Billboard's First-Ever TV's Top Music Power Players List Revealed
As recorded-music sales continue to sputter, the impact of a high-profile TV spot has never been greater. From halftime shows to primetime synchs, these executives, showrunners, bookers and supervisors can make -- or break -- an artist's song and career.
R.A. Clark, 58
Executive producer, Academy of Country Music Awards
Bob Romeo, 58
CEO, Academy of Country Music
In moving to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, for the ACMs' 50th anniversary in April, Romeo says the academy spent three times as much as it would have on one of its usual Vegas outings but reaped a 10 percent viewership jump, the best ratings in 17 years, and, thanks to a crowd of 70,000, bragging rights to a Guinness World Records citation for highest-attended awards show ever. Hosts Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan "couldn't hear themselves," says Clark, who asks, "How are we going to go back to Vegas with an 11,000-seat venue" in 2016 without coasting? Answer: Expand a preliminary outdoor festival to three days and get a bonus network special out of it.
Robert Deaton, 54
Executive producer, Country Music Association Awards
Deaton produces 11 hours of primetime network TV per year, and in 2015 added the Billboard Music Awards. The Fayetteville, N.C., native, who "moved to Nashville the day after I graduated high school," began producing the highly rated CMAs -- second only to the Grammy telecast -- in 2007, and says his experience directing music videos is key to his success with staging awards shows. (He co-directed the 1994 clip for Martina McBride's "Independence Day.") "It's more than a concert," he says of the highly produced artist segments. "It's an event that lends itself to theatrics."
Guilty TV Pleasure: "Naked and Afraid."
Ken Ehrlich, 72
President, Ken Ehrlich Productions
Neil Portnow, 67
President/CEO, The Recording Academy
The 2015 Grammy Awards marked the fifth consecutive year that the telecast, the joint work of Ehrlich, Portnow and CBS' Jack Sussman, topped 24 million viewers, confirming that "music's biggest night" remains just that in a crowded field of related awards shows looking to weaken the giant. Using trademark "Moments" -- unorthodox pairings and medleys to keep fans guessing and audience engagement numbers steady -- Ehrlich says the ability to translate the artists' emotion remains the center point of successful musical storytelling. And while the telecast is the academy's signature event, under Portnow's 13 years at the helm, the organization has leveraged the brand's worldwide recognition to raise awareness of the academy's other ventures, such as MusiCares and the Grammy Foundation.
Shelly Sumpter Gillyard, 44
Senior vp talent, Nickelodeon and MTV Networks' Kids and Family Group
When it comes to music and kids, Gillyard is the ultimate tastemaker, giving artists exposure to an eager audience every spring on Nickelodeon's Kids' Choice Awards. For 18 years -- with 3.6 million viewers and a 2.0 rating last March -- the show has served as a springboard for breaking talent, and as a reliable platform for such superstars as Justin Timberlake and Nick Jonas. "At Nickelodeon," says Gillyard, "you have music at multiple places all year long. You might start with a video in the Nick top 10, and then go on to the Halo Awards and Kids' Choice."
Favorite TV Theme Song: "Fame."
Michael Mahan, 39
President, Dick Clark Productions
Allen Shapiro, 68
CEO, Dick Clark Productions
DCP continues to reign as the king of live TV music events. The 2015 Billboard Music Awards attracted its biggest audience in 14 years, with 11.1 million total viewers, and the 50th-anniversary broadcast of the Academy of Country Music Awards earned its highest ratings since 1998. "The logistical and technical difficulties of doing a show that big in [AT&T] Stadium for the first time" -- 23 performances, 150-plus musicians and background singers -- "speaks to the quality and capabilities of our team," says Mahan. (Billboard and DCP are both owned by Guggenheim Partners.)
Francisco "Cisco" Suarez, 59
Senior vp special events, Univision Network
As the producer and director of Univision's highly rated music shows -- Premios Juventud, Premios Lo Nuestro and the Latin Grammys -- Suarez has long been a gatekeeper to mass exposure. In 2014, each of his three shows were seen by more than 8 million viewers. Born in Cuba and raised in West Palm Beach, Suarez says he prefers fishing and horseback riding to schmoozing with celebrities, but they still say "yes" when he calls. For La Banda, the Simon Cowell co-production that will look for the next Latin boy band, Suarez snagged Ricky Martin, Alejandro Sanz and Laura Pausini as judges.
