THR's 35 Most Powerful People in Media

9:00 AM 4/11/2012

by THR staff

If you’re a ruthless tyrant, an American hero or a star with a story to tell, the must-stops for getting your message out are right here. Despite the near infinite amount of outlets and platforms, the fastest and smartest players — whether in broadcast or cable, morning or late-night, politics or even comedy — still drive the national conversation.

Kelly Ripa
Dan Hallman

Ripa, whose on-air mentions of her husband and three children comprise a large part of the bond with her primarily female viewership, underscores that the show continues to be a draw for talent. “One reason celebrities remain loyal is also a reason the audience maintains its loyalty — it’s not an anxiety-inducing show,” she says. “I don’t even think the publicists have to tell us what they don’t want to talk about.”

COMPLETE LIST: 35 Most Powerful People in Media

This story appears in the April 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The death on April 7 of Mike Wallace — who for nearly four decades was 60 Minutes’ resident pit bull — is a timely reminder, if we needed one, of the power of rigorous journalism to turn newsmen and women into newsmakers

PHOTOS: THR's 35 Most Powerful People in Media

In addition to its primary function of keeping viewers informed, entertained and moved to action, TV news continues to mint superstars: Matt Lauer (THR's cover subject, who just signed a new Today deal that will make him the highest-paid anchor in history), Diane Sawyer (her news bona fides are so well-established, it’s hard to imagine she was ever viewed as a beauty-queen lightweight by Wallace, no less), Anderson Cooper (his globe-trotting humanism and unflagging energy have led to not one but three jobs) and Bill O’Reilly (his independent streak has kept him atop the cable-news ratings for 125 consecutive months).

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And, of course, in this era of political skullduggery and death-match campaigning, the satire of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert has earned them both unparalleled influence (215,000 people attended their 2010 rally in Washington) and status as the incredulous and absurdist voices of a new generation. Meanwhile, David Letterman continues to conduct among the most incisive interviews of every political season, asking questions his peers in TV news dare not (“It seems like everyone’s gone wacky in the Republican Party,” he said to John McCain during a January Late Show appearance. “Is it the influence of the Tea Party, or am I over-examining this?”).

THR COVER: Matt Lauer on His 36-Hour 'Today' Negotiation, Ann Curry and NBC's Trayvon Martin Mistake

It might be 3,000 miles from Hollywood, but New York still is the media capital of America, where a steady stream of actors, musicians and authors clamor for a slot on Lorne Michaelsnewsmaking Saturday Night Live, the broadcast morning shows, Kelly Ripa's revolving co-host chair and, yes, Wendy Williams’ bawdy daytime chat show.

The Hollywood Reporter's second annual Power List honors the anchors, executives, late-night impresarios and media moguls who drive the news cycle, influence the entertainment industry, take us into the lives of the famous (and infamous) and keep us connected to our world.

Click below for THR's 35 Most Powerful People in Media list.

  • Roger Ailes

    Ailes, who turns 72 in May and has been at parent company News Corp. since 1996 (when he abruptly left his post as head of CNBC), once again will be a key force in this year’s presidential election as Fox News celebrates its 10th year at the top of cable news network ratings.

    PHOTOS: THR's 35 Most Powerful People in Media

    Ailes’ politics-heavy résumé and bond with News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch are just two of the reasons people in Hollywood love to hate Ailes — along with the success of his conservative appointment-TV mainstays Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, and On the Record’s Greta Van Susteren. Except for those rare exceptions when CNN rides a wave of surprise breaking news to the top (for example when Whitney Houston died), Fox News beats CNN and MSNBC with breaking news and regular programming, often on a combined basis. Morgan Stanley analyst Benjamin Swinburne recently estimated Fox News’ fair-market value at $12.4 billion, making it News Corp.’s most valuable business.

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    Outside of work, Ailes, married and father to a son, is a Civil War buff and huge Cleveland Indians fan and repeatedly has said that he would love to buy the team someday. Despite his 1-percent status, it’s Ailes’ instincts about what stories and topics average Americans are obsessed with that keeps audiences coming back for more.

  • Jim Bell

    As the top-rated morning show for more than 850 weeks, Today wields a unique power over the American conversation, often setting the news agenda for websites and other outlets. It’s no wonder, then, that the show is the go-to stop for celebrities promoting their latest projects and for politicians who want to get their message out to Today’s more than 5 million daily viewers.

    PHOTOS: THR's 35 Most Powerful People in Media

    For Today’s hosts, the goal is to conduct an interview that illuminates aggressively without antagonization. “Audiences respect that, unlike other morning shows and evening entertain- ment programs, no one gets a free pass on Today. You have to answer the questions,” says Bell, 44. “And I think that Hollywood stars respect that, unlike certain websites, we aren’t looking for a ‘gotcha’ moment, either.”

