‘Wonder Women’ Show Off Their Powers

New York – Thanks to husbands, kids and bosses abounded, jokes about invisible jets and bulletproof bracelets were many and a few sympathetic tears were shed at Tuesday’s luncheon for 10 female cable-industry executives in the latest “Wonder Woman” class.

The event saluted executives chosen by Multichannel News and co-hosted by the New York chapter of Women in Cable Telecommunications.

Honorees included the CEO of an Oregon cable operator (Amy Tykeson of Bend Broadband); a pioneer in sports journalism (Rosa Gatti of ESPN); a news executive (Susan Bunda of CNN Worldwide); kids-programming mavens (Brown Johnson of Nickelodeon/MTV Networks’ Kids and Family Group and Sandy Wax of PBS Kids Sprout); and programming distribution executives from the programmer camp (Janice Arouh of Hallmark Channel) and the distributor side (Melinda Witmer of Time Warner Cable).

One honoree, Comcast senior vice president of testing and operations Charlotte Field, sent a videotaped message because she was attending a senior management conference in Arizona and lacked the super powers needed to be in two places at the same time.

Mary White, Central Division president at Charter Communications, rallied listeners to her side with a story about the time she, as a junior point guard on the Northern Illinois University basketball team, was singled out (in a bad way) during a timeout in the second half of a game against the more powerful Purdue University squad.

The coach had a simple message, and it was: “Mary, stop shooting,” White said. After which, she went back out on the floor and hoisted up a shot that went in.

“Guess what, I had a lot of running to do the next day” at practice, she said. “But a lot of my teammates were there, and it was worth it.”

White stumbled twice during her remarks, both times in discussing her current struggle with breast cancer. The second time, as she was being comforted by presenter Linda Cohn, White was given a standing ovation in support. She also displayed a bracelet Gatti gave her that morning, from the Jimmy V Foundation, with the slogan, “Don’t Give Up. Don’t Ever Give Up.”

Gatti, earlier, affirmed presenter Lesley Visser’s anecdote about how press passes given sports journalists in the 1970s forbade women and children from the pressroom at games. “You want to talk about an identity crisis,” she said.

Gatti said a key moment in her time at ESPN came early on when then-president Chet Simmons, who had hired her in 1980 to head up communications, called her during a meeting he was holding with (male) production and programming executives to ask her opinion about ESPN’s college-basketball coverage. Should ESPN go with live games or air the best of taped contests. Gatti voted for live action. “In this simple moment, he endorsed me in front of the team,” Gatti said. “I belonged.”

Wax told about setting a goal of running a kids’ network while she was working in market research at Disney, and how her philosophy about how to get there eventually was to “be bold.” By that, she said, she meant set high personal goals, take clear and decisive action and challenge the conventional wisdom. Now she oversees a kids’ channel owned by Comcast, PBS Kids, HIT and Sesame Workshop.

Melinda Witmer, executive vice president and chief programming officer at Time Warner Cable, included in her thanks one to the late Fred Dressler, her predecessor and mentor. He said he encouraged her to trust her judgment: “Don’t get distracted. Just be Melinda. It’s enough.” That, she said, was a huge gift.

There were quite a few lighter moments. Jackie De Crinis, senior vice president of original scripted programming at USA Network, had a great opening line: “I have a confession to make – this is my first award. Ever.”

Brown Johnson, recently promoted to oversee the animation business at Nickelodeon and MTVN’s Kids and Family Group, began by noting the exuberance of her cheering section. “I’m just glad to know that Nickelodeon has the loudest group,” she said, to more shrieks. “We’re always that way – we’re good at parties.”

Johnson said her first job in the TV business was as Bob Pittman’s assistant at The Movie Channel. “For the record, I was a really lousy assistant, so I got promoted right away.”

She closed with a phrase used by the star of Nick’s new animated pre-school show Ni Hao, Kai-Lan: “Xie xie and thank you very much.”