Turner Broadcasting System Inc. filled several key
executive posts last week, going in-house to name a successor to Cable News Network
programmer Pat Mitchell and recruiting a top Coca-Cola Co. marketer as general manager of
Turner Network Television.
Vivian Schiller, 38, was promoted to the post of executive
vice president of CNN Productions to replace Mitchell, who is leaving the network to join
Public Broadcasting Service as president and CEO.
Schiller, most recently senior vice president and general
manager of CNN Productions, will be responsible for developing and executive-producing
original documentary programming for the CNN News Group. She will continue to be based in
Atlanta, reporting to Rick Kaplan, president of CNN/U.S.
Also last week, in an unusual choice, TBS Inc. named Steven
Koonin, a 14-year veteran of Coca-Cola, as executive vice president and general manager of
TNT. An Atlanta native, Koonin will join TNT Feb. 28 and report to Brad Siegel, president
of general-entertainment networks for TBS Inc.
Essentially, Koonin is taking over most of the duties
Siegel had as president of TNT before he was promoted last year. Koonin will oversee all
day-to-day operations of TNT, including programming, marketing, branding and budgetary and
Koonin, 42, most recently served as vice president of
consumer marketing for Coca-Cola, responsible for the positioning and development of brand
and volume-building strategies for beverages marketed in the United States.
In addition to brand management, he was responsible for
Coca-Cola's sports and entertainment marketing, dealing with the National Basketball
Association, for example.
Koonin said he has known and worked with officials from
Turner, including Siegel, for years, doing a wide variety of sponsorships and promotions
with TNT. He sees his new mandate as turning TNT into a brand name in viewers' homes.
"We want to make this brand as pervasive as possible," he added.
Schiller's promotion was announced one day after PBS
held a press conference to say that its board had unanimously voted to name Mitchell --
most recently president of CNN Productions and Time Inc. Television -- to replace Ervin
Duggan, who resigned in October.
Mitchell, who has been at TBS Inc. since 1992, will start
her new job March 1.
A highly respected veteran of all of the "Big
Three" broadcast networks, 57-year-old Mitchell developed and supervised
nonfiction-programming projects for Cable News Network, TBS Superstation and other Time
Warner Inc. entities.
Documentaries produced under Mitchell's wing have won
41 Emmy Awards and seven Peabody Awards. She was in charge of two CNN mega-projects that
were both the brainchilds of Time Warner vice chairman Ted Turner: Cold War and Millennium.
But Mitchell's tenure at Turner did hit two
significant bumps in recent years.
As then-president of Time Inc.-CNN Productions, she was
involved in the development of CNN's NewsStand series collaboration with Time
Inc. magazines. That primetime newsmagazine series -- one of Kaplan's first
initiatives at CNN -- wound up at the center of the "Operation Tailwind"
controversy in 1998, which resulted in a retraction by the all-news network. NewsStand in
general wound up underperforming in the ratings, and it had to be revamped.
And Mitchell, an enthusiastic supporter of the idea of a
new women's cable network, had been slated to head Turner's contender in that
genre. But last summer, the company shelved its plans for its proposed women's
At PBS' Washington, D.C., press conference, Mitchell
expressed her glee at being able to once again use the word "educate" in regard
to programming -- a term she said people stayed away from in commercial television.
Mitchell added that in an age of media consolidation,
"PBS is the brand we know the public trusts."
She also bemusedly recited Ted Turner's response when
she told him she might be going over to run PBS. "You mean the whole thing?" she
quoted Turner as saying.
Schiller has developed and supervised more than 1,000 hours
of nonfiction programming during her 11-year tenure with TBS Inc. She also served as
series executive producer of CNN's first weekly documentary franchise, CNN
Perspectives, which she helped to develop and launch.
While Schiller said mega-series such as Cold War "put
CNN on the map with documentaries," she will aim to produce documentaries that
"feel more like an organic part of the network."
For example, she said, she envisions CNN doing
documentaries -- which look like films and have a beginning, middle and end -- on the
upcoming election campaigns, rather than just news specials. She also sees CNN doing more
one-hour or multipart documentaries, rather than 24-part or 10-part events such as Cold
War and Millennium.
She added that she is particularly proud of two
documentaries CNN will air later this month: Cry Freetown, which graphically
chronicles the massacre in Sierra Leone, and Revolutionary Journey, about
Christiane Amanpour's return to her childhood home in Iran.
Schiller, who is fluent in Russian, has developed and
negotiated movie and television collaborations between TBS Inc. and Soviet Television.
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