Washington Life Magazine
Washington Life Magazine

POLLYWOOD | Closer to Home

DISCOVERY NETWORK President BILLY CAMPBELL is transitioning back to life on the EAST COAST

Billy Campbell with author Page Evans

He has biked in France with Lance Armstrong, hiked in Tanzania with Jane Goodall, successfully navigated the Hollywood entertainment jungle, and now, as president of Discovery Networks U.S., oversees 14 channels from the company's headquarters in Silver Spring. Throughout his experiences, Billy Campbell has maintained his down-to-earth South Carolinian upbringing.

Talk to Billy Campbell for just a few minutes and you realize he hasn't lost his southern accent or sensibilities. "I don't think I've really changed much from the way I grew up," says the 46-year-old native of Greenville, S.C., who does not fit the mold of a Hollywood mogul despite 14 years in L.A. "I think there were times in Los Angeles where I felt a little different because I don't actually wear black," he jokes.

Campbell moved to Washington from L.A. in 2002 to become one of Discovery's top dogs. Until recently, his hectic schedule kept him from buying his own place. But last fall he moved into a 19th century house in Georgetown. "What I've loved is that you can walk five minutes and you have a choice of great restaurants," Campbell says. (A personal favorite is Old Glory for its sweet tea, biscuits and southern-style veggies.) Campbell's career in entertainment started as a fluke. While finishing his second year at Harvard Business School, he met the CEO of ABC (then ABC/Capital Cities) who offered him a job in programming. "I thought it would be a great adventure and I had never read a script before," he says.

The "adventure" at ABC paid off. Campbell moved on to become the executive vice president at CBS Entertainment, and, in 1998, became president of Miramax Television. "I just fell in love with the business. And what I found—and it's probably at the core of why I love Discovery, too—is that what we have in common is we just tell great stories in a different way," Campbell says. "At Discovery, it's much more focused on knowledgebased programming—real life, science—and very little scripted programming. Whereas everything I did out in L.A.was scripted. I like both, but I think I like this better."

There's a lot to like. "Grizzly Man," a Discovery documentary, received critical acclaim last year, including best picture at Sundance. And, in the last three years, Campbell landed Armstrong, who joined Discovery's cycling team; signed Goodall to Animal Planet; and lured in newsman Ted Koppel, who will be doing at least six documentaries a year for Discovery.

But Campbell's character is more grateful than gloating about his recent coups. "I've been pretty fortunate to be a part of the partnership we have with all three of them. I think all three of them are the greatest in their field."

Rick Rickertsen, a business school classmate and managing partner at Pine Creek Partners, says the same about Campbell. "The amazing thing about Billy is that in a world of huge egos—Hollywood—he seems to have no ego at all despite being at the top of his field."

Indecency Proposal Screen Actors Guild (SAG)
President ALAN ROSENBERG talks decency, FCC fines and lobbying


Washington Life: You’re here in Washington on behalf of SAG testifying before Congress about “decency”.What’s your position?
Alan Rosenberg:
The House passed a bill to raise the fines for individuals who say something indecent over broadcast or network airways from $11,000 to $500,000 for individual performers.

WL: Where does SAG come into this?
I have an obligation to protect my members. If we say something in the course of doing our job that is considered indecent, we are liable.

WL: Is there criteria detailing what’s decent or not?
There are no criteria. The standards are vague. Most actors don’t know those standards.

WL: Are you trying to lobby for better criteria?
No. I’m against fines altogether. Rarely are there live shows on the air now without a seven-second delay. Plus, the average actor makes $25,000 dollars a year—levying a $500,000 fine is unthinkable.

WL: Do decency laws affect creativity?
I think so. Just having these hearings puts a chilling effect on artists.

WL: Could these measures cause more shows or performers, like Howard Stern, to leave the jurisdiction of the FCC for outlets that aren’t covered under these guidelines?
It could. That is another thing that occurred to me–it’s absurd that on a major network you can say a word that gets you a $500,000 fine, but if you’re a little further up the dial you are fine.

WL: What’s the next step?
To wait and see what the Senate does. They’re going to have hearings for the next couple months. Just hope they act wisely. If not, I’ll come back to Washington and lobby again.



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