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[November 16, 2012]
Sources: Tribune's new owners want TV executive Liguori as CEO
CHICAGO, Nov 16, 2012 (Chicago Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune News Service via COMTEX) -- The new owners set to take control of Tribune Co. when it emerges from bankruptcy protection plan to name television executive Peter Liguori as the company's chief executive, according to sources familiar with the situation.
Liguori is a former top TV executive at Fox and Discovery. The decision to name him CEO ends months of speculation and will usher in a new era for the 165-year-old media giant, which owns newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, and television stations.
The Federal Communications Commission on Friday approved the waivers needed to transfer Chicago-based Tribune Co.'s broadcast properties to the new ownership, the final significant hurdle before the company can exit Chapter 11 bankruptcy after four years.
While a date is not set, the new ownership group controlled by senior creditors Oaktree Capital Management, Angelo Gordon & Co. and JPMorgan Chase, will likely take the reins by the end of the year. The first step for the owners will be to appoint a board of directors. The new board, once constituted, will have the final say on who becomes CEO, but sources say the owners have chosen Liguori.
"The decision has been made," one of the sources said.
Los Angeles Times publisher Eddy Hartenstein has been CEO of Tribune Co. since May 2011. A Tribune Co. spokesman declined comment.
A former advertising executive who transitioned into television more than two decades ago, Liguori, 52, is credited with turning cable channel FX into a programming powerhouse during his ascent to entertainment chief at News Corp.'s Fox Broadcasting. More recently, he served as chief operating officer at Discovery Communications Inc., where he helped oversee the rocky launch of the Oprah Winfrey Network.
Liguori is considered by some observers as a good fit for Tribune and its new owners. While the company's identity is closely connected to publishing, broadcasting is now the headline business and core profit center. One of Liguori's main jobs will be to help maximize ratings, advertising dollars and increasingly important affiliate fees for WGN America and Tribune Co.'s 23 local TV stations, according to industry insiders.
Liguori "is a very, very smart hire for Oaktree and the guys that run the company because I think what Tribune needs more than anything is somebody to kind of build the brands back and make it a true media company, as opposed to just a collection of businesses," said Jeff Shell, the London-based president of NBCUniversal International, who worked with Liguori at Fox for six years, beginning in 1996. Shell spoke recently about his former colleague's potential value as CEO of Tribune Co.
Liguori could not immediately be reached for comment.
Liguori became president of Fox's FX Networks in 1998, when it was a small basic cable channel airing reruns of everything from "MASH" to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Elevated to CEO in 2001, he remade FX by offering edgy original programming. Starting with "The Shield" in 2002, Liguori rolled out "Nip/Tuck" and "Rescue Me," creating first-run successes that redefined FX, and perhaps basic cable, in the process.
"FX was a channel, when he took over, a little tiny cable channel losing a bunch of money," Shell said. "He made it into something big by imagining something different, and I think that's what Tribune needs." Liguori became president of entertainment for Fox Broadcasting Company in 2005, where he headed up program development and marketing. Squeezed out in 2009, he then joined Discovery as chief operating officer, where one of his responsibilities was to oversee the nascent joint venture with OWN.
In May 2011, Liguori assumed the dual role as interim CEO of OWN after inaugural head Christina Norman was forced out at the struggling network. That added responsibility evaporated two months later when Winfrey made herself CEO of OWN. Liguori left Discovery in December and the company eliminated his COO position.
Liguori has been working since July as a New York-based media consultant for private equity firm, the Carlyle Group. He currently serves on the boards of Yahoo, MGM Holdings and Topps.
Tribune Co. is a partner in McClatchy-Tribune News Service.
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