Smizik on TV: New FSN boss has unusual resume

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Ripples of surprise that bordered on amazement resonated in the local television community after the announcement that Ted Black, a longtime Penguins executive, would become the senior vice president and general manager of FSN Pittsburgh.

It made little sense. Television executives come from one of two places: Sales or programming. Black had a background in neither. It was about as logical a move as, say, KDKA-TV's Bob Pompeani being named president of the Pirates, and that's said with no disrespect for the talented Pompeani.

But here's what does make sense.

Black, 42 and formerly the Penguins vice president for business and legal affairs, takes the job with the full approval of his predecessor Steve Tello, who left FSN Pittsburgh last week for a similar position with FSN Houston.

It was Tello, in fact, who encouraged Black to apply. In the Pittsburgh television community, there can be no stronger recommendation.

Black's hiring was the first move made by Liberty Media, which took over control of FSN last week in a deal that originally was negotiated more than a year ago. FSN Pittsburgh will be part of the Liberty Sports Group, which also includes FSN Northwest (Seattle) and FSN Rocky Mountain (Denver).

Mark Shuken, the president and CEO of Liberty Sports Group, acknowledged that Black was short on television experience.

"Ted brings a wealth of outside experience, leadership ability and vision that we in the regional sports world might not always have. We all live with our heads down," he said. "He brings a different perspective and, frankly, one of the reasons we can put Ted in this role is how well the business is being run in Pittsburgh. This gives someone like Ted, who admittedly has a learning curve, a chance to adjust."

It's the endorsement from Tello that is Black's strongest recommendation. Although Tello compiled a deep list of long-distance enemies when he replaced broadcasting legend Mike Lange with Paul Steigerwald on Penguins telecasts, he's an executive who was revered by those who worked for him and enormously respected by those who follow the television industry.

"I think Ted is the right man at the right time to help Liberty build this franchise," Tello said. "He brings a great deal of experience in understanding team relationships, which is key in a general manager's role.

"He comes from a different discipline than I did, but there are some great people at FSN Pittsburgh, and I think they will support him as he works his way through learning the television production business."

One person Tello was specifically speaking of was Shawn McClintock, the station's executive producer who had been the No. 2 man to Tello. McClintock also applied for the job.

In an interview yesterday, Black called McClintock "my right arm," and said he would rely heavily on his expertise.

FSN grew significantly in the more than three years Tello was in charge. Most notably, he extended broadcasting contracts with the Pirates and Penguins. Tello often called those agreements "the oxygen of regional sports networks."

Black was surprised when Tello first approached him about the job. He had been in preliminary discussion about going to work with Liberty in a legal role.

"I told him I didn't have the qualifications for his job," Black said. "He convinced me that I did. He listed my accomplishments and made me realize this was a job I could do. Now, I'm looking forward to it."

Black, a graduate of Allegheny College and the Pitt School of Law, does not intend to let what Tello build deteriorate.

"I have a lot of programming ideas. I want to expand our local programming."

He talked about the possibility of doing more college basketball and mentioned carrying Duquesne and Robert Morris games.

Shuken said there would be no backtracking in Pittsburgh. "There will be a renewed emphasis on regional and local programming."


Bob Smizik can be reached at bsmizik@post-gazette.com .


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