    Bell came to Today in 2005 from NBC Sports and has shepherded the show through the transitions from Katie Couric to Meredith Vieira and, most recently, Vieira to Ann Curry. He is credited with strengthening the show’s news reporting while incorporating the celebrity and multiple-birth stories that make it a must-see for a primarily female audience.

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    He also presided over the show’s expansion to a fourth hour. Industry insiders initially questioned the need for yet another 60 minutes of the franchise, but it has become a pop-culture hit, with co-hosts Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford’s wine-infused antics earning regular parody on SNL and elsewhere.

    These days, Bell also is pulling double duty as the executive producer of NBC’s coverage of the Summer Olympics in London, which means he’s in the Today control room at the crack of dawn (a car picks him up from his Connecticut home at 4:30 a.m.) and often in Olympics strategy sessions well into the evening.

    A married father of four boys ages 9 to 16, the former Harvard defensive tackle knows how to handle the tough spots. “A defensive lineman gets hit on every play,” says Bell. “It’s good preparation for morning television.”

  • Mika Brzezinski & Joe Scarborough

    "It's an island of sanity across the board in television news,” says Brzezinski, 44, about the dynamic duo’s 4-year-old morning show that concerns itself with smart news coverage and analysis. “What I think people like is that while we both come from different ideological standpoints, our objective is to be objective.”

    PHOTOS: THR's 35 Most Powerful People in Media

    One early defining moment came when Brzezinski, the daughter of former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and a mother of two teenage daughters, tore up a script on the show. “The news director wanted us to cover Paris Hilton getting out of prison,” Scarborough, 49, remembers. “Four million YouTube hits later, we had made our stand.”

    The father of four emphasizes three key groups of influencers the show targets— Washington, Wall Street and the media and, in some cases, entertainment. “When you have a movie like Hunger Games that grosses more than any other nonsequel movie in history — that’s a story,” he says.

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    And the entertainment industry is paying attention to the pair, who have a production company with an undisclosed movie project and are represented by power agent Ari Emanuel. “What’s exciting is that we’ve had some major figures come on our show,” says Brzezinski, listing Sarah Jessica Parker, Tom Hanks, Bradley Cooper and Larry David as fans, “and the first thing they’ll say to us is, ‘I watch you every morning’!” Adds Scarborough: “Without aiming directly for the Hollywood audience, it seems like we are getting [those viewers] — even if they have to TiVo it or watch at ungodly hours.”

  • Steve Capus

    It’s not easy leading a legacy TV news brand through the digital revolution. “The hardest part of the job is the quest for relevance, recognizing that news consumption has evolved and will evolve tomorrow and the next day,” says Capus, 48, the longest- serving current broadcast news president since being named in 2005.

    PHOTOS: THR's 35 Most Powerful People in Media

    Re-signing top-ranked Today host Matt Lauer, with whom he’s had a decades-long relationship, will go a long way in keeping NBC News relevant in the morning race — and in the ratings competition with second-place Good Morning America.

    “Matt is incredibly important to this news division,” says Capus, who joined NBC News in 1993 and has produced signature broadcasts including Today, was executive producer of MSNBC’s The News With Brian Williams and steered Nightly News through the transition from Tom Brokaw.

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    But Capus also stresses the overall strength of the top-rated news division. "It’s important to build an organization that is bigger than the individual parts," he says. "We have a hall-of-fame lineup that we can draw on every single day. I’m not going to sit here and say it’s Matt Lauer or nothing because that isn’t fair to the rest of the organization. There is talent in every single office."  

    And while he's not happy with ratings for recently launched newsmagazine Rock Center, he says that the Williams-hosted hour, which hired a staff of 100, marks an investment in programming while the news industry overall has contracted. 

    A Philadelphia native, the married father of two sons (ages 10 and 12) and a daughter (23) is an avid Flyers and Phillies fan and has been known to unwind by playing bass guitar; Yes bassist Chris Squire is a favorite.



  • Stephen Colbert

    Colbert’s TV persona is fake, but its impact couldn’t be more real. Few Americans knew what a Super PAC was before May 2011, when Colbert asked the FCC for an exemption from media rules to allow him to plug on the show his satirical Colbert Super PAC, which has raised both $1 million and awareness about how unlimited campaign contributions are reshaping politics.

    PHOTOS: THR's 35 Most Powerful People in Media

    He’s addressed the troops in Iraq, testified before Congress on behalf of migrant workers and co-staged the Rally to Restore Sanity with pal/mentor Jon Stewart. And in a poll in advance of the South Carolina primary, Colbert was running competitive with Rick Santorum and Ron Paul — despite the fact that he wasn’t on the ballot. Colbert, 47, grew up the youngest of 11 children in a devout Catholic family (he now teaches Sunday school) and paid his dues in the Chicago improv scene.

