Interview Date: December 2, 2014
Interview Location: Denver, CO USA
Interviewer: Seth Arenstein
Collection: Cable Center Oral History Project
Note: Audio Only
Arenstein: Hi, I’m Seth Arenstein; I’m here for the Cable Center Oral History Project. It’s December 2, 2014, and we’re here with Doug McCormick, who was the president and CEO of Lifetime Television. You’re a board member currently of Ovation and investor in Ovation Television. You are an operating partner at RHO Ventures. Welcome, Doug. Nice to have you here.
McCormick: Thank you. Great to be here, Seth.
Arenstein: Good. I want to start off by talking about cable’s early days because you were right there in the trenches and I use those words advisedly because you told me before that working in cable and sales in those days was like hand-to-hand combat trench warfare.
McCormick: We really got thrown out of a lot of advertising agencies because we were seen as just being too small to bother with. If you go back to the early days of cable—I started with Cable Health Network; at the time we were in 16 million homes.
Arenstein: And what year was that?
McCormick: That was back in the…
Arenstein: I can tell you that.
McCormick: My unaided recall…
McCormick: 1982 sounds right.
Arenstein: 16 million homes. And we’d say “11” if there was a Ranger game on because we were sharing some of our carriage out there. But in delivering on a good day, we estimated a one rating. So that’s not a really big audience to talk to a network television buyer about, right? Because they’d be buying 80 million homes and they’d be getting back then, eights and nines were quite possible. It was a little bit like selling an apple at a time in front of a supermarket that was selling them by the giant carloads. The buyers thought if they could ignore us long enough, we would go away because we made their job a lot more difficult. Frankly, the other great kind of metric out there was I think there were about 35,000 primetime spots for each network. At the time we started, there were only three broadcast networks. So you got about 110,000 spots to buy annually, and that was a finite universe.
So measure all these cable networks coming on, each one with well over 100,000 spots because we were programming sign on to sign off. The buyers looked at us and there was really no way that they could handle or wanted to handle it until our numbers got stronger over the years. And we all know what happened after that. It was trench warfare.
Arenstein: But let’s stay back in those times before things got good. How did you survive? How did a cable network survive?
McCormick: For us, on the health side, we talked about the environment. One of the big successes that we had at Lifetime and Cable Health—they started at Cable Health—were the parenting shows we put together. This served two purposes. It was client-supplied programming so they would put up the money for it, which helped us survive. That was very nice. These were giant ad deals that were done whereby we would say, “You commit $5 million and we’ll put x amount into programming and you’ll run some of the spots inside the shows and some outside the shows. So we had a number of those and I remember one time giving a presentation and I showed—people said, “It’s still a .3 rating. It’s not a lot.” At that time, a .3 for us after we grew, was somewhere around 50,000-60,000 homes. During the presentation—no, it was probably more than that; it was probably 120,000 homes. When I gave the presentation, I showed Yankee Stadium filled with people. And I’d say, “You think that’s a lot?” And then click again. “Well, look at this!” And it was two Yankee Stadiums. So you had to really come up with these visuals. You had to sell. You really had to sell. It wasn’t about dividing the big number by the little number. It was about bringing people in, telling the story and we would begin a presentation with a flipchart—pre the Internet—and it would show Satcom III-R, transponder 24, and you’d have to explain to people what exactly the cable business was. So a lot of hard work, a lot of—somebody once said to me, “I already told you no. How many times do I have to tell you?” My answer was “Five. And you’re only up to two!”
We hung around and a lot of the guys who started out in selling, like myself, came out of spot television, which was a business that gave you all the tools you needed to try to reason. But you had these spot guys coming in there reasoning with these time buyers that were spending really big money. It was tough because we were an annoyance to them in the beginning. So we got there simply through telling a story and re-telling a story and then going to the clients. Sooner or later, the agencies, being at that time the gateway to them, if you really were frustrated you would have to go around them and go directly to the client and they would get mad at that and we’d say, “We’ll cancel your orders.” And they’d say, “We don’t have any orders.” And we’d say, “That’s why we’re going to your client.”
Certainly accepting defeat early on was not going to happen.
Arenstein: Now you look at those bygone days, nostalgically now. Back then, did you ever think, “One day we’re going to laugh at these difficult days.” Or was it so difficult there was no time for laughter?
