Robertson Is Toast

Throughout his 40-year career in television, Dick Robertson approached selling television shows the same way the avid sportsman approached ascending snowy Mt. Rainier: He refused to quit trying.

It’s that drive that makes it surprising that the 61-year-old ever stepped away from the position he held for 17 years as the president of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution. But he says he’s busier than ever in his new role as senior advisor to the Warner Bros. Television Group.

On Jan. 17 at 7:30 p.m. in the Mandalay Bay Ballroom in Las Vegas, peers, station bosses and fellow sales execs will toast Robertson—and roast him, too. The show will be hosted by Bob Saget.

On these pages, we present a few Robertson memories. The real dirt, we have a feeling, will wait until the roast. Here’s a mild preview from letters sent to B&C and stories collected by Paige Albiniak:

He Birdied That Hole

We were playing golf at Steve Wynn’s golf club, Shadow Creek, in Las Vegas. It’s so difficult to get on that course because Wynn only allows certain people on it, but we were lucky enough to all get to play.

Wynn has these birds on the course that are imported from all over the world. There are strict rules about them: They are not to be touched or fed. There is a five-mile-per-hour speed limit on the course, and God forbid someone should kill one of them.

Dick proceeded to wind up, hit a long drive and hit one of the fancy pheasants that roamed the property. It was one of those fluky, freaky things. He felt terrible, even putting it into his golf cart and driving it into the shop.

When one of the golf course attendants later drove out, Dick asked how the bird was. The answer: “How would you like your pheasant prepared, Mr. Robertson?”

Bob Cook, president/COO, Twentieth Television

Discussing Off-Net Strips, No doubt

Years ago, NATPE was held in Houston. Dick was running Telepictures, which had been taken over by Lorimar and Warner Bros. It was the first convention he was going to as head of everything. And of course, everyone was very competitive.

There was a very notorious gentleman’s nightclub in Houston called Rick’s, and there were reports that people were going there and actually getting arrested. So I stressed to our guys not to go there, and I know other companies did the same thing.

When I went into the sales meeting the next morning, one of the sales guys asked me if I had seen what had happened the night before. And there on the front page of the newspaper was an article about television executives being arrested and put in jail.

About 60% of Dick’s sales force was in Rick’s that night, and the Houston police decided that was the night they were going to raid the place!

I was able to say to our sales force that morning, “Well, we have good news: Warner Bros. has 60% of their sales force locked up in jail. Today, we move very quickly to secure deals in those markets.”

Barry Thurston, former president/CEO, Columbia TriStar

A Chilly Silence

I almost killed Dick Robertson—literally.

Dick and a group of friends joined me at my fishing cabin in Michigan for a late-September fishing trip. The weather was unusually cold for that time of year, but the fishing was fantastic. Dick was dressed in waders, sitting in a float boat, drifting down the salmon-filled Pere Marquette River. The wind was blowing, the water was icy cold, and the trip would last more than six hours. Dick was not dressed nearly as warm as he should have been

The guide reports, and pictures verify, that Dick caught salmon that day. The rest of us returned much earlier than Dick to the warmth of my cabin, where we awaited his return. At dark, nearly frozen, Dick climbed up the steep bank from the river and stumbled inside. He could hardly talk, needed assistance getting out of his waders and fishing gear, and was ushered inside, where we covered him with warm blankets and offered hot drinks.

Dick sat quietly, and shook violently from the bone-chilling cold. For the first time ever, seven of Dick’s friends in the business watched him sit silently for two hours. To our knowledge, never before or since has Dick been silent among his friends, but I think he made up for it the next day.

Patrick Mullen, general manager, WFLD/WPWR, Chicago

Miracle Cure

My father and I had the pleasure of hosting Dick at Augusta National in the early ’90s. Upon arrival, Dick informed us his knees were injured in a recent climbing incident and he would need to use a cart to get around. At the time, carts were used very sparingly at Augusta, yet challenges such as Dick faced were considered sufficient reason to warrant a cart.

On the Par 5, 15th hole, Dick hit a long drive. On his second shot, Dick took a good swing, the ball cleared the water, and it landed just over 60 feet from the pin. Dick raced down the fairway in his cart and pulled up off the green just a few feet from his ball.

He proceeded to line up his eagle putt for what seemed like the rest of the afternoon. Finally, he approached the ball, drew back his putter and stroked the ball right into the cup. As I looked from the pin back to Dick, I saw all 6 feet 4 inches of him jump straight up in the air, gaining at least a foot and a half of altitude off the ground.

There have been many miracles at the hallowed golfing grounds of Augusta National; however, the only one I ever witnessed was the miraculous recovery of Dick’s impaired knees that supported an 18-inch vertical leap the moment he eagled #15.

Jim Moroney, publisher/CEO, The Dallas Morning News

The President’s Analyst

In the early ’80s, I worked at Telepictures and was named president of the new Perennial division. It handled old shows My Favorite Martian and Mayberry RFD. Dick was my boss, and he was one smart but very demanding guy. He could be very tough on people. Dick does not suffer fools well.

I went to New York to tell all the reps about our fabulous new division. After the short meetings, they would take me aside and tell me, “Look, Bob, this division is great and all that, but what we’re concerned about is how Dick Robertson is treating stations about People’s Court. This guy is just unbelievably tough in negotiations, and he is tough on our people as well. You got to tell him to cool off a bit.”

Later that week, Michael Garin, president and co-founder of Telepictures, called me for a breakfast meeting. Michael said, “I hear Dick is really being rough on people. I want you to tell him that he has got to cool down and be nicer to our people.”

So I go back to L.A. and have lunch with Dick. After a while, I say, “Dick, you know you are very smart, but you can be very tough on people, and a lot of people are afraid of you. You and I are a lot alike. When we suit up in the morning, we’re ready to go kick ass. But you have to mellow out a little with the staff.”

Dick listened to me for about a nanosecond, his usual attention span, and then pointed at me across the table and said, “Bob, you’re right. We are a lot alike, and when we get up in the morning, we’re going to kick ass, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do when we get back to the office. Let’s go!” That is the last time I ever tried to give Dick advice.

Bob Lloyd, Carsey-Werner

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.