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    Since spinning off Colbert’s blowhard O’Reilly-esque character from The Daily Show in 2005, Report has racked up 21 Emmy nominations, spawned two books (with another on the way) and one Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor, and it now averages 1.6 million nightly viewers — less than The Daily Show’s 2.4 million but more than cable late-night rivals Conan O’Brien and Chelsea Handler.

  • Anderson Cooper

    When Cooper, 44, lost it on air, laughing to the point of tears during a heavily pun-laced “RidicuList” 360 segment about Gerard Depardieu allegedly urinating on a public flight, his giggles went viral.

    “I went to bed that night thinking no one would really notice it,” says the face of CNN. “The next morning, it was everywhere. Some people actually have it as their ringtone on their phone. I am not one of them.”

    PHOTOS: THR's 35 Most Powerful People in Media

    Perhaps the only anchor with the kind of fame factor that can launch a ringtone, he also is among 60 Minutes’ pop-culture interlocutors, interviewing Lady Gaga in her underwear last year and Adele for a segment on Grammys night. While 360 continues to deliver network-topping ratings for CNN, the host’s syndicated talker, Anderson, struggled but was renewed for a second season, with a shift to a smaller studio in the CBS Broadcast Center, to be closer to his CBS News colleagues and to afford the show more options, including the ability to go live.

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    “We’ve made the show more multi-topic and more topical,” he says of Anderson. Despite election-year opportunities, Cooper says it’s “regular people trying hard to live a good and decent life” who most inspire him. “They are who I think about when I close my eyes at night.”

  • Bob Costas

    An unvarnished, warts-and-all view of the multibillion-dollar sports industry has put Costas in a class all his own. “I’ve never been reluctant to ask journalistic questions,” he says.

    PHOTOS: THR's 35 Most Powerful People in Media

    Indeed, an unexpected interview with Jerry Sandusky — the former assistant football coach at the center of a sex-abuse scandal that has rocked Penn State — had Costas bluntly asking Sandusky whether he was a “pedophile” who is “sexually attracted to young boys” and how he felt being regarded as “some sort of monster” by millions of Americans.

    “It was a legitimate news story that went beyond Sandusky,” Costas recalls, “and raised questions about how col- lege sports is policed.”

    An on-air essay on the NFL’s “knuckle-heads” suggested that players “confine [their] buffoonery to situations that don’t directly damage” their teams and asked when coaches would bench players whose antics cost them penalty yards.

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    But Costas, 60, who married second wife Jill Sutton in 2004 and has two grown children from his first marriage, manages to walk a fine line between watchdog and fan. “In many respects, football is a brutal game in which violence isn’t just tolerated, it’s celebrated,” he says.

    Expect Costas to bring that same bracing honesty to NBC’s coverage of the 2012 Olympic Games in London where, beginning July 27, he’ll spend five hours a night on the air for 17 straight nights.

  • Katie Couric

    Couric Just wrapped a headline-making guest turn on ABC’s Good Morning America on April 6, her first morning-TV stint since leaving Today in 2006. But the host — who launches her daytime talk show Sept. 10 in 95 percent of the country — wants everyone to know that one job is enough.

    PHOTOS: THR's 35 Most Powerful People in Media

    “It was fun,” she says, likening her return to morning hosting to seeing an old boyfriend again. “You’re reminded why you fell in love and why you broke up. But I don’t want two jobs.”

    Her goal with Katie? “I want to have real conversations about important things but have fun, too,” says Couric, 55, the mother of two daughters, 16 and 20. She also will give her colleagues in the TV business some renewed competition in the booking wars. Couric already has begun the process of courting “some of the people I’ve had relationships with,” though she won’t tip her hand.

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    Asked whether she’s reached out to Sarah Palin for Round 2 of their oft-parodied 2008 interview, Couric says: “I think it would be great. I’m not sure she is as interested. But certainly, she has an open invitation any time she wants to come by.”

  • Ann Curry

    “It's a pleasure to switch gears from Hollywood to hard news,” says Curry, 56, who replaced Meredith Vieira as Today co-host in June 2011. Sometimes the two collide head-on: In the past few years, Curry has made three trips to the Sudan with George Clooney, traveled to Africa with Angelina Jolie and spent time with Jolie’s partner, Brad Pitt, in New Orleans as he continues his post-Katrina rebuilding efforts.

