Jean Dietze spent her entire adult life at the National Broadcasting Company. She retired in May after more than 45 years. Since 2015, she had been president of affiliate relations. In that role, Dietze served as the chief liaison between stations and NBC. Her management style made her as big a hit with the affiliates as the shows she was working to secure.
“She’s adapted to the new age in broadcast and how it’s changed over the years,” Rhonda Brockmann, Dietze’s “number two” for the last decade, said. “She’s very much an across-the-board, knowledgeable executive.”
But Dietze’s legendary tenure at 30 Rock almost took a sidetrack of motion picture proportions. Fresh out of Fordham University with a major in Spanish and a minor in French, Dietze’s goal was to work for the CIA. “My mother was apoplectic that I would even think about doing something like that,” Dietze said.
While they conducted all the background checks and interviews, Dietze took the more mainstream career path with secretarial courses at the Katharine Gibbs School.
The CIA did offer her a position — about six weeks after she was already settled in as a secretary in NBC’s sales department.
Path to Executive
She didn’t stay in the secretarial pool for long, as the executive pool was heating up for her. Dietze saw ownership pass from RCA to General Electric and finally to Comcast. With GE at the helm, Dietze rose through the ranks, named VP, TV network services, a post she held until 1992.
Along the way, Dietze shattered the glass ceiling. But Brockmann, executive VP, business and legal affairs, affiliate relations, said, “It took many tries before management let her have the job.”
When Comcast took over, she was 60 years old and had angst about her future with the network. Those fears were quickly allayed when then-NBC Broadcasting chairman Ted Harbert appointed her executive VP, affiliate relations in 2011.
“They are such a great owner,” Dietze said. “They care about their employees.”
One of her most important deals, though, came in the bedroom, not the boardroom. Early on in her marriage to Carl, who was in affiliate relations at ABC, she agreed that he would welcome opportunities from other media organizations — Jean would not. “I loved NBC,” she said. “Right from the beginning, it was an exciting, good company.”
Working so closely with stations across the country meant good interactions were vital. They were so good, in fact, the affiliates wanted to make sure she kept her job when Comcast bought NBC.
It didn’t hurt that she was on the same page with the Comcast triumvirate of Steve Burke (CEO, NBCUniversal), Harbert and Mark Lazarus (chairman, NBCUniversal Broadcasting, Cable, Sports and News), the last boss she reported to before her retirement.
Perseverance helped establish her longevity, and that also gave her a comfort level within 30 Rock, having the ears of executives “in a good way.”
Dietze had planned to retire two previous times, but the affiliates also willed her not to leave. “Jean set the standard for the industry,” Hearst Television president Jordan Wertlieb said. “What she understands is the partnership between the affiliates and the networks is probably the strongest business model ever created in media.”
Wertlieb, himself a B&C Hall of Famer, had a front row seat for Dietze’s talent. Starting in 2005 as head of NBC affiliate WBAL Baltimore, he was in the room for many negotiations with Dietze. “I found her to be a great partner,” Wertlieb said.
Dietze said: “There were so many things that our company wanted the affiliates to do, that they didn’t want to do. But we brokered deals.”
Not all deals between Dietze and the affiliates were smooth, though. Probably her most challenging moment came in 2009, when the awkwardness between Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien was on display nightly. NBC decided to promote O’Brien to the prestigious Tonight Show, while creating a primetime variety show for Leno. The Jay Leno Show became infamous, as Leno returned to his familiar 11:30 slot after just six months. O’Brien wasn’t saved.
The silver lining to the blemish: NBC had Dietze as their secret weapon.
“Every single time, Jean came to the table with an honesty and transparency that led to great outcomes for both the networks and affiliates,” Wertlieb said.
That time, though, it led to a contentious exchange with WHDH Boston, which refused to carry Leno’s show at 10 p.m. But affiliate relations secured the station, thanks in large part to Dietze’s determination.
“She always treated people with respect and kindness, but has the firmness and ability to get what she/we thought was the right thing to do,” Brockmann said.
It was a tectonic economic shift in the 2000s that forced affiliates to now pay the networks, instead of the opposite, that caused her much consternation. “That truly was a major change for all the networks,” Dietze recalled.
Of course, plenty of accomplishments would follow, as a humbled Dietze simply calls her B&C Hall of Fame induction a “tremendous honor.”
Along with her durability, Dietze was a lifer at 30 Rock because of integrity.
“I fought very hard for what was right,” Dietze said.
A career highlight happened in 2016 when WRAL approached NBC about changing their affiliation after more than 30 years with CBS. Dietze spearheaded the homecoming of sorts for the Raleigh, North Carolina station, which was with NBC until 1962.
You can best sum up Dietze’s relationship with the affiliates by the treatment she received for her retirement. She was honored at an affiliate board meeting, where she was given a trip and, more lasting, a substantial donation to Don Bosco Preparatory High School in Ramsey, New Jersey, in memory of her son, who died in 2007 while working as a Washington, D.C., police officer. “They remembered … and knew how much it would mean to me,” Dietze said, her voice cracking. “It’s just unbelievable.”
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