McCormick: There was really no time for laughter back then. For me, the pivotal point was when cable penetration went over 50% of the U.S. At that point we got to say, “Look, now broadcasting networks are playing in our business. They’re in our ballpark now as opposed to simply kind of the pushback.” We used—and this was one of the things I think that really helped out Cable Health Network and then beyond that, Lifetime. We used a lot of research. There was a great service that Nielsen put out called “Basic Cable, B-A-S-I-C.” It stood for “Broadcast Advertising Schedules Impacted by Cable.” B-A-S-I-C. So we could show an advertiser that you know, you’re buying these CBS or NBC, and you’re getting a nice number. But do you realize because of cable penetration in very high density areas, you’re not getting enough A and B counties, you’re getting way too many C and D counties. We would show them that now there was a big difference between a person living in a C and D county—these are the guys with the guns on top of the pickup trucks and the little bumper sticker that say, “I’m a roper, not a doper.” As opposed to some of the more, let’s say, higher income areas that are out there. That was a story that really helped us. I always find that if you’ve got a good mathematical story, that’s the place to start and you can’t really argue with logic.
So we brought that in there and that was definitely a story that advertising agencies did not want told to their clients. So they kind of acquiesced and started to believe that maybe it was a good idea to buy 100,000 young moms if you’re selling diapers as opposed to another daytime spots that rotated through “Card Sharks” and “Concentration” and various other shows on the air.
Arenstein: Now tell me about going from sort of almost the door-to-door sales like that to the C suite. How did you get there?
McCormick: First of all, I have this personal motto that says, if it’s easy you’re not doing it right. And by that I simply mean that when people come in and they say, “Oh, we had this great show. We sold it out in two days.” Then you mispriced it. It’s like people say, “I sold my house in a week.” Well, you probably…
Arenstein: Underpriced it.
McCormick: …picked it off. I’ve always liked selling—being at the vanguard of anything requires a tougher sell. Back in regular Television, when I started out selling spots—everybody liked to buy network affiliates. The Independents were tough. Channel 5 and Channel 11 here were looked at in a caste system of horribles. So after the indies then became somewhat acceptable—and again back then I would say, “Wait a second. Excuse me. You bought ‘All in the Family’ on CBS. And now you’re not going to buy ‘All in the Family’ on this independent station when I’m running it Monday through Friday? Do you think these people know that they’re less valuable than the people who are watching on Saturday? And if anything if they’ve seen it twice, don’t you want to be in an environment where people like a show that much?” Etc., etc. So again, back and forth, almost Socratic reasoning to try and get A equals B, B equals C, then why wouldn’t you?
Anyway, it went from that bit to the UHF. Again, the same story. On a VHF it’s great. But on a UHF, channel 47, a new caste system, a new group of people that have to basically pledge like a fraternity or something to get in there. So of course when that became acceptable, then basic cable came along and when basic cable got too easy to sell, then it went on to the Internet—which was a whole other story in those early days.
Arenstein: Right. We’ll talk about it.
McCormick: For me, getting into the C suite was just about—we had a network that wasn’t as widely viewed as I would have liked it to be. And so when I was running sales, I had my choice. I could put together the best team of people that could sell a low number and make sure they could, but even then, you’re going to optimize just so much. I mean, if I get maybe a 10%, 20% higher cost per thousand than I would normally deserve, that’s good but not nearly as good as trying to get the numbers up. So my background in television was from research and I knew what would work. I guess I agitated to try and get our schedule to put on more shows that would work and ultimately prevailed on that. So having made, I guess, a bit of a name in selling either client-side programming or making the right suggestions that could move us along and get us higher numbers—that, I think, got people’s attention.
You know, if the numbers are there, and you’re growing a business, I think that was pretty important for the powers-that-be to optimize their investment. So that’s how it happened. I kind of came through sales but I’d always had a bit of a creative bent going on, kind of a parallel creative side, and thus tried to push that into some of the programming choices that we made and some of the creative ways to even sell the stuff.
Arenstein: But you were a trailblazer in the sense that you came from the sales side and went into the president/CEO slot and became kind of a programmer/content guy, although sales were still part of your job. You were one of the first to do that.
