TV ONE’s Top Man

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In a world where it is frequently understood that absolute power corrupts, oftentimes absolutely, the rise to the top can be precarious. 

The corporate road to power can be a steep incline; a virtual minefield so festooned with back door deal making and corporate back stabbing that by the time one gets to the top, little human quality is left.  This is not so of Johnathan Rodgers, the President and CEO of TV One. Rodgers, somehow, has managed to hold onto his ideals, his integrity, a bit of naivety, much likeability, and plenty of charm.  

The son of a Tuskegee airman, Rodgers attended the University of California at Berkley in the 1960s, where he acquired a degree in journalistic studies.  After graduation, he worked for Sports Illustrated and later for Newsweek magazine in New York. He served Newsweek as an associate editor until he was drafted in August of 1969.  After serving his stint in Korea, Johnathan attended film school at Stamford University in 1971. He received his masters in communication.  “I wanted to make the transition from print to visual. I got a job at NBC as a writer-producer. I later moved to Cleveland where I became a television reporter.â€?

Reporting frustrated Jonathan who decided to go into management. “I began to realize that the real power in television was in management. I moved to Chicago and got into broadcast journalism management.  Later, I moved to LA where I worked in production management and eventually station management,â€? explained the busy TV exec.  Rodgers worked for CBS until 1996.  “After 20 years in CBS’s employ, I had run the News Department as News Director for two major television stations (Chicago and LA).â€?  Rodgers had also become the General Manager of CBS’s Chicago station and President of all of CBS’s urban stations, which included: New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, and Minneapolis.  “It was important to me as an individual and as an African American male, to get into a position where I could help protect, if not control, the images of the African American community. 

Generally, local television news is seen by African Americans and other people.  The image Blacks saw, especially in the 70’s and 80’s, were African Americans portrayed with their coats over their heads being run through a police line.  That was wrong and unfair.  I thought as a manager, I could hire people who had the ability to “not colorâ€? the news and also dictate “fairnessâ€? in the news.  This I found rewarding.  Under me, our anchor teams were clearly the role model for multi-cultural talent.  The general managers of those stations reported to me and I in turn reported to Howard Stringer, the President of CBS.â€?

After 20 years with the network, Rodgers retired.  “At the time, I wanted to make money fast and retire.  I had just turned 50 so I planned to relax.  I was retired 3 months when a head hunter came along and offered me the job of running the Discovery Channel.  I decided that the Discovery Channel would be more fun than retirement.  At the time, there was only the Discovery Channel and the Learning Channel and the company was valued around $8 billion dollars.â€?

Rodgers was president of Discovery Networks U.S., and was responsible for all aspects of the domestic television division which included programming, advertising sales, research, business development and communications, affiliate sales, and marketing.  By the time he left the network seven years later, there were 14 channels (Animal Planet; Travel Channel; Discovery Health Channel; Discovery en Espanol; Discovery Kids Channel; Discovery Science Channel; Discovery Home & Leisure Channel; Discovery Civilization Channel; and Discovery Wings Channel, etc.).  The company’s value increased to $18 billion dollars.  “I really love the cable business,â€? claims the hardworking TV mogul.  “Cable offers me the ability to target my audience.  At the Discovery Channel, I got to do high quality, intellectual programming.â€?

Rodgers retired a second time but his love for cable drew him back in March of 2003.  Johnathan became President and CEO of TV One; an enterprise co-owned by Radio One and its founder and chair, Cathy Hughes, and Comcast. “TV One is a cable network like BET,â€? explained Johnathan.  “BET attracts African American youth.  It is basically filled with standup comedy and video.  However, TV One is geared toward adult African Americans.  TV One offers lifestyle and entertainment programming.  It has dating shows, concerts, documentaries, and exercise shows.  In the same way that Lifetime is a great channel for women, TV One is a great channel for African Americans.  We program specifically for that demographics.  It is about African Americans, run by African Americans and for African Americans.â€?

“Now that BET is no longer Black owned, TV One, I believe, is the only African American owned services in this entire 500-channel universe. There is something wrong with that!â€? remarked Rodgers.   TV One is  presently in nearly 26 million households in 39 of the top 50 African American markets, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Washington DC, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Houston, Dallas, Cleveland, and Detroit. New York recently joined the TV One roster.

“I plan to make TV One OUR channel and show successful African American images� says Rogers.
Married with children, Mr. Rodgers has a 24 year old son and 18 year old daughter.  He contributes his spare time to the Children’s Defense Fund and Aspen Institute. The mission of the Aspen Institute is to foster enlightened leadership, the appreciation of timeless ideas and values, and open-minded dialogue on contemporary issues.  Currently, he is a member of the University of California at Berkley Foundation. 

A man of his convictions, Johnathan holds steadfast to his philosophy in life and it seems to have served him well.  Says he: “I suppose I am a firm believer of the old biblical quote that says: “’Do unto others as you would have others do until you.  If we all believed that… it would be a far better place for us all to live in.’â€?

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