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No Looking Back for Hit-Making Mosko

Another day, another studio chief departs. The day after Bela Bajaria was pushed out at Universal Television, Steve Mosko, well-liked chairman of Sony Pictures Television, vacated his post. Mosko, 60, is respected for his deep relationships in Hollywood and keen hit-making acumen but is said to have increasingly clashed with Michael Lynton, Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO. His departure comes not quite nine months after he was promoted to chairman, but with Mosko’s contract coming due, the decision was made to not renew it.

The Baltimore native, now 60, got his start hustling in local radio and then local TV. While in high school, Mosko went to the set of student quiz show It’s Academic to watch his friends compete, and knew right away that he wanted to work in television.

As he noted in his B&C Hall of Fame profile in 2005, Mosko tried for an internship at WPHL Philadelphia, but was rejected due to his grade point average, or lack thereof.

He did land a sales job at a local radio station, which he parlayed to a TV gig at WBFF Baltimore. He was later hired by Arnie Kleiner, the future general manager at KABC Los Angeles, at WMAR Baltimore, Kleiner serving as a mentor to the ambitious young sales guy.

In 1987, Mosko took over as VP and station manager at WPHL, and his first order of business was confronting the woman who’d rejected him for an internship a decade before.

“I said, 'You don't remember me, but as of today, we are changing the program,” Mosko told Ben Grossman in B&C. “'I want kids who are more diverse, who maybe aren't the greatest students in the classroom but work to pay their way through college and are more well-rounded.'”

Part of Mosko’s role at WPHL was buying programming, with Sony a key vendor. It was Sony that got Mosko to move west, offering him a job as VP of the western region for Columbia TriStar Television Distribution in Los Angeles in 1992.

Mosko shifted to Sony Pictures Television (SPT) in 2001 and inherited a studio that was “left for dead”, according to the New York Times. He set about rebuilding it, and its acclaimed series include AMC’s Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, ABC’s The Goldbergs and Shark Tank, Starz’s Outlander, Netflix’s Bloodline, NBC’s The Blacklist and Showtime’s Masters of Sex, along with syndication staples Seinfeld, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!.

Sony Pictures Television also owns the streaming service Crackle, with airs Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, and has taken on more scripted series, including auction house drama The Art of More and new tech drama Start Up.

SPT had a successful upfront season, doing deals with NBC for drama Timeless and the Blacklist spinoff Redemption, along with Kevin James comedy Kevin Can Wait at CBS and drama Notorious and comedy Imaginary Mary at ABC.

A substandard showing during upfronts for Universal Television was said to be a factor in Bajaria’s departure, and the exec, just shy of five years in the top spot, was said to be too focused on selling shows beyond the NBCU family. Studio hits on Bajaria’s watch include The Mindy Project, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and the Dick Wolf Chicago franchise.

Bob Greenblatt, NBC entertainment chairman, saluted Bajaria for “building a strong team and working so effectively to establish Universal Television as a competitive company that produces high-quality scripted series for broadcast networks as well as cable and streaming services.”

Sony Pictures Television is the rare studio without a broadcast network sibling; Mosko appeared to enjoy the outsider status, but deal-making has become more challenging with the networks placing a premium on homegrown shows, which offer upside in the after-market for the owner.

The New York Times notes that Sony’s TV studio has more than pulled its weight in terms of corporate operating income, but Mosko felt he wasn’t given commensurate credit. As a testament to his popularity, Mosko survived Sony’s 2014 cyberattack largely unscathed; other Sony execs were not so lucky. The Los Angeles Times quotes him as describing the hack as “the most difficult thing both personally and professionally that I’ve been through in my life.”

SPT did not comment on Mosko’s departure. For his part, Mosko emailed an abrupt “More to do!!!” to the Los Angeles Times.

Sony is expected to move quickly on replacing him. SPT deputies Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht have been mentioned as possible successors. [NOTE: SPT announced June 2 that leadership will be split among Van Amburg and Erlicht, presidents of programming and production; Andy Kaplan, president of worldwide networks; Keith Le Goy, president of distribution; and Amy Carney, president of advertiser sales & research; each will report to Lynton.]

Mosko spent 24 years at Sony. Even a decade ago, he seemed surprised to have lasted so long with one company. “I don’t take this for granted for one day,” he told B&C in 2005.

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.