McCormick: I’m not sure there’s been a lot even afterwards.
Arenstein: There have been a few…
McCormick: Charlie Collier’s doing a great job
Arenstein: Charlie, yes…Kim Martin, who was at WE.
Arenstein: Charlie’s a good example.
McCormick: Charlie I knew when he was getting ready to go out and get his MBA. We had chatted about that. I had gone through the same program at Columbia and basically told him about the deal. He’s had a great success. I think that the salespeople, basically you give them the ball and they have to get it done. By definition of a good salesperson, that’s something they can do that maybe an average person couldn’t. Anybody can sell a Super Bowl for $3.2 million but the guy who brings it in at $4.2,(mil) there’s something different there.
I just think that oftentimes if you’re running a sales department, you go through what has to get done and you go through what everyone is contributing and you try to figure out, can this person do better, could that person do better, and you kind of spread yourself out and make sure that number gets hit as the team. And when you’re running a business, it’s not too different. Because you’re saying, “OK, this is what I need from sales and I have a good sales guy there and I keep an eye on him—hopefully or a saleswomen in our case who is watching that—but then you put someone on finance, and on programming and on marketing to make sure they’re all competent and they can all deliver and they’re all going to—when they say they’re going to do something, do something—and not give you a good excuse whey they didn’t.”
So in a way it’s a highly transferable skill, I think, I guess that’s all I’m saying. Sales to me was always about empathy for the other side, really understanding what it is they need and what it is you have and where the concentric circles get drawn to bring someone in there to find a way that both people can win. Nobody feels they want as much as they should or like to, and isn’t that the same way to run a company, right? When you get the situation where two people aren’t getting along, or something like that, you put them down and say, “Well, come on, there’s a conflict here but we’ll try to do something. Maybe you don’t realize but this conflict might be affecting the rest of the family, so to speak.”
Again, it’s about identifying the problem, going in with a can-do attitude, going on with an “I know this has to get done,” because what, are we going to be failures now? We’re going to go home and so that’s, I think, the way it worked.
Arenstein: So—tell me when you got into the top slot. What did you find and what did you do? I know you transformed the network, you changed it radically. What did you find and how long did it take you to change that?
McCormick: It took about a year to really move into it. What we were doing—coming from, I should say, the “Big Bang” that created Lifetime was the marriage of two systems. One was called Cable Health Network and it was really started by, I guess, Dr. Art Ulene with Viacom. Back then they had all these personalities. John Coleman had the Weather Channel, Art Ulene had Health, and Art Ulene—for people who are looking at this fifty years from now—he was the Sanjay Gupta, who your parents might have told you about of that time. So Dr. Art Ulene had a great idea to put together Cable Health Network and I was hired as part of that team from the boys at Viacom. It was totally owned by Viacom. ABC and Hearst had put together a service called Daytime, which was ABC Video Enterprises and the Hearst Corporation. Daytime was a women’s targeted program as an alternative to the daytime soaps. When we got together as the Big Bang and created Lifetime, it was kind of a potpourri of programs. Regis Philbin actually got his Monday through Friday start on us and Dr. Ruth came on. She had a strip on us. We actually had brought along Joy Behar; she had a Monday through Friday primetime show called “Way Off Broadway” and she was the host of that. Matt Lauer was in a show we did, “Esquire,” about her but for him or the other way around these days.
So there was a whole potpourri of things and what we did—the biggest thing we did was to really identify ourselves as television for women. Once we articulated that, it became really kind of a rallying cry. No one else had done so and it was crazy how that happened because it was really done at more of a marketing positioning to let people know that there was programming for women out there. And this is what happens when you get a guy from sales running the business. I didn’t know that that kind of decision had to be socialized with the board and talked all the way through. It was a marketing decision. I don’t have to (get ads approved) the so why would I have to approve this? To their credit, I never got hassled for it but it was just kind of one of those things where I was willing to live with the—you know, beg for forgiveness rather than ask for permission because you can’t have nine people—most of them men anyway. In fact, one board member did in Multichannel News, after the announcements and said, “Well, what about the men?” And that puts a fine point on how cable was marketed. If you’re a broadcaster, you want the biggest number you can. But if you’re a cablecaster, you’re saying, “You know what? I’m going to leave some on the side here, but I’m going to go with that core audience, whether it’s a pet show honoring pet enthusiasts here or if it’s a health show, etc., etc.” I think yet a high end product on that.
