Scott Koondel started his own TV-production business in college. Call it foreshadowing. The executive, who now heads all cable sales for Paramount Domestic Television, kicked off his TV career as a student at Syracuse University. He had asked a Syracuse station about a sales job. The general manager wasn't hiring but told Koondel he needed someone to develop local ad sales.
"I started knocking on doors to try and get people into television. They told me their whole budget would be used up buying one 30-second commercial," Koondel says. "So I hired students and produced my own commercials at a low cost."
At $150 each, the spots were affordable. Koondel's small company took a commission. While that introduced him to TV, it also taught him that the money wasn't in production.
Not that Koondel objected to hard work.
An orphan, he worked his way through high school by managing a restaurant. He would wake up at 3:30 every morning and receive deliveries, before getting to school at 7:30 a.m. After school, he returned to the restaurant to close down.
He decided college was his ticket to a better life.
After graduation, he sold his business and moved back to New York City, where he had grown up. Koondel got a job with Telerep, selling ads for groups of TV stations.
Telerep was known as the most aggressive company in the business, although it paid the least. Within two years, at the age of 25, he became national sales manager at Cox-owned WFTV Orlando, Fla. (Cox also owns Telerep).
After two years of incessant work, he returned to New York and signed on with cable network A&E.
"Cable was really in vogue at this point. It was starting to have an impact," Koondel says. "It was one of the easiest jobs I ever had. I couldn't get out of the way of the money."
Of course, easy doesn't mean interesting. Soon, Koondel was again looking for a job.
Telerep head Steve Herson called and said he had been talking to Dennis Swanson, now head of the Viacom Stations Group, about him. Swanson had been hired to turn around Tribune's WPIX New York, bringing the now-retired Michael Eigner to the station from KTLA Los Angeles.
Swanson hired Koondel as national sales manager, which was like a dream come true. "PIX was the station I grew up watching," he says. "It was the kids' station, the Yankees' station."
A post in the No. 1 market exposed Koondel to industry heavyweights, including Roger King, Joel Berman and Greg Meidel. All now work with him at Viacom-owned King World and Paramount.
"I got to the point where I wanted to be them," he says. "Sometimes, the selling is smoke and mirrors. Sometimes, it's the enthusiasm. But it's like seeing a Broadway performance. We're in the TV business, so we should have fun doing this."
In 1993, Koondel got his wish.
Paramount hired him as Eastern divisional manager. Since then, he has climbed the corporate ladder. Earlier this year, he orchestrated one of the biggest cable syndication deals ever: the sale of Frasier
to Lifetime at $600,000 an episode.
"He's competitive, and he understands the playing field," says Larry Lyttle, former head of both Big Ticket Television and Warner Bros. Television. "He's a guy that sees the play develop almost before it actually happens."
To Lyttle, who produced such shows as The Parkers, Judge Judy
and Judge Joe Brown, Koondel is a master: He understands the dynamics of how best to sell a TV program.
Says John Nogawski, president of Paramount Domestic Television and Koondel's boss, "There are some people that are one, two or three moves ahead in the chess game. Scott is usually four."
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