It seems inconceivable that three years after bringing together 33,000 people (a figure many believed at the time was wildly inflated), the Western Show is folding its tent. Last year’s show, which had 10,000 attendees, is said to have brought $1 million into CCTA’s coffers. While the Western Show is ending after 36 years at the center of the cable industry’s conscience, it will continue to exist in industry lore as generating the most amusing stories this side of the CTAM Summit. When asked for their most memorable moment at the show, several executives shared unprintable stories before giving ones for publication. Most of the unprintable stories involved huge quantities of alcohol. Several of them occurred at the legendary HBO parties of the mid-to-late ’80s. What follows are the printable memories from executives who attended the show in its various locales over the past three and a half decades. They don’t include anecdotes about food poisoning at the White House and the show floor presence of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson to pitch Classic Sports Net. But these reveries of Westerns past are our attempt to say goodbye to a show that’s helped us get to know the industry a lot better. Robert Sachs
President and CEO, NCTA Robert Sachs has been going to the Western Show most years since he joined Continental Cablevision in the late ’70s, generally using the opportunity to catch up with his colleagues who ran the MSO’s California operations. But Sachs’ most memorable trip to Anaheim happened just four years ago when he gave his first major address to the industry as NCTA’s president and CEO. He was named to the post more than four months earlier in July 1999. “[Addressing the crowd] was an honor that I found very humbling—and still do,” Sachs said. “In my remarks that year I said, ‘I cannot think of a more exciting time in the history of the cable business.’ And the years since certainly have been exciting. “After so many trips to Anaheim and L.A., it’s not easy to say goodbye to the Western Show,” Sachs continued. “But one of things that makes this industry exciting is our ability to change and in doing so create yet new opportunities. I have no doubt that we will.”
Sachs talked about CableLabs’ CableNet exhibit as being one of the highlights of the show. Not surprisingly, the CableNet pavilion will be the one aspect of the Western Show that NCTA plans to incorporate into its own show in the spring. Ted Turner
Chairman, Turner Enterprises Inc. In mid-November, when we asked Ted Turner for his Western Show memory, he seemed genuinely surprised that the show was ending. “You’re kidding me,” he said. “Oh, that’s so sad. It’s the passing of an era. With all the consolidation in the industry, it’s just not the same anymore.” Turner also seemed genuinely surprised that he would be gracing the cover of our Western Show issue, perhaps believing that the cable industry had forgotten about him during the two years he’s been away. “Am I really going to be on your cover?” he asked, incredulously. Turner remembered the Western Show as the place where he said his personal goodbyes to the industry that he helped build. It was during a lunchtime interview with Paul Maxwell in 2001, which was conducted as part of the Cable Center’s oral/video history, that Turner lamented that Jerry Levin “prematurely retired” him. He also spoke about the Western Show’s sinking fortunes during that interview, comparing the sparse show floor to
“Kosovo and Afghanistan.” “That was the last cable industry interview that I granted,” Turner said. “It was a great ride while it lasted. I made a lot of friends. And I made a lot of money.” Turner didn’t share memories of specific dinners or parties he’s attended at the conference. “There’s been a lot of those,” he said. But he remembered Western as the convention where he launched several aspects of his empire. “I can’t remember if we launched CNN there, but I’m sure we made several big announcements.” Char Beales
President and CEO, CTAM A first Western Show is overwhelming enough without throwing weird restaurants into the mix. At Char Beales’ first show in 1980, a group went to what was considered one of the fanciest restaurants in Anaheim, the White House. Char and her group were surprised at how they were treated like kings. Everyone was seated on high throne chairs, and those considered height challenged were given footstools. “We sophisticated Easterners were puzzled why our menus didn’t list prices,” Beales said. “But we figured out that the person who had made the reservation got a rose petal under her water glass, and she got the menu with the prices.” While the Anaheim restaurant scene has improved over the years, it’s one thing Beales said she won’t miss. John Clark
President and CEO, SCTE John Clark’s best memory was groovin’ at Glenn Frey’s “The Heat Is On Concert” in the late ’80s, “during an era when everybody wanted to be dressed like Sonny Crocket,” he said. “I was single and with a beautiful woman I met at the show. That was B.C.—before my wife, Cynthia.” Josh Sapan