The long and short of it—it’s just about changing the programming and putting in the right mix of original and encore performances—reruns, encore performances, as we say. I can say when I took it over, the programming was good and original. Unfortunately, the original wasn’t good and the good wasn’t original…
Arenstein: And you also had a good line. You had a good response when people said, “Why is a man running a women’s cable network?” And your response was?
McCormick: I had two responses. The first one was—“I’ll answer that, but you’ve got to promise me you don’t think a ten year-old runs Nickelodeon.” The other one was—if they really dug in—“You know, it’s a great question. Clearly, I can understand why you would think that but just remember, do you think you would ask the same question of a woman if she were to run ESPN? Let’s be fair.” And so look, I had a great staff there and a woman was head of programming and then business affairs, sales, and we had a guy who was running finance and myself. It was kind of a blended mix. The heuristics of it were such that it created a bit of a question there. The important part is we got it done. We put together a battleship that today, thirty years later, is still out there, still the number one and if you do it right and build it right and have the right sensibilities, I think you can create a great company.
Arenstein: You did something else while you were in charge of Lifetime. You got an MBA.
McCormick: Yes, I did.
Arenstein: Tell us about that. I mean you were running a network and, you know, most people say that, “Well, that’s fine.”
McCormick: That’s very kind but at the time I was just running sales and for me, anyway, after the third or fourth time, go through the cycle…you can do it kind of, it’s like repeating the seventh grade a little bit. There’s not a lot of new things you’re going to see that are going to be challenged, right? It’s almost like when you’re driving when you’re a kid, oh, my goodness, here’s my license. Now people are doing all kinds of stuff when they’re driving. So it became somewhat routine, we’re still hitting the numbers. We knew what we were doing but clearly, it’s almost the definition of business efficiency. Every year you’ve got to keep doing something better to get more out it. For me, I thought it was very important to—if I was going to be more successful in business—to get involved in the financial aspects to learn things that I hadn’t learned before. I was fortunate enough to be able to convince my then-CEO to sponsor me over at the Columbia program. I learned out and I felt good about it and the most important thing I’d like to say, I learned that marketers weren’t salespeople that couldn’t get an order. I had a lot more respect for the marketing aspect of television than I certainly had before and obviously got to understand the parlance of the financial community which was a great way to help me later on when I ran a public company.
Arenstein: Speaking of a man running television for women, Judy Girard, who was the director of programming, called you and I’m going to quote her here: “The most ardent feminist I know…”
McCormick: Judy is great people and that was very nice of her to say. Back then to be a feminist and today, is to be a humanist, right? I mean, if you care about people. One of the things when you talk to young moms and dads about equality and they’ve got the kid in a stroller, it’s the husband who’ll say, “You’re damn right I want equality. I want my wife to get the salary that she deserves because it’s going to help our family.” I don’t think you’ve got to pick a side in that one. I think you’ve got to look for what’s right and what’s right is going to, I think, ultimately be a good feminist position to the extent that it involves people getting the rights that are due them.
Arenstein: Doug, let’s move to a little bit of the personal side. Where were you born, where did you grow up?
McCormick: I was born in Flushing, New York, Queens, one of multi-generations of New York City-bred McCormicks way back, or on the maternal side, even further. I grew up in Garden City, Long Island.
Arenstein: Where did you go to college?
McCormick: I went to college, undergrad University of Dayton, in Dayton, Ohio.
Arenstein: Why did you choose Dayton, Ohio?
McCormick: At the time, I wanted to be a chem major. I loved numbers and they had a great staff out there. University of Dayton is kind of like a mini-Notre Dame. A Catholic university and it had a very liberal theology department. In fact, back then, they were selling condoms in the drugstore, which is kind of interesting. I can remember the local parishes; the priests would say, “Don’t send your children to the University of Dayton! It’s a hotbed of liberalism.” And today, it still is. It’s the most liberal college. It’s kind of an interesting thing to get involved and study a lot of the philosophy and theology while I was there, too. Then after a while in the chem lab, it was just too much. It was just not for me. I wound up switching my major. So that was undergrad.