Experience That Made Him Want To Get Into The Business: "Watching Tom & Jerry as a kid made me fall in love with TV."
SERIES & SPECIALS
Courtney Kemp Agboh, 38
Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson, 40
Executive producer, Power
The Starz series made news in August when the second-season finale of the show, about a nightclub owner/drug kingpin, drew the largest weekend audience ever for the pay-cable network (4.4 million gross viewers based on Nielsen’s Live Plus 3 measurement). A 42 percent improvement over its season-one finale allayed fears that Empire would siphon off its audience, although Jackson says, “I don’t think there’s any comparison to the show, outside of the lead characters being African-American.” The rapper also says that his knowledge of the streets, and Agboh’s primetime TV experience (The Good Wife) make for an ideal partnership.
Favorite TV Theme Song (Jackson): “The Jeffersons. I wrote a song that was a spinoff I liked it so much.”
Lee Daniels, 55
Creator/executive producer, Empire
Danny Strong, 41
Creator/executive producer, Empire
Executive music producer, Empire
The Fox series’ first season dominated water-cooler talk and the Nielsens: It is the top-rated broadcast drama since the 2007-to-2008 season, and its two-hour finale surpassed 23 million viewers (when seven days of delayed viewing are factored in), making it the highest-rated freshman series in 10 years. Ad Age reported 30-second spots were nearing $500,000 for the season-two premiere; the season-one soundtrack topped the Billboard 200 and sold 428,000 units, according to Nielsen Music. For Daniels, the series has been a passion project: “My own version of Glee -- a musical about my life with the drama of Dynasty,” he says.
Sam Esmail, 37
Creator/executive producer, Mr. Robot
Composer, Mr. Robot
It’s hard to miss Quayle’s contributions to USA Network’s summer breakout TV hit, Mr. Robot. Esmail, who describes himself as a “very picky motherf—er” when it comes to soundtracks, says he made sure Quayle’s score was mixed “as loud as possible.” The unique electronic musical landscape, which was studded with such choice alternative songs as Perfume Genius’ “Queen” and Time Zone’s 1984 classic “World Destruction,” deftly evokes the show’s paranoia and schizophrenia, and Quayle says he’s inundated with Twitter requests for an official soundtrack. It has been a landmark year for Quayle, who landed an Emmy nomination for his spooky score to American Horror Story: Freak Show. “As a TV composer, you’re used to being in the background,” he says. “But this year has been... weird.”
Guilty TV Pleasure Esmail: “Big Brother.”
Bruce Gilbert, 42
Music supervisor, Transparent, Orange Is the New Black, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp
It’s no coincidence that two groundbreaking series, Orange Is the New Black and Transparent -- which respectively put Netflix and Amazon on the map -- used the same veteran music supervisor. “When a show is new, you have to convince [artists] this thing that doesn’t exist yet is worth their time,” he says. It’s how he got the elusive Neil Young to let him use a full six minutes of “Razor Love” on an episode of Transparent. Director David Wain, who hired the Johannesburg native to curate the music for his Wet Hot American Summer Netflix series, says Gilbert has “the killer combo of knowing everyone, being crazy smart and having great taste.”
Hamish Hamilton, 49
Director, Super Bowl Halftime Show
Ricky Kirshner, 55
Executive producer, Halftime Show
Sarah Moll, 38
Director of media events, NFL
Mark Quenzel, 59
Senior vp programming and production, NFL Network
Ron Semiao, 59
Vp programming and media events, NFL
This quintet puts together the Super Bowl halftime special, and its collective clout can be demonstrated with two massive numbers. Bruno Mars’ 2014 performance attracted a record 115 million viewers -- the most-watched halftime show ever, until Katy Perry topped it the following year by drawing 121 million. Hence, the headlines when word leaked that Mars had been asked to “curate” the 2016 spectacle. Moll declined to comment.
