STEPHEN MCPHERSON, 41
President, ABC Entertainment
Stephen McPherson lives by risk-reward scenarios. The former Wall Street trader made the most daring play of the season by pulling Grey’s Anatomy out of its comfy post–Desperate Housewives time slot, sliding it to Thursday nights and pairing it with an adaptation of a Colombian telenovela retitled Ugly Betty. The dividends? ABC won the November sweeps for the first time in seven years, as Betty became the season’s breakout hit and Grey’s ratings surged. “We hadn’t been competitive on Thursdays since Mork and Mindy” McPherson says. “Now we’re winning the most important night of the week.” His chutzpah works both ways: He’s quick to own up to mistakes, yanking the Heather Graham series Emily’s Reasons Why Not after one episode and Lost creator J.J. Abrams’ ballyhooed Six Degrees after six episodes (though it is slated to return, retooled). And McPherson has freely taken his lumps over Lost’s fragmented schedule, but it was part of another ballsy trade-off: “We’ll run 22 straight episodes next year,” he promises. And he’s looking to split his stock, greenlighting a Grey’s spin-off he hopes will make ABC must-see TV for years to come. “I still look at us as the scrappy underdog,” McPherson says. “It’s like a never-ending playoff series with no championship to win.”
NIKKOLE DENSON, 36
Director of Business Development, Starbucks Entertainment
For many of its 44 million customers, Starbucks is the café experience, offering a distinct and reliable level of taste and qualitynot just in java but also in entertainment. Nikkole Denson is the mastermind behind Starbucks’ increasingly eclectic forays into cultural content. “People know they can depend on usno matter what it is,” she says. “If it’s a new artist they have never heard of, they take a chance.” And she’s not just talking about the ubiquitous CD racks: Denson made her own leap of faith last year when she struck a deal with Lionsgate to promote the movie Akeelah and the Bee, which became a surprise indie success. She hopes to repeat that trick this year by putting Starbucks behind one or two select projects. “We don’t have a strict set of criteria,” Denson says. “We know it when we see it, or read it, or hear it—but we want to support people with something to say.” Clearly the company’s imprimatur works for publishers too: More than 95,000 copies of Mitch Albom’s For One More Day were sold at Starbucks locations last year. Could the chain be acting purely out of goodwill? “Success isn’t a hard dollar amount, necessarily,” Denson explains. “That’s less important than the effect we’re having on our customers’ lives.” And on a few industries.
BEN SILVERMAN, 36
Founder and CEO, Reveille
It seems no one told Ben Silverman that we live an age of specialization. Professionally speaking, the agent turned producer is willing to embrace any medium (network TV, cable, web, wireless), genre (comedy, reality, historical dramas), or culture (England, Colombia, Australia). “I’m agnosticwe’re a content company looking for ideas everywhere,” he explains. Since leaving William Morris to form Reveille in 2002, Silverman has amassed one of Hollywood’s smartest portfolios, ranging from The Biggest Loser and Nashville Star to the hit U.S. versions of The Office and Ugly Betty andlest you doubt his renaissance-man statusShowtime’s period piece The Tudors. Next up: He’s raiding the U.K. once more for I’m With Stupid and producing a reality series for MTV about finding new members for the legendary boy band Menudo. Silverman’s ecumenical approach has led him to explore nontraditional revenue streamsfor example, he has created a series of Web-only shows for MSN that he’s marketing directly to advertisers. “We’re thinking about all the platforms all the time,” Silverman notes, “because we don’t live in a silo of one.” At least he doesn’t.