President and CEO, Rainbow Media The Western Show has always been close to Josh Sapan’s heart because his birthday happens to fall right around the time of the show. “I celebrated my 40th birthday there with a big party with the Rainbow group, and my 50th birthday, too, was also the occasion for another big company event there,” Sapan said. “[It] was a really lovely event, and it sort of spilled into this big party that was taking place at Lee Masters’ house, so it became this huge thing. So the show for me has always been surprisingly and oddly personal because of these monumental moments during the show that I’ve been able to share with my friends—both the people I work with at the company and my friends and colleagues in the industry. Going to the show was always about being among friends, and I have very sweet, very nice memories about my time there. “Of course the industry has changed and the show has changed in response to it, and there has been tremendous consolidation on the programming and operating side, which changes fundamentally the nature of the show, so the show naturally reflected those changes. I definitely plan on being there in Anaheim for one last celebration.” Carole Black
President and CEO, Lifetime Entertainment Services Carole Black attended her first Western Show in 1999, and was struck by the collegiality on the floor. “People went out of their way to make me feel at home in the world of cable,” she said. “From distributors to fellow programmers, people welcomed me, made introductions, shared information and let me know that I’d joined a family. It was a very heartwarming and enlightening experience. Over the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to return the favor to others entering our business. There are relatively few times when an entire industry can come together to meet and exchange ideas, and the Western Show will stay in my memory as one of those special times.” Bridget Baker
SVP, cable distribution, NBC Cable Networks CCTA Western Show 2003 Organizing Committee Member As a member of this year’s organizing committee, Bridget Baker has been spending a lot of time saying, “Come out, it’s the last one, it’s the end of an era: We need your support!” “I’ve had this conversation with many folks, such as a former boss of mine, Tom Rogers, Ron Cooper, Jim Robbins,” Baker said. “We’ve all been trying to get people here to make sure there’s a great presence at the last one. “Since the first Western Show in 1968, the show has become a place where new networks, new technologies, new platforms have been showcased, CableLabs started doing their big exhibits. One of the moments that really stands out in my mind is when John Malone, at a general session [in 1992] talked about the 500-channel universe we’d have someday. It was a revolutionary statement. There were years we had 35,000 people coming out to the show, and because of the Internet boom…more people from Silicon Valley and Hollywood started coming out to the show, we had a lot more International attendees. “As a company [NBC] we were always there with something new, such as America’s Talking—which two Western Shows later turned into MSNBC—CNBC,, ShopNBC, Telemundo, Bravo and of course we had the Olympics mingled throughout all that. That’s one of the markers in my mind when I knew the Western Show was changing: I remember being at our booth for the Salt Lake City Olympics, when we were serving beer and pretzels and wearing winter coats. And I looked around at one point and our booth was jammed with people, and I didn’t recognize a single one of them. So they weren’t cable people any more, even though attendance was still in the high numbers—20,000 or 22,000. The pure cable programmer to cable operator relationship had shrunk to be a much smaller slice of the pie. “[With] consolidation on the operations side leading up to Comcast and AT&T Broadband, and cable having already gone from being privately held to publicly traded with new obligations to Wall Street, the business had changed. With all of those factors and increasing budget demands, the idea of sending everybody out to what in some Easterners’ minds was a resort-type of atmosphere in the middle of winter, with gorgeous weather and Disneyland, it all just shifted and suddenly programmers didn’t send everyone out and buy huge booths and do big stunts any more, like they used to.” Jerry McKenna
VP, strategic marketing, Cable One Drinks with Joe Namath, “that’s one of the things that really sticks out in my mind,” McKenna said of his recollections from all of the Western Shows he has attended. “I’ve been a lifelong Jets fan ever since 1969, and I had the opportunity to have drinks with Joe Namath.” It was either 1994 or 1995 when Steve Greenberg, one of the founders of then Classic Sports Network (now ESPN Classic) invited him to talk business. Probably not by coincidence, Greenberg told McKenna that one of the new network’s spokesmen would join them. Little did McKenna know that it would be Joe Namath. Unfortunately for Greenberg, Namath distracted McKenna. Greenberg was “trying to talk business and I’m trying to talk about the New York Jets. It was one of the great sports moments in my life. I am a die-hard New York Jets fan, one of the only two in Arizona,” he said of his passion for the Jets. Marc Nathanson
Vice chairman, Charter Communications
Founder Falcon Communications Marc Nathanson can’t say he’s been to every Western Show; he missed the first one. One of his favorite memories of Western Shows past is Ralph Bills and his Band of Renown. Bills was a state senator in the 1960s who would perform with his band every year during the Western Show. This was long before HBO and Showtime began having rival parties at the show, Nathanson said. Bills’ performance also had little to do with entertainment. It was really a political move by Walter and Spencer Kaitz, he said. Although he’s not actively involved in the cable industry much anymore, Nathanson said he’ll miss the Western Show. “I have very warm feelings for the CCTA and the Western Show. It was one of the few times of the year when everyone in the industry would put aside their differences and we all worked together.” Lindsay Gardner