Callie Khouri, 57
Buddy Miller, 63
Executive music director, Nashville
“It was a big deal to us to not do some kind of shtick on mainstream country music,” says Khouri, who waitressed at Nashville music clubs before moving to Hollywood and writing Thelma and Louise. To that end, she and Miller have created a songwriters factory of upstarts (Kate York) and veterans (Elvis Costello), and put out as many soundtrack albums (13, including digital downloads) as character Juliet Barnes’ mood swings. “There’s no place like Nashville when it comes to songwriters,” says Miller. And there’s nothing like having 7.5 million viewers hear their songs.
Ryan Murphy, 49
Creator/writer/executive producer, American Horror Story, Scream Queens
After charting a record 207 Hot 100 hits and selling 45 million downloads, Murphy’s Glee has run its course, leaving the Indianapolis native to make beautiful music out of more dissonant concepts. American Horror Story has cast Stevie Nicks and covered Lana Del Rey, Nirvana and David Bowie, while its fourth season, Freak Show, became FX’s highest-rated series to date with an average 12.6 million viewers. Season five, Hotel, will feature Lady Gaga, and on Sept. 22, Fox debuts Murphy’s Scream Queens, which has Ariana Grande, Nick Jonas and Lea Michele working their pipes.
Alex Patsavas, 47
Music supervisor/owner, Chop Shop Music Supervision
Celebrating the 200th episode of Supernatural and the birth of How to Get Away With Murder as well as mourning the end of Mad Men were all part of Patsavas’ year, but, she says, nothing quite compared to the death of Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd on Grey’s Anatomy. The day the show aired, creator Shonda Rhimes decided to switch the song that played over his demise to Sleeping at Last’s cover of “Chasing Cars,” which Patsavas had submitted that day for a future episode. “Everyone knew how important it was to get the clearance,” she says. “We got calls from baseball [games] and airplanes. That was a fun and interesting day.”
Experience That Made Her Want To Get Into The Business: "The Breakfast Club: I’m from the Chicago suburbs, and John Hughes’ movies really influenced me. It was a portal into alternative music.”
Manish Raval, 40
Music supervisor, Girls
“We get a huge audience response to the soundtrack, which doesn’t come along that often,” says Raval. When Patsy Cline’s “She’s Got You” was included on the Feb. 8 episode, sales for the 53-year-old song shot up 139 percent the following week. Raval also has plied the audience with exclusive new tracks by St. Vincent, Grimes and Family of the Year. He describes the process of selecting songs for Girls as “exchanging mixtapes, basically.” He, creator Lena Dunham and executive producers Jenni Konner and Judd Apatow swap playlists, rarely with specific episodes in mind. “It’ll never be, ‘Hey, here’s a bunch of stuff for scene 14,’ ” says the UCLA dropout-made-good. “It’s more like, ‘Here’s a bunch of cool music I love. You got to check this out.’ ”
Dream booking: “I’m a huge Pearl Jam fan, so I’m always in search of the project that would put me and the band in a room together.”
COMPETITION & REALITY
Mark Burnett, 55
CEO, United Artists Media Group
Audrey Morrissey, 48
Executive producer, The Voice
"We met doing the MTV Movie Awards," says Morrissey of veteran reality TV producer Burnett (Survivor, Shark Tank), which led the duo to their current collaboration as executive producers of The Voice. Although the show's ratings for season eight, which ended in May, were its lowest yet, the singing competition, which features Blake Shelton, Pharrell Williams and Christina Aguilera as coaches, remains NBC's top-rated entertainment series. It also has attracted high-profile mentors like Kelly Clarkson and key advisers Taylor Swift and Rihanna. "It's super exciting to be on a show that's about nurturing young musicians and singers," says the Connecticut-born Morrissey.
The Experience That Made Me Want To Get Into TV (Burnett): "The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau."
Simon Fuller, 55
Creator/executive producer, American Idol; founder/owner, XIX Entertainment
Trish Kinane, 61
President of entertainment programming, FremantleMedia North America; executive producer, American Idol
As the creator of Idol in 2002, Fuller is the architect of modern-day singing competitions, but Kinane observes that the Fox series stands alone as a vehicle that "creates superstars who have genuine musical careers after the show ... Where it ends for us, it's the beginning for them," she says of the contestants. That mission remains the same for the show when its 15th and farewell season airs in spring 2016, but viewers also will be treated to "a celebration of the great moments" of the last 14 years, which have launched the careers of Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Adam Lambert. "No. 15 has got to be great," says the South Wales native and mother of 25-year-old twins.