    PHOTOS: THR's 35 Most Powerful People in Media

    “Angelina was careful to really smarten up on all the topics,” says Curry, who began her broadcasting career at an NBC affiliate in Portland, Ore., before landing at NBC as a Chicago news correspondent in 1990. (Her future at Today may be a source of speculation, but her co-host Matt Lauer and NBC News president Steve Capus have officially pledged their full support.) “I’ve known George for years, and he has become one of the most informed voices on Sudan — anywhere.”

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    Curry’s passion for covering the war-torn region was clear in an October 2010 blog entry she posted: “While I am wary of the dangers, I know I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing right now.”

  • Jeff Fager

    Since Fager took the top job at CBS News in February 2011, the division has rediscovered some of that old swagger from when “third place” was not reflexively used to describe the house that Edward R. Murrow built.

    PHOTOS: THR's 35 Most Powerful People in Media

    In less than a year, Fager, 57, and his deputy, CBS News president David Rhodes, have remade their morning and evening broadcasts, installing Scott Pelley at CBS Evening News and Charlie Rose and Gayle King at the new CBS This Morning. Original reporting and hard news are stressed on both shows. “It’s such an important time,” says Fager. “It’s an election year. There’s a war going on. We’re slowly pull- ing out of a recession. The stories that we cover matter.”

    Morning, averaging 2.5 million viewers during the first quarter, might have jettisoned morning TV staples like cooking segments, but Rose and King leverage their considerable connections to land boldface names: King visited Michelle Obama in the White House just as a controversial book about her marriage was hitting stores, and Rose’s status means Hollywood heavyweights like George Clooney and Harvey Weinstein make the show a requisite stop.

    Executive producer of 60 Minutes since 2004, Fager knows how to mix the deadly serious with the seriously entertaining: On a recent Sunday, 60 led with Lesley Stahl’s interview with infamous former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and concluded with Lara Logan’s feature on Aerosmith, during which guitarist Joe Perry reveled in ridiculing Steven Tyler.

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    With an average audience of more than 14 million viewers this season, 60 routinely makes TV’s top 10. Meanwhile, Pelley’s Evening News has added nearly a million viewers this year and beat ABC’s World News in the all-important 25-to-54 demo during the week of Feb. 13, the first time CBS had overtaken ABC in six years. “We happen to be up in ratings,” says Fager. “But if someone said, ‘You’ve got to go in a different direction,’ then you’ve got to find some other team.”

    The married father of three children in their 20s, including a son who is a news photographer at the New Orleans CBS affiliate, was forewarned about his workload. “The one thing Les Moonves said before I took the job: ‘You know, your golf game is not going to be very good.’ ”

  • Jimmy Fallon

    When he took over NBC’S Late Night in 2009, executives asked Fallon, 37, if “the Internet” would factor into his new talk show. “That doesn’t make any sense,” he recalls thinking. “It wasn’t even a question.”

    PHOTOS: THR's 35 Most Powerful People in Media

    The show was the first late-nighter to register its own website outside a network umbrella and to switch from tape to digital. The result? Instant online traction for “The History of Rap” with friend Justin Timberlake, and R&B duets with Gwyneth Paltrow and Fallon’s impressions of Robert Pattinson, David Bowie and Neil Young going viral. Even the 12:35 a.m. airtime of his show — which posts annual growth and easily tops direct competitors Jimmy Kimmel and Craig Ferguson, averaging nearly 2 million viewers this season — works in Fallon’s favor for web-savvy younger viewers. “People have to go to sleep at some point, so you can see it all the next day online,” he says. “It’s like the show airs twice.”

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    Another thing Fallon gets right is music. A combination of booker Jonathan Cohen’s efforts, Fallon’s whims (“What’s Adam Ant doing? Can we get Christopher Cross?”) and the host’s finds on song-identification app Shazam has Late Night breaking new music from Passion Pit to Lykke Li as well as boasting appearances from the old guard. Madonna and Bruce Springsteen (who appeared twice during a week devoted to his songs) recently chose Fallon as their only interview when promoting new releases. “I think we built the show toward the iPod generation,” says Fallon. “You don’t just have seven albums. You don’t have 20 CDs. You have 8,000 different songs.”

  • James Goldston

    The moment Goldston, 43, arrived at ABC News in 2004 from Britain’s ITV1, he was in charge of nearly every news broadcast on the network — Nightline, This Week and Good Morning America.

    PHOTOS: THR's 35 Most Powerful People in Media

    He successfully led the transition of Nightline from the Ted Koppel-era to a multi-topic format that mines pop culture and hard news and routinely beats late-night competitors David Letterman and Jay Leno, and he has turned GMA into a contender with topical stories and aggressive guest bookings (during the week of March 26, it pulled within 119,000 viewers of top-rated Today, the closest GMA had been in seven years).

