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Surviving in TV research

David Mumford describes himself as "somewhat of a survivor"-and he's not referring to a certain summer phenomenon. From baby steps-writing a paper on TV rep firms at Northwestern University when "half of my classmates were falling asleep"-to overseeing Columbia TriStar Television Distribution's research division, program-distribution activities and new business opportunities, he has come a long way.

And he knows why.

"If you wake up in the middle of the night in a sweat, it's not about what's happening to your 401(k)," he says. "It's about what's happening with the people you work with. While I like the roller-coaster aspect of how no two days are ever alike, I also like the people who are sitting next to me."

He's getting a chance to put both parts of that philosophy into operation. In extending his contract with CTTD recently, he took on responsibility for discovering new platforms for CTTD's product and figuring out how best to send the studio's content over the Internet and to new-media devices.

"You have to be forward-thinking in this business, or it will pass you by real quickly; we have to be faster and stronger than our competitors," he explains. "And I think I have an ability to work with many different types of people on many different types of projects. I'm kind of an empowerment person."

Mumford has survived a series of upheavals at CTTD since joining the firm in 1982 as vice president of research: its purchase by Coca-Cola, its merger with Embassy Communications in the '80s, and its later acquisition by Sony.

Would he entertain offers from a rival TV outfit?

"No, but what's your offer?" he laughs. Incidentally, he also attributes his survival to "having a sense of humor in everything."

He adds, though, "You also have to have a focus on what you are here to do when you come into the office. Instead of going willy-nilly into the deal, it's coming up with a strategy and focus."

CTTD President Steve Mosko appreciates Mumford's people approach to business. "There are so many that David has groomed at our company, it's mind-boggling," says Mosko. "Out of our 14 sales executives, three have come up through the research department under his guidance."

Mosko also recognizes that Mumford himself has a lot to offer. "He's never been a headline seeker. He just does his job. But he's very dedicated, is a great person, and his enthusiasm is contagious."

And it's not that Mumford doesn't have accomplishments under his belt.

Prior to joining CTTD, he worked in Paramount's syndication division, helping to sell the first season of Entertainment Tonight. Today, ET is one of Paramount's most successful shows, but "nobody knew about that program in the beginning. People had questions about whether entertainment would play in smaller markets," Mumford says.

"I think a lot of people who worked at Paramount back then bring up Entertainment Tonight," he adds. "Everybody takes credit for it, but I won't take credit for it. I was just the research guy trying to sell it."

Mumford does cop to a career coup during his stint as KTLA-TV Los Angeles' assistant program director. "One of my proud acquisitions was a kung fu movie. We got 20 runs over it in 14 years; we made our money back in the first 15 minutes."

During his tenure at CTTD, Mumford has had a hand in more than 100 off-net or first-run programs-from selling All in the Family to cable outlets to selling Seinfeld into syndication. Today, he's focused on CTTD's first-run rookies: court entry Judge Hatchett, Cybill Shepherd talker Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, and Gena Lee Nolin's action hour, Sheena.