO continues to be the last, best hope for scripted TV. This year, the net racked up a staggering 32 Emmys, including four for The Sopranos and a miniseries record of 11 Emmys for Angels in America.
Chairman and CEO, MTV Networks Age 51
Replacing Tom Freston as head of MTV Networks, McGrath becomes the most powerful woman in cable. Not only does she get to keep her MTV (where, in her previous job, she helped shepherd the net's nonmusical programming), she now controls VH1, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, Spike TV, and TV Land, among others. We're tired just writing this.
President, ABC Primetime Entertainment Age 39
There's a lot of work to be done yet, but at least nobody's calling it the Almost Broadcasting Company anymore. With Lost No. 1 in its time slot and Desperate Housewives grabbing more than 20 million viewers a week, the net has its first big hit dramas since 1995. True, the shows were developed under his canned predecessors, Lloyd Braun and Susan Lyne, but McPherson greenlit the pilots at his previous job, running Touchstone Television.