EVP, affiliate sales and marketing
Fox Cable Networks Gardner’s most memorable moment occured at the Los Angeles Convention Center. After some party or dinner, Gardner joined up with Scott Kurnit, the founder of Viewer’s Choice, and Gary Lauder, vice chairman of ICTV and a scion of the Estée Lauder family. They had to cross the wasteland of downtown Los Angeles in the middle of the night to get to their hotel rooms—not a friendly place for anyone.” “We were arguing about if we were to get held up and shot how would the newspaper articles write the story, how would they order us,” Gardner said. “We decided that Scott Kurnit is an industry leader and Gary Lauder is, well, Gary Lauder. So they would come first. We all agreed that I would be last.” Gardner’s plan was to walk down the middle of the street so nobody could jump out from an alley. No one got shot. Rich Cronin
President and CEO,Game Show Network Briefcase Poetry is the fondest memory from the 22 Western Shows that Rich Cronin has attended. “That’s a lot of Western shows,” he said after he ran out of fingers and toes to count them on. Memories of the little poetry papers that Glenn Jones left in the trade publication bins in the early days of the Western Show linger for Cronin. “I thought that it was wonderful for this creative executive to distribute his poetry,” Cronin said. Under the pen name Yankee Jones, the Jones Cable founder would rant about what it was like to be in the cable industry, to be an executive on the road going from business meeting to business meeting. “Briefcase Poetry says it all,” Cronin said as he explained its significance—despite the great parties he’s been to, they all seem to blend into each other. As for the Western Show ending, he says that, similar to other trade shows, it fell victim to consolidation. “I will definitely be there and toasting a great show and a lot of great people that made it run.” Ken Boenish
President,The Erotic Networks Going to Disneyland without the crowds—that’s the best time Boenish had at the Western Show. “One of the best memories I have of the show, I don’t remember which one it was, was when Disney opened up the park to just the cable operators,” he said. Formerly with Jones Cable, Boenish took full advantage of this freebie. The Western Show was a place where a lot of his relationships started, he said, eventually leading him to join with adult programmer The Erotic Networks. In the past, TEN did have a few booths on the Western Show floor. “It was a great launching pad for the company,” he said. “I wish the show would have retained the value that it once had.” Asked if there were any memorable moments from an Erotic event or party, Boenish said, “What happens at the Western Show stays at the Western Show.” Paul FitzPatrick
EVP and COO, Crown Media Holdings Paul FitzPatrick believes ending the Western Show is a mistake. “Consolidation of various shows is a good thing—to a point,” he said. “Had I been meetings and conventions czar for a day I would have combined CTAM’s annual meeting or digital conferences, often uncomfortably close to the big show—the Western Show. Now that would add oomph. “Be that as it may, what made this annual gathering in Southern California so special? This event—by benefit of the calendar—has been a natural forum to assess the year just concluded and to look, with renewed optimism, to the months ahead. This show gave us context and the opportunity to reflect, to celebrate, commiserate and bond—as a business and as friends. Moreover, the constancy of setting played no small part in this experience. Disneyland and Anaheim convention centers offered us familiarity, a kind of comfort food. “And the show offered memories. One favorite was my first Western Show in 1976. Willie Nelson, one night; Ike and Tina Turner, the next. I was a guest of Gene Schneider [founder of United Cable], characteristically smoking one of his trademark cigars. The second night ended with Richard Wiley, then FCC chairman, at a Disneyland Hotel bar, followed by a search-and-rescue mission of an unnamed network executive from the hotel’s swimming pool. I knew then I had found the right business to work in.” Rick Michaels
CEO, Communications Equity Associates Michaels’ first Western Show was in 1968 when the convention was held at the Coronado Hotel in San Diego. He and several of his friends were having cocktails in his room when he excused himself to use the restroom. When he returned, all his friends had left. Now, at the time, the Coronado still used skeleton keys to lock room doors and Michaels’ friends had taken the key and secured the door from the outside. He was locked in his room. Undeterred, he jumped from his third-floor balcony to the second-floor balcony. Landing with a thump, he awoke the woman sleeping inside. She looked perplexed and somewhat angry, he said, and demanded to know who he was. “Shhhh,” he said. “I’m Zorro. Go back to sleep.” With that, he slipped out the door went to the bar and found his friends, who wondered where in the world he had been. Tom Southwick