    On March 1, ABC News president Ben Sherwood announced Goldston’s promotion to a role that gives him purview over all ABC News broadcasts and its expanding brand — soon likely to include a partnership with Univision on an English-language news channel. “ABC has a reputation as the home of the great storytellers,” says Goldston, who lives in Brooklyn Heights with his wife and three young sons. “My role is to empower master storytellers like Diane Sawyer to push the envelope.”

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    Asked whether there are things about American culture he still finds perplexing, Goldston — who, like many British expats, rises early to watch his soccer team (Chelsea) at a pub near his home — replies: “I refuse to call football ‘soccer.’ That’s not happening.”

  • Phil Griffin

    “Hollywood wants to reflect our times,” says Griffin of the rough-and-tumble 2008 election that sent the nation’s first African American to the White House, minted GOP rainmaker Sarah Palin — and had MSNBC’s lineup of liberal hosts playing themselves in numerous film and TV projects (Game Change, The Ides of March). “Much of the debate about our times is going on in cable news. We’re part of the national dialogue,” he says.

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    MSNBC’s brand of political talk and the dramatic presidential election propelled it past rival CNN in 2008, firmly establishing the network as the progressive counterweight to juggernaut Fox News Channel. Yes, star host Keith Olbermann abruptly broke with MSNBC in January 2011, but Rachel Maddow has inherited the role as the marquee personality ushering in a more reasoned and erudite discourse at a time when the debate in Washington has taken a nasty turn. “Anger and belligerence doesn’t work today,” says Griffin, 55, a married father of two teenagers.

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    This year, the MSNBC president launched four new shows hosted by Al Sharpton, Huffington Post columnist Alex Wagner, The Nation editor Chris Hayes and Tulane professor Melissa Harris-Perry, who got her start filling in for Maddow. Says Griffin: “You’ve got to find a different way. That’s what Rachel is doing, and that’s what you’re seeing with our new programs: really smart, deep dialogue.”

  • Sean Hannity

    “It is my job to point out hypocrisy,” says Hannity, 50, which sums up his work mission as much as it does his take on the ad boycott following Rush Limbaugh’s condemnation of Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke as a “slut” for her support of insurance-covered contraception. “Bill Maher, who gave a million dollars to Obama’s PAC, used the c-word about Gov. Palin,” says Hannity. “If there was real outrage, I’d expect the president to return the money to Maher. These sanctimonious liberals who act so indignant grow immediately silent. Isn’t that funny?”

    PHOTOS: THR's 35 Most Powerful People in Media

    Hannity, who tapes his radio show near his home on Long Island and his TV show in Manhattan, can laugh. His show draws an average of 2.02 million viewers, including 456,000 in the core news demo of adults 25-to-54, handily beating MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and CNN’s Piers Morgan in the 9 p.m. slot and making him Fox News’ clear No. 2 to Bill O’Reilly. Hannity also is the only current cable-news personality who has remained in the same time slot, topping it for 39 months as of the end of March.

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    Married for 19 years with two kids, Hannity says he is partial to movies like the Navy SEAL drama Act of Valor and TV shows like American Idol. “Sometimes,” he admits, “I watch six episodes in a row.”

  • Arianna Huffington

    In February 2011, AOLacquired Huffington’s website for a staggering $315 million, naming the 61-year-old editor in chief and president of the Huffington Post Media Group. Under her direction, the site has seen 59 percent growth in unique visitors since the merger and garnered an impressive 1.1 billion page views in February 2012. “We take conversations found at water coolers and around dinner tables — about art, politics, books, food and sex — and open them up and bring them online,” says Huffington of her site, which features celebrity and industry bloggers Matt Damon, Nora Ephron, Alec Baldwin and Angelina Jolie. (Huffington maintains they are not compensated.)

    PHOTOS: THR's 35 Most Powerful People in Media

    With plans to launch a HuffPost streaming video network in the summer, the site continues to grow and recently launched four international editions (Canada, U.K., France and Quebec) and announced two more (Spain and Italy). On April 5, it was reported that Huffington’s portfolio will include overseeing AOL’s business development, marketing, communications and technology efforts, with the Greece-born editor continuing to report to AOL’s CEO, Tim Armstrong. “Everything has intensified,” says Huffington. “So it’s been impor- tant for me to find my balance. I meditate; I do yoga. I take it day by day, moment by moment.”

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  • Steve Kroft

    Consider this proof of Kroft’s power: President Obama has never turned down the 60 Minutes veteran for an interview. The Indiana native chalks this up to his top-rated newsmagazine’s broad reach (60 is regularly watched by more than 14 million viewers) as well as his long-standing relationship with the president.