Arenstein: Was it a big switch to go from New York City to Dayton, Ohio?
McCormick: Not really. I loved it. It was 645 miles away from home which was a nice drive. I loved it. College was some of the most fun I ever had because you start your life all over again. You’ve got a new fresh deck of cards and you really get to meet all kinds of new people, learn things and it was just great to be on my own. I loved the sense of freedom. Again, going back to the car analogy, the day you get your license, look where you are. For me, college was like that. I would sit in on a lot of classes—American History, that I wasn’t even signed into, just because the professor was great and you could sit there and it was much more entertaining than going to a movie, listening to an hour or hour and a half lecture from some of these guys. That was it for me, it was freedom.
Arenstein: Speaking of mentors, can you tell us about some of the mentors you met over the years in the cable industry?
McCormick: Yes. I would have to point to Ray Joslin. Early on, we met when I was running—we just lost Ray last year. When I was running sales on Cable Health and we got to be friends. He was just always a really good guy. There’s a guy who started out in sales and understood. When you’ve got a job that says, “Go get money from someone else. If you don’t, you’re out.” You can’t get much more demanding and kind of like, I guess baseball says, I want to be the guy up with the winning run on third base and this and that, or football I want to be…
Arenstein: Or in basketball, I want to take the shot with two seconds left.
McCormick: Exactly. In sales you live that everyday. Because there’s an order and there’s not an order. And an order is much better. Ray of course understood that. There’s nothing theoretical about sales; it’s either in or out. It’s theoretical until you hire somebody to do it. That’s the whole thing.
Tony Cox was a great guy, a really, really—he asked all the right questions. There was a guy at Cap Cities, a Viacom guy called George Castell, a good guy; Jules Haimowitz was really a visionary way back then for a young guy; Herb Granath, of course, made a tremendous contribution. There’s a woman that’s unsung probably in the cable industry. Her name is Beverly O’Malley. She worked with Dancer Fitzgerald Sample back in the time. She was a woman I did the deals with for the Procter & Gamble original programming. We put collectively maybe ten seasons on the air of TV shows, which were a great part of defining the specialness, if you will, of cable—programs targeting babies and then kids 6 to 12, and then we did a series with Clorox (this wasn’t Beverly’s), with Joan Lunden at the time. It was called “Growing Up Together.” All these wonderful parenting shows that really didn’t exist. I like to say, if we didn’t do it, it wouldn’t get done. Whereas in previous years, if someone were raising a child, they would call on Grandma, the aunt and this and that. But now if Mom is in New York and the kids are in Phoenix, stuff like that, this daily kind of helper was there as a real kind of initial support unit. That was big for us.
I admire Ted Turner. He had great vision and he was just really a no BS guy, which I loved. Ted was around before political correctness so today he would probably be in a lot more difficult role. But he just told it as it was. And that’s so refreshing, so refreshing.
Arenstein: Speaking of hand-to-hand combat, as you talked of at the beginning, a lot of veterans of cable lament the days of handshake agreements compared to today. Were you in the era of handshake agreements?
McCormick: Oh, absolutely. Certainly on the ad sales side. Even today, I don’t think people are going with signed contracts. That was an interesting thing because I had grown up without signed contracts. Now when I went over to the Internet business, people were saying, “Well, we can’t record this until it’s signed.” They told me, it’s the agency. The shadow of the future. What’s he going to tell me, he lied, you know? And yet, things had to be codified on that.
Oh, yes, it was all handshake and even in spot television. Now what we would do is we would send the contract out and it would go into the buyer. Very rarely would they ever check them, And heaven help them if they did because in spot television, more so than in cable, people pre-empt. You pay $1,000 for a spot, somebody else comes along, you’re sold out, they offer you $1,200—boom! And they give you, in exchange for that $1,000 spot, which might have been a ten rating, they’ll give you 2, 7 (rated units) so you’ll come out ahead, they’ll come out ahead, but it’s another contract. So these changed contracts would be that thick sometimes. Anyway, the short answer to your question is, yes, everything was done face-to-face.
Arenstein: Let’s compare the money that was on the table in those days to what is now. Can you remember some of the amounts that were passed around in your early days?
