Matt Blank’s Showtime Record Makes for Roasting Good Fun

Showtime Networks chairman and CEO Matt Blank found himself squarely in the firing line last Monday (Nov. 11) during the annual Center for Communication award luncheon.

Blank, who received the organization’s Frank Stanton Award for Excellence in Communications, was the butt of several jokes ranging from his receding hairline to the morally questionable content of Showtime programming.

A+E Networks chairman Abbe Raven got the festivities off to a gritty start by calling Blank the “Sy Sperling” of cable television, referring to the infamous founder of Hair Club for Men, taunting Blank for his lack of hair follicles. She also tapped into the recurring theme of Showtime’s sexually-charged programming, noting that Blank’s resume is populated with such high-caliber sex shows as Gigolos, Weeds, Californication, Sexual Healing, Beverly Hills Bordello and Masters of Sex.

AMC Networks president and CEO Josh Sapan then chimed in, saying that Blank, as a child, planned to alter the television business by “robbing it of its moral compass when I get to run a network.”

David Duchovny, star of Showtime’s drama series Californication, which is ending its run with a seventh season in 2014, said Blank has taken the Showtime network from a sketchy provocateur of soft-core porn in Red Shoe Diaries — in which Duchovny appeared — and has led it “into the present, where it boasts of such shows as Californication, House of Lies and Masters of Sex.” The actor also joked that it says a lot of Blank that the executive would ask an actor whose show he just cancelled to give him a prestigious award.

Before humbly accepting the award, Blank shot back at Raven for delivering such highbrow programming such as Hoarders and American Hoggers, as well as at Sapan and his penchant for collecting garbage art — “Some say that’s how AMC got some of their shows.”

He also poked fun at his own network’s content. “As executives, we get to have jobs where we get to say yes to some very important things … shows with God-fearing themes built around enduring family values and shows that lift us up and improve the lives of viewers, like Weeds, Shameless, Californication and Gigolos. Surely a future Humanitas Award winner.”

In His Wheelhouse: FCC Chair Opines On Lincoln ‘T-Mails’

PBS special Lincoln@Gettysburg, which airs Nov. 19 at 9 p.m. (ET), is filled with cable connections. The one-hour special is about how Abraham Lincoln relied on his era’s new communications technology — in this case the telegraph — to keep his finger on the pulse of the nation.

Given that subject matter, it was a nobrainer to tap new Federal Communications Commission chairman and former National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Tom Wheeler, the author of a book on the subject, Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails.

But the show has another NCTA connection. Also interviewed was Colin Powell, father of current NCTA president Michael Powell and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State, who also weighs in on Lincoln’s use of new technology.

“Abraham Lincoln recognized that he who controls the conduit also controls the content,” Wheeler says in the show.

Nov. 19 is the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Lincoln clearly understood the power of the telegraph. In what is billed as his only lecture, which happened to be on subjects still very much on the minds of modern communications policymakers — patents, discovery and invention — Lincoln said, “The iron horse is panting, and impatient, to carry him everywhere, in no time.” He added: “The lightening stands ready harnessed to take and bring his tidings in a trifle less than no time.”

Indeed, sirrah.

— John Eggerton

Cox’s Kathryn Falk Elected Chairman of Virginia Cable Group

Kathryn Falk, Cox Communications vice president of public and government affairs for the Virginia region, joined Cox in 2002 after serving five years at the Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association.

Last week, at the 47th annual Virginia Cable Show in Colonial Williamsburg, Falk was elected chairman of the VCTA’s board.

“It’s a great opportunity for me and the association to have her in the chair this year,” VCTA president Ray LaMura told The Wire, saying Falk knows what the association needs and also what its member companies need.

Walking around at the gathering, at the Williamsburg Lodge, LaMura said he was reminded of earlier days in cable, when Falk was still at the association. A common refrain heard in conversations was “What can I do for you?” And not just from vendors to operators, but from operators to vendors, he said.

“I think that’s the greatest value of associations, to create vibrancy for the industry on a continuous basis,” LaMura said. “Because when we’re all working together, all the boats get lifted.”

Falk told The Wire: “It is such an honor to be elected chairman of the Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association. It is a wonderful and vibrant organization with highly engaged members on the system and vendor sides.”

She noted the annual meeting honored the legacy of past members including Donald A. Perry of First Commonwealth CableVision and Britt Belyea, a leader in engineering and the SCTE. “This rich history is part of what makes this group so special,” she said.

The Nov. 11-12 conference drew about 150 attendees, officials said.

— Kent Gibbons

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.