    PHOTOS: THR's 35 Most Powerful People in Media

    For viewers at home, Kroft’s appeal is his range. At 66, the journalist who got his start as a correspondent and photographer for Pacific Stars and Stripes during the Vietnam War is as apt to do a segment about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as he is to sit down with The Eagles or South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. “I like investigative pieces, but I also like to cleanse my palate,” says Kroft of incorporating Hollywood fare into his regular workload.

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    While disappointed by today’s project-peddling celebrity culture, his wish list still has a few entertainment types on it. Among them: Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr. and producer Brian Grazer, along with the hard-to-book Harvey Weinstein and impossible-to-lure Jack Nicholson. But as the newsmagazine field has narrowed in recent years, Kroft, a married father, has distinguished himself with his dogged pursuit of stories that matter. In February, the Senate and House passed the STOCK Act (Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge) after Kroft embarrassed lawmakers by shining a light on the dubious practice. On the Hill, they’re calling it “The 60 Minutes Act.”

  • Matt Lauer

    It is Friday, April 6, and Matt Lauer is pawing through a stack of newspapers in his dressing room above Today’s Studio 1A. He scans a New York Times article about Keith Olbermann’s nasty legal battle with Al Gore and the executives at Current, the latest in a string of former employers for the volatile cable news host. “Olbermann is suing Current for $70 million,” says Lauer, betraying a hint of disbelief.

    PHOTOS: THR's 35 Most Powerful People in Media

    Of course, the most famous face of the morning doesn’t mention the day’s other big-money media headline: his signing of a four-year contract with NBC’s Today for a reported $25 million a year. (Lauer won’t comment on the dollar figure.) Earlier, at 7:09 a.m., Ann Curry announced on air that her 54-year-old co-host was staying at the top-rated morning show, capping months of speculation about his future on the franchise, one that funnels more than half a billion dollars a year into NBC News coffers.

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    “I should have retired,” he jokes, as he contemplates his evening plans — the Bruce Springsteen concert at Madison Square Garden. “I have to nap to go to a rock concert... That’s how sad it is.”

    Read THR's complete cover story with Matt Lauer here.

  • David Letterman

    Letterman, 64, celebrated his 30th anniversary as a late-night host in January by inviting back Bill Murray, the first guest on his then-NBC late show in February 1982.

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    Although the field has grown increasingly competitive during the past three decades, with entries from Stephen Colbert to Andy Cohen vying for attention, Letterman’s show
    — which moved to CBS in 1993 — still sits atop the TV food chain. In fact, for Hollywood’s A-list, along with D.C. heavyweights including President Obama, Letterman’s Late Show couch is a must-stop on the publicity tour.

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    This season, the Indiana-born father of one, famous for his dry wit and top-10 lists, is averaging 3.3 million viewers and a 0.9 rating in the all-important 18-to-49 demographic. Despite rumblings about looming retirement, Letterman, who pulled ahead of rival Jay Leno for a period late last year, recently re-upped through 2014.

  • Rachel Maddow

    “The pace here is just incredible ... but we are sustaining it, somehow, every day,” says Maddow, 39, after more than 400 installments of her weeknight news and opinion program. The host of MSNBC’s top-rated show — and its lead anchor for political coverage — says she most enjoys the momentum of an election year, when the smallest detail could be an inflection point in the campaign and “end up changing American history.”

    PHOTOS: THR's 35 Most Powerful People in Media

    Outside of her TV duties, the avid mixologist (she likes to create and taste cocktail recipes) hopes her first book, Drift, about the U.S.’ ever-increasing war-making capabilities, will get Americans to “reconsider decisions” about going to war. “This is a relatively new problem, and a fixable one, but I think this is the right moment to start talking about it,” she says.

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    As for what’s next, Maddow hopes to land a few elusive guests. “I’m going to try giving Virginia [Republican] Gov. Bob McDonnell and every adult member of the Cheney family a seat with their name on it in my studio,” she says. “Gov. McDonnell, if you’re reading this, ‘Hi! I’m buying you a chair!’"

  • Lorne Michaels

    Asking michaelS to heap praise on just one of his television endeavors in the past year is like asking a papa to pick his favorite child. “I’m really proud of the second season of Portlandia,” says Michaels, 67, of the hipster-skewering variety series. “I also watched a new 30 Rock last night that made me laugh out loud. And Jimmy’s Bruce Springsteen episode was an amazing hour of TV. Also, I was in L.A. for Up All Night’s season finale. I’m pretty happy about all of it!”

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    In the 37 years since the Canadian producer created Saturday Night Live, TV’s longest-running late-night sketch show, his cultural sway hasn’t staggered for a moment. Lindsay Lohan’s March 3 appearance was this season’s most-watched episode, and SNL’s skewering of the news, “Weekend Update,” can be said to be the predecessor to The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, the most influential outlets for political satire.