Mona Scott-Young, 48
CEO, Monami Entertainment
Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta, summer's top cable reality series, is only a fraction of the Scott-Young empire invigorating VH1. Flagship Love & Hip Hop will have its sixth season and spinoffs K. Michelle and Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood burned up the Nielsen charts in 2015. Come 2016, a new Atlanta spinoff will debut. The Manhattan-born Scott-Young, who co-founded Violator Records (and did not attend college), credits her husband, Shawn, with making it all possible by "carrying the weight" when she's at the office. The couple are parents to a daughter, 12, and son, 17, and live in Englewood, N.J.
Last Show Binge-Watched: "Narcos. I was hooked. It was like great sex."
Rob Wade, 42
Executive producer, Dancing With the Stars
Who would have thought that DWTS, with more than 13 million viewers per week, would become network TV's premier regular venue for live superstar performances? The England-born Wade, who was inspired by Live Aid, says one of the keys to the show's musical success is that it showcases acts with broad appeal. "We're not intent on booking just what's hot right now," he says. "We're also not afraid to book classic acts." For the current cycle, his third, Wade hopes to increase the number of live acts playing for dancers, but is baffled by labels and artists who balk at the brief face time and necessarily abbreviated songs. "It's not about a bump in sales," he says. "You're going to get more people watching our show than watching a morning or late-night show. Our audience is everyone."
Dream Booking: "AC/DC. Their music is amazing to dance to."
Chloe Gordon, 26
Talent associate, Saturday Night Live
Lindsay Shookus, 35
Producer, Saturday Night Live
Brian Siedlecki, 41
Co-producer, Saturday Night Live
Theo Spielberg, 27
Talent associate, Saturday Night Live
Booking superstars and on-the-verge acts that make for exciting TV is the mandate for this quartet led by Shookus. Though all attend shows, the two talent associates -- one of whom, Spielberg, is the adopted son of filmmaker Steven Spielberg -- are scouting acts every night. Who gets the nod is a group decision, which means four people of very different backgrounds, ages and interests must agree. "It can get very heated," says Shookus. "It comes down to, 'Convince me why I'm wrong and you're right.' But it keeps us sharp." The chosen few can reap big rewards from an SNL performance. English singer-songwriter George Ezra may have been discovered on YouTube, but after performing "Budapest" on the 40-year-old show in March, sales of his debut album, Wanted on Voyage, more than tripled. And Hozier got more than a sales bump for "Take Me to Church" when he was the musical guest in October. The Irish singer added 5,400 new Twitter followers and 6,500 Facebook fans.
Dream Booking (Shookus): "I'd love to have Beyoncé host and do the music. She'd be so incredible."
Julie Gurovitsch, 33
Talent executive, music, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon
Although she only has been with The Tonight Show since April -- she previously booked musical guests for Today -- Gurovitsch already has orchestrated some big wins for the show, from U2's New York subway busking in May to Lauryn Hill's rare late-night TV appearance in July. A spot on the show also continues to be a potential career boost for up-and-coming artists. After Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats made their Tonight Show debut on Aug. 5, four of their singles entered the iTunes top 20, and "S.O.B.," which was performed on the show, hit No. 1.
Scott Igoe, 47
Music producer/booker, Jimmy Kimmel Live!
When Van Halen played Kimmel's show in March -- the first time the band had performed on national TV with original singer David Lee Roth -- the appearance had been a long time in the making. "I pursued [manager] Irving Azoff for 10 years," says Igoe. His persistence paid off. The group's performances of "Panama" and "Running With the Devil" went viral, especially after news broke that Roth had gashed his nose during the show, and sales of the songs jumped, respectively, 31 and 45 percent following the broadcast. Igoe also has been inviting musicians to show their comedic sides -- in August, Josh Groban made news when he sang Donald Trump tweets -- since the show's 2003 beginning, years before Jimmy Fallon followed suit.