McCormick: I think in terms of the order of magnitude of the contracts, my first deal was $250,000. I was in New York but I was calling on a shop in Chicago and did the whole thing on the phone with the guy, over time. That was a nice one. I guess my biggest deal was in the tens of millions when I would put together multi-year deals with Procter and Gamble, Bristol-Myers, and basically it was a great formula that still could work today. Whereby you’d say, the first year you’ll spend a million dollars and I’m going to give you this CPM. The second year, if you spend two million, you can have that same CPM. But if you spend anything between one and two, the CPM goes up 10%. So your choice. Just keep spending more money and you can have your CPMs. So ten years into a contract, you’re sitting there choking on this deal because you’ve got to live with the deal that you made early in the decade, but those were great deals because we couldn’t have gotten where we were without the support and the belief we would be successful and help move product for our people.
Arenstein: From the hand-to-hand combat days to where you ended up at Lifetime and then you left Lifetime and you went to an industry that you compared to the early days of cable. And that’s the Internet. Tell us about that.
McCormick: Actually the Internet, when I first left Lifetime, it was to basically take on new responsibilities and the Internet basically was the big buzz at the time. And they used to say, “What’s it like?” And I’d say, “I’ve sold indies, I’ve sold UHF, I’ve sold cable, and in college, I sold steak knives and pots and pans.” By far the Internet was the toughest thing ever to sell. Because when I got into it, everybody hated the Internet. It was right after the wipeout in 2000 or so, 2001. When you would call on someone, you represented either a person—because everyone was investing in the Internet and buying these stocks they didn’t know anything about except the call letters—you either were talking to someone who never thought the Internet would work and got to say, ha-ha, I told you so and that was that. Or you were talking to somebody who’d just lost half of his net worth based on three letters that his best friend told him was a good call. So you’re representing to him all the bad news. It was particularly extra tough back then, but once again, it was a question of, anything else bad? All right, let’s get it all on the table, let’s go ahead. We wound up prevailing.
I had a big picture of—and I mean big, it was like four feet by five feet on my office—of Muhammad Ali standing over Joe Frazier. And it was kind of like inspirational. I always used to kid: Monty Python has this great skit in “The Holy Grail” where the Black Knight is guarding this bridge and in comes one of his opponents, cuts him arm off and blood spurts out, and he looks over and goes, “I’ve had worse.” So then of course he cuts the other arm off and the guy is just a stump going around saying, “I’ll bite you!” And in a way, that’s exactly how we looked at the Internet. That was the joke. You lose…“I’ve had worse.” And we kept going on, we stayed alive, much like George Washington kept his troops alive during the Revolutionary War. You didn’t have to win everything but just enough to keep going, just enough to get the French giving him some money. In a way we were like that, fighting those kinds of battles. Even in the early days of cable, it was like that. People think, oh, cable was just a straight line to prosperity. But you had a lot of companies that got caught on the barbed wire in early cable. Some great services: CBS Cable, Satellite News Channel with the auspices of Westinghouse in there, and Monitor. A lot of them had faded so it wasn’t guaranteed that you were going to be successful back then.
Arenstein: Speaking of that, you did mention that cable, when 50% of the homes had cable penetration, at that time did you think, OK, I’m in a business that’s going to be a going concern? Was that really it or were there other things along the way that you said, OK, OK, here we go?
McCormick: Yes, I’m not sure exactly in time when it happened, but I think when ESPN did its deal for Monday Night Football, that was one of the key things that said, all right, this is not going away and now everybody’s going to have to pay a lot more attention to it. So that was a big move that helped to establish that. But I pretty much knew that we had a business. We had a lot of competitors at that time, too, so it was a nice business to be in but certainly it required a different type of selling.
Arenstein: Switching gears a little bit, I have to ask you about your songwriting career. What’s all that about? I see names like Gladys Knight, Paul Anka. Tell us about that.