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    Through his company Broadway Video, Michaels continues to expand his empire via his latest scripted-comedy producing effort, Up All Night, starring Christina Applegate and Will Arnett and created by former SNL writer Emily Spivey. Night has seen positive reviews and steady ratings, and with Fallon’s recent edge over CBS’ Craig Ferguson at 12:35 a.m., Michaels’ status as one of New York’s premier culture creators remains firmly intact.

  • Piers Morgan

    When Morgan, 47, isn't chasing down the day’s top stories (the CNN host landed an interview with Kirk Cameron in March about the actor’s controversial documentary, which led to a media firestorm over gay rights), the former Daily Mirror editor creates headlines himself. Recently, Morgan engaged in a Twitter battle with Madonna, extending her ban from his CNN show (which averages about 700,000 viewers). “This could all be a part of a brilliant PR campaign to compel her to do the show,” says Morgan. “Then I might dramatically lift the ban. Imagine the ratings.”

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    Just 15 months ago, he slid into the time slot occupied by Larry King for 25 years; since then, Morgan has landed some of the year’s biggest interviews, including his favorite guest, Charlie Sheen. “Turning up with five minutes to spare, he gave me the most dangerous, brilliant, exciting hour of live television I’ve had all year,” recalls Morgan. “He looked at me and said: ‘Hey, Piers, stop panicking. Let’s rock and roll.’ ”

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  • Bill O'Reilly

    “People get comfortable with ‘personalities’ like Oprah and Johnny Carson. I don’t want to put myself in that category, but they like programs to be consistent,” says O’Reilly, 62, who has kept Fox News on top of the primetime cable-news ratings for 136 consecutive months as of the end of March.

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    That leaves O’Reilly, who was born in Manhattan and raised on Long Island, well ahead of his MSNBC and CNN competition. “There is an authenticity that we bring every night,” he says, adding that the quick pace of his show has become an O’Reilly Rule. “A long time ago, I told my staff that the reason we’d beat Larry King, who had the highest-rated cable show 13 years ago, was we’d be a lot faster. That’s how I beat him.”

    O’Reilly knows that he also affects Hollywood’s bottom line: “We can help a book or movie. Can we hurt them? I don’t do that, unless it’s egregious.” Redacted, a feature bankrolled by Mark Cuban about the Iraq War, “put the U.S. soldiers in a bad light,” he says, citing an example of when his show “pretty much killed” a movie.

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    As for what he sees as the “liberal media’s endorsement of Barack Obama,” O’Reilly “won’t endorse anyone. I’m tough on Romney; I’m tough on Obama,” he says. “My opinion, of course, is always there. We try to let the best debater win.”

  • Scott Pelley

    Nine months after replacing Katie Couric as anchor of CBS Evening News, Pelley, 54, has seen viewership for the peren- nial third-place newscast improve. Up about 800,000 viewers year- over-year, the half-hour broadcast is inching closer to Diane Sawyer’s World News, even topping it in recent weeks in the coveted 25-to-54 demographic.

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    It’s an effort the Texas native says is best attributed to the work of the show’s correspondents, including Clarissa Ward, who smuggled herself into Syria to expose the atrocities of President Bashar al-Assad, whose military has killed 5,000 civilians in 11 months.

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    “That 30 minutes at the end of the day when I’m anchoring is the least important thing I do,” he says, noting the 12-hour days spent in the iconic CBS News fishbowl with producers. “We like to say around here that there’s no such thing as good writing, there’s only good rewriting.”

  • David Rhodes

    Rhodes, 38, learned the TVnews business in the belly of the beast, at Roger Ailes Fox News Channel, where he was initiated into the competitive world of cable news as a 22-year-old production assistant in 1996. The New York native’s intelligence and work ethic impressed Ailes, and Rhodes rose through the ranks, becoming vp news before leaving in 2008 to become head of U.S. TV at Bloomberg.

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    At CBS News, Rhodes, whose younger brother Ben is President Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, oversees all newsgathering and is chairman Jeff Fager’s right hand. Together, Fager and Rhodes have strived to make CBS This Morning a player in the lucrative morning TV arena by differentiating their product from the rest of the a.m. broadcasts. Ratings are down year-over-year, but up in a handful of markets since Charlie Rose and Gayle King joined the broadcast alongside Erica Hill. But the show is a hit internally with such CBS News anchors as Bob Schieffer, Scott Pelley and Lara Logan, who have embraced opportunities to appear on it.

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    Rhodes — who majored in economics and political science at Rice University in Houston — lives in Brooklyn Heights with his wife and sons, ages 3 and 5, but the subway commute to the CBS Broadcast Center on West 57th Street in Manhattan is beginning to wear on him.