Diana Miller, 36
Talent executive, The Late Late Show With James Corden
Corden only has hosted CBS's Late Late Show since March, but he already is proving to be a player when it comes to breaking new artists. Soul crooner Leon Bridges made his TV debut with Corden, who brought the artist to Miller's attention. "He was like, 'You have to check out this guy. He's the real deal!' recalls Miller, who spent 11 years booking talent for NBC's Last Call With Carson Daly. Recurring segment "Carpool Karaoke" also has been a big hit. "Justin Bieber is never going to come on any late-night show and sing ‘Baby' again," she says. "But he did it for Carpool Karaoke." The video has racked up 33 million YouTube views, and artists are now lining up to sing with Corden.
Where She Puts Her Cellphone When She Sleeps: "It's in the living room. It's on but out of earshot."
Jim Pitt, 55
Music segment producer, Conan
The "Conan Bump," that Billboard-coined term for the career boost that comes with an appearance on the TBS show, is stronger than ever, especially for indie acts. Pop-rock quartet Hippo Campus had its daily plays on Spotify jump by 700 percent after a March appearance. "Conan was a game-changer for them," says the band's manager Geoff Harrison. "It's what people look to us for," says Pitt, and in June, a new Spotify station began documenting that legacy: 22 historic playlists with 2,300 songs, featuring every artist who ever played for Conan O'Brien. Since then, the host's Spotify followers climbed to 24,555, dwarfing Jimmy Kimmel's 7,294 and Jimmy Fallon's 6,998.
TV Experience That Made Him Want To Get Into The Business: "Watching the first episode of Saturday Night Live in 1975. At the end of the show, Don Pardo said, 'Stay tuned next week for Paul Simon with musical guest Art Garfunkel.' They hadn't played in years. It blew my mind."
Sheryl Zelikson, 45
Music producer, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert
If the early musical guests are any indication, fans can expect an eclectic ride on this late-night series, with Zelikson noting that her new boss cares "more about the authenticity" of the performer than the genre. Among the talent so far: Kendrick Lamar, The Dead Weather, Run the Jewels with TV on the Radio and Willie Nelson. Zelikson booked music for more than 15 years under David Letterman, who was partial to Americana, she says. She calls her own musical tastes "all over the place" and thinks Colbert will continue his habit of jamming with visiting artists. Also in the mix: an updated version of the online show Live on Letterman -- webcasts of extended performances by musical guests -- that she launched in 2006.
Favorite Theme Song: " 'Brother Louie' from Louis C.K.'s show. I giggle every time I hear how he decided to end the song."
Monica Escobedo, 38
Entertainment producer, ABC News/Good Morning America
After a summer concert series that featured Dierks Bentley, Jason Derulo, Nicki Minaj and a surprise show by One Direction, Escobedo could rest on the Central Park performances that drew 6,000 fans per week and helped earn the top-rated network morning show 4.7 million weekly viewers. But the Los Angeles native already booked Steven Tyler and Kelsea Ballerini to announce nominees for the Country Music Association Awards and launched a fall concert series while collaborating with Jimmy Kimmel Live! and other ABC shows to share and cross-promote GMA's musical guests.
Where She Puts Her Cellphone When She Sleeps: "Next to my head -- it's always on."
Jonathan Norman, 41
Co-executive producer, The Ellen DeGeneres Show/Telepictures
Norman, who has worked with DeGeneres for all 12 seasons, says he just tries to keep up with the host's musical tastes. "She'll recommend people that we've never even heard of," he says. "She asked us to get Alessia Cara back in May. So we called for her and were basically met with, 'How do you even know who she is yet?' " DeGeneres' love of music isn't the only reason artists flock to the show. When Pink debuted her folk side-project You+Me in October, 1,344 copies of the album were sold on iTunes the day of the episode. More recently, she produced and recorded a new opening theme for the show's current season.
Brittany Schreiber, 28
Music booking producer, NBC News/Today
NBC's morning show has had a ratings upswing, thanks in part to its summer concert series, which Schreiber took over when Julie Gurovitsch departed for The Tonight Show in April. The five-year Today veteran booked Andy Grammer, Fifth Harmony and Darius Rucker, and in late August, the show delivered its best ratings in 10 weeks; and with more than 1.6 million viewers ages 25-54, it trailed GMA by just 37,000 in that key demo. Though Schreiber stresses that the audience comes first, she says personal tastes often play into her selections. "I love a great song," she says. "If you can sing along and dance to it, it will be great for [Rockefeller Plaza], because that's what the fans will be doing."