McCormick: I’ve always liked music, I always sang, was in the New York Oratorio Society here in New York for awhile. My oldest son graduated from Juilliard as an operatic tenor. So there’s a lot of music in our house. Every year my wife and I throw this huge bash out in the Hamptons. It’s a karaoke fest where the worse you are, the bigger the prize you can get. It’s a lot of fun. But I always liked music and played guitar in high school and then picked up the piano later on. I was in the 70s playing in a club after work; I’d sell spots during the day and then at night, put on blue jeans and go out and sing. I had an original song or two and somebody liked them and said, you should do more, and I wrote more, and sure enough, there was publisher in there that liked the original song. He was getting ready to do an album with Paul Anka, didn’t like the material that Anka had and sent me out to his house in Monterrey to work with him for a week or so. So I took a week off from work and went out there and we went into a kind of—they call it “opening the piano bench,” where you stash all the half-written songs. I took a lot of my work, we worked through some more, changed melodies. I ended up with one on his album. We wrote a bunch together. One was the lead single on his album. It went vinyl as we like to say; it didn’t go gold. So it was nice. Then the publisher basically put my music out there and one of them was recorded by a gentleman named Roberto Carlos, who was kind of the Frank Sinatra of Brazil. I had known, but when I tell my Brazilian friends they’re much more impressed. Gladys Knight recorded but hasn’t released that or didn’t release it yet. So who knows what happens over time, but I still have that one. And another…was Dusty Springfield, who recorded one of my tunes, and that was a lot of fun. Some nice names and nice people and I wrote a bunch of tunes. To me, it was so funny. The day, I’ll never forget it. We had something called “PPS:” the Physicians’ Programming Service at Cable Health Network, which was professional, ultimately became Dr. Sunday and its own business on Sunday. That was opening the door to prescription drug advertising on television, which for better or for worse—guilty.
I’ll never forget, I was out in New Brunswick and doing a presentation to Johnson & Johnson and Art Ulene was to my left and I’m sitting at the huge podium, standing at this podium, and the lights go down and it was exactly like being on stage. Everything but the band behind me. It was very similar when you’re making a presentation, that standing up, that fronting and knowing that there’s no stopping and keep going and listen and make sure you know what’s going on out there, read the room and go forward. I just had an unbelievable flashback, who that was exactly like standing in front of an audience. Maybe it was because I was standing in front of an audience.
Arenstein: Are you still writing songs?
McCormick: Yes, for my grandson. I’m writing “sneaker” rhyming, “winter” with “splinter” and things like that. I haven’t written any serious songs in awhile. But I do a lot of singing, but not too much writing anymore.
Arenstein: Good. You stay pretty busy. I see things like a whole bunch of boards, Ovation TV we mentioned. LIN Television, which I’m a big fan of.
McCormick: Yes. As we speak, again this won’t make a lot of difference in 75 years, but LIN is merging with Media General. The deal is done, it’s sitting on our lovely FCC Commissioner’s desk and awaiting his green light. But all the business has been done. That’s going to create the second largest group of television stations—I believe 78 stations and we’ll talk to 25% of the country, and we’ll be right behind Sinclair. So it’s a great company, great group. The importance of local news—especially now with the demise of the newspaper business. Unfortunately that business has lost another half of itself. It was a $40 billion business in 2003 and now it’s in the high teens, if that now. So when you really look at it, the importance of television, your cable or broadcast, locally it seems that broadcast is trying to pick up that mantle. It’s part of our democracy to keep that business alive. I like that service that broadcast continues to do.
Arenstein: And I know you’re very involved in cancer research, especially breast cancer research.
McCormick: Certainly, at Lifetime we had to, maybe that had something to do with Judy’s comments. I just wanted to make sure that we were doing the best that we could. I surveyed the entire company and said, “We can do anything, but we can’t do everything. So let’s pick the one thing we want to do.” And had the workforce saying, you know what? Let’s go forward on breast cancer. Let’s make that a big deal. So we did and threw the initiative behind breast cancer, won a Cable ACE for it, which was nice, and put some good programming together behind it. In a way that was kind of a precursor to what all the networks are doing now. They’re doing Stand Up for Cancer. That’s kind of what we did eight, ten years before with Lifetime in that.
Arenstein: And hopefully if people are watching this fifty years from now, breast cancer will be something for the history books.
McCormick: Someone will have to go explain to them what that was.
Arenstein: We hope. We can hope.
So let’s just finish up on your Internet business because I know the ending was pretty good. How did that end?
