A Yankee at Heart In the City of Angels
Don Corsini has just about done it all—running a big-city TV station in his hometown, launching a booming TV network—even marrying a Miss America. But industry legend status be darned—one career goal remains unfulfilled for the KTLA Los Angeles general manager. “My childhood hero was Mickey Mantle,” Corsini says. “I wanted to play like Mickey Mantle. I wanted to be Mickey Mantle.”
Alas, he ended up as Don Corsini instead. But it’s not a bad gig. Corsini recently added KSWB San Diego to his oversight, and the station has the same mandate KTLA gets every day: Don’t rest until you’re on top. Corsini is energized with the expanded role. “Every day is different—no two days are alike,” he says. “I love the challenge.”
Corsini is a son of L.A. While his Brooklynreared dad was a Dodgers fan, Corsini loved the Yankees growing up in Glendale. (“That made for fun times in the household,” he says.) He was headed for a career in law until broadcasting derailed his plans. Before starting law school in San Diego, he had a summer job selling spots at radio station KPPC. Corsini was good and got a huge thrill from it. “I never made it to law school,” he says. “The rest is kind of history.”
Corsini was recruited by CBS to join KNXTTV (now KCBS), and ABC came knocking a year later, getting him on board as a senior account executive at KABC in 1974.
Among the key people he met at KABC were John Severino, who was president of ABC in between stints as KABC GM, and an eager young sales guy named Larry Wert. Now head of television at Tribune, Wert remembers going on an agency call in the late ’70s with Corsini, who scoffed at the package Wert proposed for a client, urging him to up the budget dramatically. “That was the beginning of me learning to be a little more aggressive,” Wert recalls.
Multiple times within ABC, Corsini threw his hat into the ring for a position outside of his area of expertise, which provided him with a fresh challenge. “When he pitched himself as a program director, I told him, ‘You don’t have any experience with that,’” says Severino. “He came back at me and said, ‘You didn’t have any experience as a network president when you were hired to be one.’ I thought that was a pretty good answer.”
Corsini was program director, then executive producer, at KABC from 1986-89 before Severino jumped to start a local sports network— and took Corsini and a bunch of KABC mates with him. “[KABC parent] Cap Cities wanted to throw a grenade in my pants,” Severino admits. Prime Ticket quickly became a thriving RSN; Severino notes it went from $4 million in revenue to $70 million-plus in just five years. “I have to give Don a lot of credit for the programming we put on-air,” he adds.
Corsini’s moves included tapping a no-name kid to host a surfing competition in Hawaii. “We knew at the time that Ryan [Seacrest] had the makings of being a big-talent star,” Corsini says.
Prime Ticket was later sold to Liberty Media and eventually became Fox Sports West. Corsini went back to broadcasting, heading up sports operations and production at KCAL and later becoming general manager of it and KCBS.
The Don of SoCal TV
As Corsini was a well-respected leader at CBS, his move to KTLA in 2009 shocked many. But Tribune had made a very aggressive offer, and Corsini was once again game for a new challenge. “I did have a very nice run at CBS, but it was time for a change,” he says.
He set about rebuilding the slumping station— shaking up talent, reworking content and instilling in staffers his fierce competitive streak. Up against well-funded O&Os, KTLA is a local news juggernaut, cranking out 56 hours per week. It ran a full-page ad in the Tribune sibling Los Angeles Times last year touting its morning strength. “Witness the change,” the ad read, with “Witness” in giant capital letters, possibly tweaking KABC’s “Eyewitness News” branding.
In January, Wert also gave Corsini oversight of KSWB. The station and KTLA will increasingly share efficiencies in terms of programming, sales and production, and Wert would like to see Corsini’s will to win carry over to San Diego. “Don is thoughtful, methodical and deliberate,” Wert says, “and highly competitive.”
Colleagues use other words to describe “Corso”: Dynamic. Free-spirited. California cool. The Godfather. Corsini has two sons from his marriage to Tawny Little, the former Miss America and local TV anchor (he has since remarried). While he acknowledges running a local TV operation is virtually a 24/7 job, he unwinds with “bad golf,” a little surfing and trips to Tuscany with his wife, Mia, a former KCAL anchor.
It’s been a storied career, yet Corsini can’t help but wonder how things might’ve turned out if he’d chosen a different path. “It would’ve been much cooler to play for the Yankees,” he says with a laugh. “That’s for sure.”
Broadcasting & Cable Newsletter
The smarter way to stay on top of broadcasting and cable industry. Sign up below.
Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.