The cable industry for
the second time in just over two months was mourning the death of a legendary executive, as programmers last week reminisced about their experiences with Fred Dressler.
Dressler, a 30-year cable veteran and retired executive vice president of programming for Time Warner Cable, died Dec. 24 after several months battling pancreatic cancer. A memorial service for friends and family will be scheduled for early next year.
Dressler was 66, just a year older than retired Cox Communications CEO Jim Robbins, who died of cancer Oct. 10, another untimely loss that rocked the cable industry.
“It's almost surreal,” said Sean Bratches, ESPN executive vice president of sales and marketing. “It's terrible.”
The descriptions last week of Dressler, the gatekeeper who determined which networks Time Warner Cable would carry, read like a mantra: tough but honest, fair and smart. It's a testament to Dressler that even programmers that Time Warner Cable sometimes clashed with still respected him and lamented his loss.
“This business is all about who has the leverage at which point in time,” Bratches said. “I think Fred did an excellent job in understanding who had the leverage at any given time. And if it was Fred, he'd press very hard to get his way. But if it was me or ESPN, he would understand and appreciate that and get the deal done that we wanted to get done.”
Bratches, who negotiated contracts with Dressler for 20 years, recalled trying to close a key deal with TWC in 2000, when ESPN parent The Walt Disney Co. was in the midst of a bitter retransmission-consent battle with the cable company.
Dressler was living in an apartment at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and didn't want to disturb his wife, so he made Bratches stand outside on the street for eight hours — from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. — while they went back and forth with counterproposals, via cellphones and faxes that Dressler brought down.
“To the last time I saw him, we always laughed about that,” Bratches said. “But we got the deal done.”
Although Dressler retired from Time Warner at the end of 2006, he was advising and consulting for companies such as Crown Media Holdings, Retirement Living TV and Univision.
He first came into the cable business in 1976 and spent the next 30 years in various executive positions with Time Warner Cable and its predecessor, American Television & Communications.
As programming chief, Dressler helped lead the charge against spiraling sports rights. He was also a founder of E!, Sun Sports in Florida, SportsNet New York and In Demand Networks.
For more on Dressler, please see multichannel.com.
Reflections From Across the Table
“Fred Dressler was both a friend and a mentor of mine. He taught me a great deal … Fred taught me the value of honor and relationships. … People say that he was a tough negotiator, but I personally found him to be fair and principled. The thing I learned most from him professionally is that each negotiation is a part of a larger negotiation. If your counterpart desperately needs something today, give it to them even if you get nothing in return. Chances are, you'll be the one in need down the road.”
Jeff Shell, president, Comcast Programming Group
“The gatekeeper arriving at the pearly gates: It's really so sad. … We had a lot of battles over the years, but I always had great respect for him. It was amazing that he really had such great friendships on the network side despite the fact that his job was to be the gatekeeper. And despite all that, we stayed friends.”
Rich Cronin, former president, GSN
“Fred was beloved by all because he possessed the core character traits that we all strive to have as human beings. He was honest, incredibly intelligent, humble, generous, kind, creative, skillful, and had a great sense of humor. It is rare to find an individual that inspires so many people in so many ways. … In the past few months, he defined the meaning of courage in his fight against cancer. We have lost a great friend, a great mentor and a truly incredible human being.”
, president of domestic distribution and enterprises, Discovery Communications
“At each critical stage of my business career, he was among the first people I'd reach out to. … No matter how bleak any negotiation looked, or how strained any conflict would be, Fred could always see several ways out of the forest. He could always see several ways to get any deal done, any conflict resolved.”
Lindsay Gardner, director of global
media development, MediaTech
“Fred Dressler was one of the leading statesmen of the cable industry and while we will miss his future contributions, we have the benefit of his legacy in the growth and success that he brought to all those who had the good fortune to work with him.”
, CEO, Crown Media Holdings
“To me, Fred was the ultimate pro and a great guy. He made us all better at what we do and I learned a lot from him. He played a huge role in building our industry, and he'll certainly be missed.”
Brad Samuels, executive VP of affiliate sales and marketing, TV One