McCormick: It ended with our selling the company. We’re a public company and we got an offer at a nice premium to the share price from GE, which at the time was NBC. We had an auction once there was interest and we had to keep it around and talk to a lot of companies and GE saw that it was important to try and get a toehold on the growing Internet and certainly with all it’s programs that speak to women—especially in daytime—it was a natural fit for them. They purchased us outright for cash.
Arenstein: Coming up to the present moment, what are you doing now?
McCormick: I’m doing a bunch of things. I’m one of the board members that was chosen to go on to the new Media General board so LIN and Media General together. So I’ll be on that board once it constitutes and as I said, it’s December, so hopefully that will get done soon enough. I’m also the chairman of the board of a company called Everyday Health. This brings us back to Cable Health Network. Everyday Health is a public company; we took it public this year and a lot of people call it kind of a mini-WebMD. WebMD got about a ten or twelve year headstart on us. But it provides a lot of services. We are the arm for the Mayo Clinic. We do everything from the South Beach Diet to “What to Expect when you’re Expecting,” which is big. And Sanjay Gupta is our spokesperson. He’s associated with the network. So it’s a really class act and they are making America a healthier place. People say, “Doesn’t WebMD do that?” And I go, yeah. But the term “second opinion” was coined in the medical business…let’s have some of that.
Arenstein: Exactly. And tell me a little bit about your work at RHF.
McCormick: Rho has been around since the 80s and for years was venture capital. We did six funds in venture capital. And I think that is a by-product, if you will, of the big downturn in 2008. Rather than go and do our seventh fund in the venture business, we saw an opportunity to do rollups. So what does 2008 have to do with that? Well, a lot of companies that were started in 2006 and 2007 had really hit a rough patch during that time, and thus are not growing to the extent that really merits a venture investment. So what we do is we’ll come in and we’ll take out some of those earlier investors and put our cash to work, put more money in to do rollups. And that’s really what our direction is.
Arenstein: Doug, your legacy. Your cable legacy. What would you like it to be?
McCormick: That’s a great question to contemplate. I always had a sense of humor about what I did and I think that anybody running a business, just because you are running a business doesn’t mean you have to be a stiff. It doesn’t mean to have to walk around with a frown on your face. You get so much time on this earth and how you spend it is up to you. So I think that I always had kind of a quick way to try—I really think that laughter or a good line that kind of clears the emotional palate, the intellectual palate if you will. I think that’s not a bad one to have, starting the women’s network. I mean that was kind of take your man for not jumping. Somebody had to do it and why not us? And we’re perfectly set up for doing it. But I think the way we did it and the way I’ve comported at least my career to also have a bit of a sense of who I really am and not get so hoity-toity about whatever position, what anybody has. I think if we had a little bit more of that, people would have a lot more satisfying life.
The funniest thing that ever happened and I think about it like it happened yesterday. We had a business affairs guy, older guy than me, but back when you’re thirty and someone is fifty or sixty, they’re old, it’s a little different. I’ll never forget: we got an order from 7Up over at NW Ayer (advertising). 7Up still exists, I don’t think NW Ayer does anymore. But it was a big deal for us and we had Peggy Fleming doing some commercials. Kind of like health tips if you will. This was a big deal too, multi-hundreds of thousands of dollars and we were doing a negotiation with NW Air and I brought my guy from business affairs, the lawyer, general counsel—hardnosed—I was just privileged to be there. This was like what the networks do. Going back and forth, I believe it was something silly like Peggy Fleming had—we agreed to a limo but with the limo was to drop her off and come back later and pick her up, it didn’t have to stay all day long. Typical things that go on and this stuff. The other side was saying, “It’s got to stay,” and this and that. There was this pause when two people were hammering it out. You know, you kind of relax for a second…so my guy, our business affairs guy, wants to start up kind of a sidebar conversation. He looks and he sees a picture behind this (NW Ayer) guy’s desk and he says, “Your son looks a lot like Robbie Benson.” Robbie Benson being a (male) child star back then. . And the response was, “That’s not my son, that’s my wife.” Further down in the hole…so anyway, it’s been a great ride and sometimes I just have to chuckle; there’s not too much you can do about it.
Arenstein: This has been a lot of fun, Doug. Thank you so much.
McCormick: Thank you for having me.
END OF INTERVIEW