Mercury in Retrograde?


What started out as an abbreviated and slow news week ended with a flurry of activity, with a number of entertainment executives announcing new and exciting gigs — or, in other cases, exit plans.

Blame it on Mercury being in retrograde, a time that stargazers say is fraught with unexpected change, upheaval and miscommunication as the pesky planet runs amok, creating chaos in its path.

And some of cable's hotshots sure seemed to be in the thick of this seemingly cosmic turmoil last week, given the number of changes in the executive wing.

First, former Charter Communications Inc. CEO Jerald Kent announced his comeback — well, sort of. That announcement came after Multichannel News finance editor Mike Farrell flushed out that scoop a week earlier; Kent later confirmed it was true.

So Kent — who had left Charter only last September after having a run-in with Charter chieftain Paul Allen — officially announced the formation of CEQUEL, a new company to be based in St. Louis.

That's right — as in "sequel" — we guess. Whatever. It's great to see Kent, a highly respected cable executive, coming back to an industry that so admired him, and that he apparently still loves.

So Kent, who has already lined up investors, is in pursuit of cable systems to acquire. He also plans to invest in competitive local-exchange carriers, tower services and regional phone companies. Welcome back, Jerry.

Then there was the unsettling news for the No. 1 cable network, Lifetime Television: It's losing its programming chief, Dawn Tarnofsky-Ostroff, who will head up Viacom's predominately male-oriented United Paramount Network.

Ouch! That's got to be a blow for Lifetime, as Tarnofsky-Ostroff was the magician behind the network's highly successful Sunday-night lineup. And now she's going to sprinkle some of that potion on a broadcast network.

The ink was barely dry on that release when word came down that one of Rupert Murdoch's key lieutenants, Chase Carey, was leaving the company. Seems Carey didn't think there was much for him to do at News Corp. after the company lost out in a long bidding war for DirecTV Inc., which went to Charlie Ergen's EchoStar Communications Corp.

Hours after the Carey announcement, the prolonged game of musical chairs continued. Techtv chairman and CEO Larry Wangberg said that he was also stepping aside. For Wangberg, that means spending more time with family and friends.

Wangberg will remain on board until a successor is named and will continue to serve on the board of Vulcan Ventures Inc., Techtv's owner.

There will be more changes and you don't need to refer to Sydney Omarr to figure that one out, Mercury in retrograde or not.

In some cases, success just breeds more success. People move on to bigger and better things. In other instances, shifting corporate strategies force executives to make other plans, or have others make plans for them.

Planets aside (Mercury, by the way, returns to normal Feb. 8), there's a very powerful force at work here. Since Ergen won DirecTV and Comcast Corp. picked up AT&T Broadband, every other media company is now in play.

And that means — and this is not an Omarr prediction — that just about every executive who works at these companies is in play as well. Get ready for the ride.