Denver Dispatch: Cable Center Hall of Fame Dinner

A cold reality of benefit dinners such as the Cable Center's Cable Hall of Fame's is that top network executives make better honorees than most other folks. Not to minimize the achievements of cable system honorees at Wednesday night's dinner in Denver like retired Cox Communication President Jim Robbins or Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, but they just don't have the goods to match the awesome video tribute reel of the likes of MTV Networks Chairman Judy McGrath.

Look at the resources McGrath has to draw on from the myriad networks under her domain. Stephen Colbert taped a segment talking about how he and McGrath met when "I was a bouncer and she was a dancing girl. Or maybe it was the other way around." He further recounted how he, McGrath and deposed Viacom CEO Tom Freston were trapped in a cabin after an avalanche with no food. "So we cooked and ate Mel Karmazin," Colbert recalled. "We ran a lemon over him so he wasn't so tough."

Cut to the video for Carolyn Chambers, chairman and CEO of small cable operator Chambers Communications. Lots of interviews of pals and slow pans across pictures from old trade magazines. Tough competition, though she gets extra points for supplying the dinner guests with a fine pinot noir from an Oregon vineyard she owns, Panther Creek Cellars

But in her acceptance speech Chambers gave a stirring remembrance of her early years as a woman in what was — and largely remains–cable's boys club. She recalled one of her first meetings at the National Cable Television Association in the 1960s, when a male executive she wouldn't name dismissed her, saying "what the hell is she doing here" and the other members went out for a drink without her.

Two years later, however, the performance of her company and her stubbornness made her a player. "The same man took me by the arm and said `come with us, you're one of us now'."

But the show was stolen by Brian Roberts, or more specifically his wife, Aileen. Since she was wearing a long (and quite stylish) head scarf, it was clear to the the 700 attendees that she was probably bald underneath.

Brian confirmed the room's assumptions by acknowledging that Aileen is being treated for breast cancer. She surprised him by travelling to Denver secretly, then calling him by cell phone as she walked through the Cable Center and giving him the "hi, howya doing" until she slid up next to him at a pre-dinner reception.

"She is really an example of grace under pressure," Brian said. He recounted that she discovered a lump at an early stage, after examining herself after seeing Comcast interactive executive, Amy Banse, who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer,

She caught it so early, that when diagnosing her, Aileen's doctor said "this is the best day of your life"

The big surprise of the night was the appearance not so much ofJ ohn Malone, but of his beard. Malone's image is iconic, so the fresh sprout of grey whiskers was the buzz of the room. The general consensus is the mountain man look becomes him.

The man on the hot spot was MC Paul Maxwell. The CableFAX columnist and consultant was asked at noon Wednesday to fill in for sportscaster Jim Lampley who badly injured his hip and had to cancel at the last minute. Maxwell — an industry fixture who knows all the honorees well — handled the hosting duties smoothly with the occassional "I can't believe they wrote this corny script" pause