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Shaker Provides the Right Blend : Executive Producer Smooths Out the Waves at CBS Sports

November 17, 1986|NORMAN CHAD | The Washington Post

This time last year, CBS Sports' offices in New York City were the scene of raging guerrilla warfare.

It was a white-collar jungle on West 52nd Street, an ugly and unruly place of work where four executive producers of equal clout guarded their own turf and subordinates chose their preferred production team for which to bear arms.

Then came Ted Shaker to the rescue--if not necessarily a knight in shining armor mounted on a white steed, at least a level-headed, likable executive riding in on the subway to save the day.

Peter Lund, president of CBS Sports, had decided that the internal politicking from his four-headed management monster had become counterproductive, and he chose Shaker, 37, who had been in charge of the network's NBA telecasts and "The NFL Today" Sunday pre-game show.

Since Shaker became the sole executive producer in June, the office atmosphere has relaxed a great deal and CBS Sports can better concentrate on producing a more sharply defined, consistent look to its telecasts.

There are still politics--after all, networks are filled with highly competitive, high-strung individuals who honk their car horns even in the smallest of traffic jams--but much of the pettiness has subsided.

"What was once a tension-filled department has been reduced dramatically," said CBS sportscaster Dick Stockton. "Ted's a good people person. Always, if you ask him a straight question, you get a straight answer."

"In our old system," Lund said, "I always had the feeling we were diverted into (needless) arguments. The old system encouraged fractious behavior. There's a feeling now that everyone's on the same team pulling in the same direction."

Lund defines the role of executive producer as "managing the overall production apparatus of CBS Sports. . . . First, hiring the most talented production people; secondly, the care and handling of that talent."

For his part, Shaker downplays his overall impact. For instance, he demystifies the process of choosing which announcers to pair on telecasts.

"It's kind of like you put the index cards out with all the names, put two of them together, leave them there and then walk around the table and look at them."

Whatever his method, Shaker quietly has made changes--new graphics for telecasts; juggling his announcing pairs on NFL games, including breaking up the popular Jack Buck-Hank Stram team to put rookie analyst Joe Theismann alongside Buck; emphasizing to his announcers to talk less and to concentrate on "people stories" when they do talk; deciding to go heavily with marquee names and marquee teams in choosing which NFL and NBA games would be shown.

"I think Ted has an acute sense of what the public wants to see beyond the aficionados," Stockton said. "His 'networking' is key to our ratings. Sometimes he'll shy away from what seems to be the better game and go with the glamour team because he senses the general public wants to see the big names."

In many ways, Shaker, despite his newfound power, does not seem like an executive producer--even to himself.

"It's different from what I used to picture it to be," Shaker said. "I pictured this flamboyant guy with a Nehru jacket and a big medallion with PR people running in front of him. But I don't think of myself that way."

Shaker's two biggest concerns often seem to be budgeting the company's money and budgeting his own time.

The money factor is perhaps the greatest issue hitting all three network's sports departments.

"Ted wants to be good at what he does, and we clearly are making it more difficult by the month," Lund said. "Every month, it seems, we come in and say, 'Hey, we're whacking 20 grand off NFL telecasts. Make do.' "

"To stay basically the same (in terms of budget) as we were a year ago would be a victory," Shaker said. "The company is making an effort to keep equipment, manpower, what we put on the air, the same. That's sacrosanct. We've got to find other places to cut."

Shaker, who has the reputation of someone who responds well to criticism, knows he might find those other places simply by listening.

"He is open to suggestions from all quarters," Lund said, "and he doesn't think the sun rises or sets on his next statement."

As for the time problems, Shaker is looking into the eight-day week.

At a glance, his schedule does not seem that demanding. He usually works from 9 a.m. to 6 or 6:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday. "Then I take Friday off and work from home," he said.

"The problem is," Shaker said, "you add Saturdays and Sundays, which is when we actually do our jobs." But at least these days, when Shaker and his cohorts do those jobs, not everyone is looking as much over their shoulders for the enemy within.

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