Erik Flannigan, 49
Executive vp music and multiplatform strategy, Viacom Music & Entertainment Group
Culturally relevant moments don't occur in a vacuum, says Flannigan, who's reveling in the recording-breaking 21.4 million tweets generated by the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards -- the most-mentioned nonsports show since Nielsen began tracking Twitter TV activity in 2011. Linear TV viewers declined 5 percent (9.8 million), but streams were up 55 percent (41 million). Flannigan intends to keep the party going. "My job right now is to take the momentum from the VMAs and build it into a new music strategy for the network" on all platforms.
Senior vp music and talent, CMT
Brian Philips, 54
The country-music cable channel's CMT Awards and CMT Honors remain its cornerstones, but in the past year, Philips and Fram have grown CMT's musical footprint across multiple platforms. Expanded programming includes the Next Women of Country Tour, Instant Jam -- intimate concerts by, for instance, Kenny Chesney and Darius Rucker, that are announced the day of the show -- and original content, such as the upcoming 2016 sitcom Still the King, featuring Billy Ray Cyrus as an Elvis impersonator.
Dream Booking (Philips): "Having U2 play the Johnny Cash songs they most love."
Bob Greenblatt, 55
Chairman, NBC Entertainment
NBC has ruled primetime for the past two seasons under the steady hand of Greenblatt, who oversees all programming -- and music has played an important role in that turnaround. Ratings powerhouses The Voice and America's Got Talent have continued to shine. The Broadway producer (Something Rotten!) who gambled on live TV musical adaptations stumbled in 2014 with the critically drubbed Peter Pan (with Allison Williams), but the broadcast still drew a solid 9.2 million viewers. And NBC is readying a Dec. 3 follow-up that sounds like a winner: The Wiz Live! with a cast that includes Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, Common and Ne-Yo.
Stephen Hill, 53
President of programming, BET Networks
Debra Lee, 61
Chairman/CEO, BET Networks
BET remains the top TV network for African-American audiences, and a key draw for music's hottest acts. Its third BET Experience festival, held in Los Angeles and featuring performances by Kendrick Lamar, Nicki Minaj and a partially reunited N.W.A (minus Dr. Dre) drew a crowd of 152,500 -- a 36 percent increase over 2014. And though the audience for the 2015 music-focused BET Awards dipped to 6.5 million viewers (from 7.9 million in 2014), it is the No. 1 cable awards show in the 18-to-49 demographic so far this year.
Mentor (Hill): "Donald Trump," he jokes.
Dawn Soler, 55
Senior vp music, ABC
Overseeing the soundtracks for all of ABC's programming, which ranges from the musical fairy tale series Galavant to the '80s rock of new crime drama Wicked City, Soler is always looking for ways to engage the audience. Among her passion projects have been two concert specials with the cast of Nashville, which had its most-watched season in 2015, and the ABC Music Lounge website, which helps viewers locate the songs featured in the network's programming.
Dream Booking: "I would love to score something with Dr. Dre. I've tried for about 15 years."
Jack Sussman, 59
Executive vp specials, music and live events, CBS
With a slate of music specials that includes the Grammy Awards, Tony Awards, Kennedy Center Honors and Academy of Country Music Awards, Sussman says his team is focused on capturing the moment that happens when musical acts, TV writers and producers collaborate in an organic way. "Our role is simple yet happens on a grand scale," says the father of two grown daughters. "Make the authentic connection, make it work for music and TV," then expose it to a mass audience. The 2014 ACMs, for instance, drew its largest audience since 1998, with 16 million viewers. "Network TV is the only game in town for that," he says.
Paul Telegdy, 44
President of alternative and late-night programming, NBC
Telegdy's day-to-day duties put him in the trenches of such music-heavy shows as The Voice, America's Got Talent and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. The quick-witted British executive has helped the network land high-profile talent like One Direction for concert specials, and Saturday Night Live's 40th-anniversary special, which featured performances by Kanye West, Paul McCartney and Miley Cyrus and scored more than 23 million viewers -- making it NBC's most-watched nonsports program in more than 10 years.