VP, communications, Starz Encore Group In 1983, Mary Pittelli, who was hired by the California Cable Television Association to organize the Western Show, convinced a skeptical Southwick to visit a booth on the far end of the floor. The booth consisted of nothing but a card table and two chairs. He sat down and talked to the man at the booth for about 45 minutes. He remembers thinking, “Man, what a great idea—documentaries 24 hours a day. Pity he has no chance of ever making it go anywhere.” Luckily that guy didn’t share Southwick’s pessimism, because he went on to build one of the most successful network groups in the world, Discovery Communications. Rich Ross
President of entertainment, Disney Channel A Hawaiian rave tops the list for Ross when it comes to memories from the Western Show. Back when he was at FX, about nine years ago, he had been going to the show year after year. All of the parties were stuffed into one of the hotel’s grimly lit rooms featuring the same dry morsels. One of FX’s executives decided to throw a party outside of the hotel confines, and rented a warehouse in the city of Orange. FX decorated it as a Hawaiian fantasyland complete with hula dancers. The network passed the word as if it were a rave party. About 2,000 people showed up. “It had a wildness that never had happened at the Western Show. For those who dare to break the mold, there are many people there to support you. I think the cable business has always been built on people’s imagination.” Ann Carlsen
President, Carlsen Resources Ann Carlsen has been to her share of Western Shows over the years. As the consummate executive recruiter in the business, she has placed hundreds of executives in jobs all over the industry. Her favorite memories of the Western Show are general in nature. She remembers “many a late night with 100 of my closest friends at the Jolly Roger Hotel bar, smoking, drinking and talking about people.” Details are sketchy but there will be “more to come when I write my book.” Debra Green
COO, G4 Debra Green has been to every Western Show since 1980. “It was much more of a programming environment than a technical environment,” Green said. “Programmers did everything they could to get noticed: major hospitality suites, big parties, lots of meetings, new network announcements, very large booths, all this hoopla and expense in getting the message to the cable operators. There were celebrities, trips up to Los Angeles to go on the sets of shows, no expense spared at all. Bigger was better, definitely. “It was a very important show back then and the absolute heyday of it all, where so much business was done. In the early ’80s it was the beginning of getting multipay in the marketplace, so content providers used that forum to really market their wares. It was also fun. It was a celebration of the business, people were excited and the curve then was up. Operators needed more content, because that meant more money to the operator because they were able to market themselves having a variety of content. So everyone was running fast, and it was so much fun, and everyone was saying yes. “Where things changed and when the shift started was when there was so much product and the question for operators became, ‘Do I really need more?’ That’s when I believe things changed, when operators started having to make decisions. When it became more competitive for channel space…and decisions had to be made starting in the ’90s about quality, value, price, positioning, that’s when things started changing in the industry, and by extension, at the Western Show. So this last show for me is very sentimental and a very sad time. It’s absolutely necessary because the paradigm of the business has changed drastically, and it absolutely has lived its course. I hope everybody can go there and embrace this final Western Show in a true spirit of celebration of all those wonderful years. Steve Effros
President, Effros Communications In the early 1980s, when the industry was fighting copyright laws that could cripple the cable business, Steve Effros was regularly testifying on Capitol Hill on behalf of the industry. He was fresh off making an appearance before a congressional committee when he attended a Western Show at which one of the congressmen on that committee was speaking. The congressman stopped mid-sentence, pointed to a stunned Effros and told the audience he won’t tolerate racial slurs. Seems during his testimony a few days earlier, Effros said MPAA chief Jack Valenti displayed “the ultimate chutzpah” with his stand on copyright. The congressman apparently didn’t know what the term meant. Effros wrote a letter to the committee chairman explaining the term and the chairman was so amused he entered the letter into the national register. Bob Gold
President, Bob Gold & Associates This year is only the second in which Gold’s firm has been representing the Western Show, but he has been attending the show for longer than many in the industry. In 1978 and 1979, while attending graduate school at USC’s Annenberg School of Communications, he had heard about the show and went there to poke around for job opportunities. As a student, he ended up just wandering around, feeling totally overwhelmed. By 1982, he was in the business, and was shepherding Dr. Art Ulene, a founder of Cable Health Network (which later become known as Lifetime) to the show. Ulene was late after delivering his health segment for KABC-TV. Gold accompanied Ulene via helicopter from KABC in L.A. to Anaheim and ended up strapping him into a crash helmet as they raced from the Anaheim stadium, where they landed, to the convention center. Of course, everyone has their stories of staying out too late and drinking too much. The parties Disney held at Disneyland—where usually verboten alcoholic beverages were served—stand out in Gold’s mind.

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