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Backtalk: Out, But Not Down

11/15/1998 7:00 PM Eastern

Exactly one week after Jedd Palmer parted ways withMediaOne, I finally caught up with him on the phone, last Thursday, to see how he wasfaring.

For a guy just out of work, Palmer sounded genuinelyexhilarated. And with good reason: He already has 12 consulting gigs, mostly with the veryprogrammers that sat on the other side of the negotiation table when he was doing thewheeling and dealing on affiliation agreements, first for Tele-Communications Inc., andlater during his short-lived stint at MediaOne.

Palmer says his phone has been ringing off the hook, and Ican attest to that: During our 30-minute conversation, his call waiting feature bleepedincessantly with people trying to get a hold of him. Palmer graciously apologized for thelittle bleep-outs in our conversation, but he kept on talking, rather than putting me onhold.

Palmer says he's been so busy lining up appointments withhis new clients that he hasn't even been on his new prized possession, a high-endStairmaster.

He says his new clients are calling with a variety ofinteresting assignments, ranging from seeking advice on their HDTV strategies, to sortingout the tangles in their network merger-and-acquisition portfolios.

Palmer may have just stumbled into his ideal job --consulting from Denver, which he will not leave because of his two children.

"I just can't take a programming job in L.A. or NewYork," he says.

Consulting -- which used to be sneered at as a euphemismfor being out of work -- may be the only real option for many executives in theapproaching millenium.

In this unending era of industry consolidation and theusual corporate game of musical chairs that always goes on, plenty of talented cableexecutives now find themselves on the outside looking in.

Last week, another programmer -- Erica Gruen, president andCEO of Food Network -- announced that, by "mutual arrangement," she was steppingdown, effective immediately, to pursue other interests.

When we talked on the phone last week, Gruen sounded asexhilarated as Palmer did on what was her first day of freedom.

Gruen, who had been in her post for two years, is creditedwith more than doubling the network's subscriber base (from 16 million to 34 million),tripling its primetime viewership, increasing ad revenue and creating a successful Website.

That's an impressive track record, especially consideringthe turmoil that Food was undergoing in the short, two-year period when she was there,enduring the uncertainly that comes with three successive ownership changes.

Gruen admits that she's really not sure what she wants todo, but she has opened up an office in New York, where she and her family reside.

Palmer, on the other hand, has a dream job that reallydoesn't exist in cable so far: a mediator.

And that sounds like a winner to me, given the ongoingfriction in operator/programmer relationships.

"My absolute dream situation," Palmer says, is tobe the person who can cut through the impasses that crop up in doing affiliationagreements.

"It's cable's dirty little secret that affiliationagreements are zero-sum games," he said. "Everyone walks in with a list ofthings that they want and walks away with what they really need."

Palmer says those impasses occur in negotiations becausenobody is capable of just "shutting up and listening" to what the other side hasto say. "It's not a good deal when somebody takes somebody to the cleaners."

Palmer's first client in his new life is a broadcaster thathe had reached an arduous retransmission-consent deal with years ago.

"That agreement was 45 pages, single-spaced," andit was a little hairy, but that very same broadcaster is now seeking Palmer's expertise onother matters.

Now, both Palmer and Gruen are untethered to any corporatemaster and free to scout out business at the upcoming Western Show in Anaheim.

So, good luck to both, and to all of the others whoseformer corporations may have created the next generation of entrepreneurs.

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