The year started with a stunning late-night shakeup. It ends with one of the Big 5 about to replace almost all of their top executives. Some TV players made their own problems this year, and others did their best with the ones they were handed. A lucky few even managed to thrive.
JEFF ZUCKER: NBC slid from first in the ratings under his watch, but NBCU built an enviable cable portfolio. Even the debacle that landed Jay Leno back on “The Tonight Show” has worked out, in a way: A wealthier Conan O’Brien earns decent ratings doing whatever he wants to on TBS, and Leno’s back at No. 1. But the one thing Zucker can’t counter -- he’s out of a job, courtesy of Comcast.
STEVE MCPHERSON: The former ABC entertainment president was in charge when the network scored hits with “Lost,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” but reportedly never got along with Disney/ABC president Anne Sweeney. When he was ousted, the initial word was that personality conflicts were to blame, but then The Hollywood Reporter said he left during a sexual harassment investigation. A demand for a retraction immediately followed, but there was no way to spin the abrupt departure as good for anyone.
JONATHAN KLEIN: The CNN president was replaced by Ken Jautz, head of splashier sister station HLN, after ratings languished. Klein tried to position CNN as the unbiased middle ground between Fox News and MSNBC, but that doesn't seem to be what viewers want.
CHRIS ALBRECHT: The Starz CEO found himself explaining that he wasn’t actually drunk that time he choked his girlfriend in 2007 -- he only said he was drunk under orders from his then-boss. No one questions his gifts, though: Starz’ first major acquisition during his leadership, “Pillars of the Earth,” just earned three Golden Globes nominations.
NINA TASSLER: The president of CBS entertainment has stuck to human-focused shows that work for the network’s older demographic. It yields consistent rewards. CBS came closest of all the networks to breakout fall hits with “Hawaii Five-O” and “Blue Bloods,” as well as the comedies “Mike & Molly” and “$#*! My Dad Says.”
CHARLIE COLLIER: For all its upstart sheen, AMC deftly follows CBS's blueprint of character-driven shows with a straightforward concept. As network president, Collier has had the wisdom to let his collection of auteurs do their thing. The results? Awards for "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad," a hit in “Walking Dead” and, with "Rubicon," only one cancellation. Collier and AMC also know what they want. They're ordered series for six out of six pilots, including spring’s much-anticipated “The Killing.”
KEVIN REILLY: With "Glee" soaring in the ratings, Fox’s entertainment president is the envy of his peers. His only significant mistake was the slow rollout of the new “Idol” judges, which should have been handled with cold, Simon Cowell-like efficiency.
BOB GREENBLATT: The best argument for a speedy Comcast-NBCU merger might be getting Greenblatt in place as head of NBC entertainment. He knows TV and knows talent. As entertainment chief at Showtime, he helped define the network, making it a strong challenger to HBO with shows like "Dexter." Greenblatt also has a keen eye for talent, lobbying for Michael C. Hall. How did he know him? From producing the excellent "Six Feet Under."
J.J. ABRAMS: There used to be no better endorsement for a TV show than “executive produced by J.J. Abrams” but that could change if his name is worn out by projects like the flat and now cancelled “Undercovers” and the ratings-challenged “Fringe.” Leaving the day-to-day duties to others worked great with “Lost,” but upcoming productions, like “Alcatraz,” would benefit from more of Abrams' personal winning touch.
CONRAD GREEN: The “Dancing With the Stars” executive producer and showrunner tends to stay in the background and leave the drama on the dance floor. One big reason "DWTS" is one of the most-watched shows on television is its devilish casting choices –- hello, Bristol Palin! -- and a gift for pushing limits without offending mainstream sensibilities.
Nobody will tell you that TV isn't a tough business and that it hasn't been a tough year -- but for some execs the pain has been very real