Flischel Focused on Being Good First, Gay Second Don’t call Karen Flischel a pioneer. Sure, she was and is one of the first openly gay executives in cable, but she doesn’t see herself as extraordinary in that regard. At the moment, she’s just another network head scrambling to get her network on the map. As general manager of here!, the on-demand network targeting the LGBT community, Flischel is a remarkably bright, energetic woman who cut her cable teeth as a researcher at MTV, before moving overseas to head Nickelodeon’s business/creative efforts in Europe and Australia. Flischel and I spoke just before Memorial Day, a conversation prompted by a column that Curtis Symonds wrote last week in CableFAX Daily. Curtis was railing against operators for not being quicker to embrace gay-targeted networks, such as MTV Networks’ all-new Logo. Apparently because here! is exclusively an on-demand network, with no basic distribution, Flischel’s network may just be the exception that proves Curtis’ point. The network is in 40 million homes – or at least 40 million have access to it. Perhaps that gives operators a pass: ‘OK, we have a gay network, so why launch another?’ But, as you might expect, as a network doing business solely in the arable yet under-cultivated acreage known as on-demand, here! only has a flicker of name recognition. And an on-demand network without a powerful brand name is like a sprinter trying to run a race with a piano on his back. But Flischel is undaunted, and is certain that as the gay community goes about its business of spending $600 billion dollars this year, some of that will be purchase on-demand cable programming and that the dollars will find their way into the pockets of cable operators. Karen and I talked about being gay in what, at times, can be a very conservative industry. She feels blessed for having learned the business in a company as open-minded and embracing as MTV. She came out to her co-workers at a management retreat. After that "my being gay never once became an issue." She credits Tom Freston for creating an environment of understanding. A favorite Freston story of hers illustrates his tolerance. Freston was asked if MTV has a dress code. Without missing a beat, Freston smiled and quipped, "No frontal nudity." Flischel also told me that at her MTV going-away party, after 20 years with the company, she thanked staff and management, saying, "This is a company that allowed me to be who I am, while allowing me to make the kind of contributions I was capable of making." As for here!, Flischel feels that its long-term success will be greatly aided by two things: the network’s business model and the quality of its content. "I call our business model 21st Century television, because on-demand is where the business is going. Operators are not willing to just give bandwidth away to networks anymore." As for content, she said being gay is secondary to what really matters. "This network’s programming can’t just be about being gay all the time. Right now we’re focusing on being good first, and gay second." Today Flischel has one foot in the land of what might someday be and one in the land of what, unfortunately, is. She talks a CSR recently who tried to dissuade a customer from ordering on-demand programming from here!. And she’s frustrated by the number of gays in cable who still live in fear of making their sexual orientation known. "I’m frustrated – no, I’m sad – that there are so many people in this industry who don’t feel they can come out. But that’s changing…It’s a really horrible thing to not live an authentic life; to not be able to be who you really are."

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