    “I’m reading Isaac Singer,” says Rhodes, referring to the Polish emigre who lived in The Belnord Hotel on West 87th Street, “because we’re thinking of moving to the Upper West Side.”

  • Kelly Ripa

    Ripa doesn’t consider herself the official host of her own series. “Our show has always been a love note to New York,” she says. “I feel like the city is the real host, and we have two ambassador co-hosts who sit in.” These days, the co-host count can be said to vary. In November, not long after hitting his 10th anniversary with Ripa, Regis Philbin left his seat of 28 years at Live! With Regis and Kelly. The months since the show’s subsequent rebranding as Live! With Kelly have found Ripa, 41, sitting alongside a revolving door of famous friends — Jerry Seinfeld, Neil Patrick Harris, Alec Baldwin — and potential torch carriers such as Jerry O’Connell, Michael Buble and NY1 anchor Pat Kiernan.

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    But even amid talk of firming up the chair, Ripa says there’s “no urgency” to finding a permanent replacement and notes the show’s steady performance since Philbin’s exit. (It recently matched its February 2011 sweep rating of a 2.7 in households and is now the top syndicated talker among the coveted women 25-to-54 demo.)

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    Ripa, whose on-air mentions of her husband and three children comprise a large part of the bond with her primarily female viewership, underscores that the show continues to be a draw for talent. “One reason celebrities remain loyal is also a reason the audience maintains its loyalty — it’s not an anxiety-inducing show,” she says. “I don’t even think the publicists have to tell us what they don’t want to talk about.”

  • Robin Roberts

    Unlike most of her on-camera peers, whose personal lives and emotions are stoically guarded, Roberts, 51, is an open book about the struggles she has faced.

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    “My father died, my hometown was decimated by Hurricane Katrina, I had cancer, I’ve cried and ripped off my wig on the air. And hosting ABC’s Oscars’ red-carpet show was no picnic either!” says the down-to-earth anchor, a former college basketball player who has been on GMA since 2005. “It’s made me very approachable. People see me as a friend, and I really own that.”

    The former ESPN anchor’s reputation as morn- ing news’ most empathetic ear helped net her an exclusive in July with Dominique Strauss-Kahn accuser Nafi Diallo, during which the hotel maid broke her silence about the former IMF head’s alleged sexual attacks on her.

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    “All she wanted was the chance for a jury to listen to her,” says Roberts. “It made worldwide headlines, and people kept asking, ‘Do you believe her?’ and I said, ‘It doesn’t matter!’ ”

  • Charlie Rose

    Few television hosts can claim to have interviewed the sheer volume of personalities that Rose, 70, has during more than 20 years on his PBS program.

    Always at the nexus of culture, politics and science, the show’s utilitarian oak table continues to be a destination for everyone from Hollywood celebrities (Brad Pitt, 10 appearances; Angelina Jolie, eight; George Clooney, 16) to world leaders (Benjamin Netanyahu, 12; Bill and Hillary Clinton, six each; Barack Obama, four appearances before he was elected president).

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    Rose has appeared as himself in numerous films and TV shows including Primary Colors, The Ides of March and The Simpsons. In 2009, when MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann and Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly were engaged in bitter on-air flame- throwing, Rose helped to broker a detente, encouraging execu- tives at the companies to bury the hatchet.

    Since January, Rose has been leveraging his con- nections for CBS This Morning, where news, original reporting and smart conversation are being stressed to differentiate it among the morning shows. “It has come a long way in a short amount of time,” says Rose. “We’re getting there.” As if two daily broadcasts weren’t enough, in February, Rose added co-host — with Lara Logan — of Person to Person to his re?sume?.

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    He still manages to maintain a robust social life that includes jetting to Italy to play basketball with Clooney at his Lake Como villa. “He beat me last summer,” he says. “And I’ve been practicing my fade-away jump shot.”

  • Diane Sawyer

    After 42 years of slugging it out in the trenches of broadcast journalism, Sawyer, 66, still manages to approach her craft with the purest of goals. “We want to give people the experience of other lives and empower Americans to make decisions about the life of their country,” says Sawyer, who’s married to director Mike Nichols.

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    “It’s that phrase, ‘Wow, I’m so glad I know that.’ That’s our goal; that’s a good day.” The anchorwoman’s nofrills approach to her work likely grew from a youth spent in Kentucky (which included a few tours in the beauty pageant circuit) and later working for the Republican Party as an aide to then-embattled President Nixon, whom she helped prepare for his historic interviews with British journalist David Frost.

    The exposure led Sawyer to an early TV career as a CBS News correspondent, and in 1989, she moved to ABC News, where she was co-anchor of Primetime Live and GMA and, currently, is the only female anchor of ABC World News.

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    Never resting on her laurels, Sawyer netted two of the year’s most heartwrenching — and coveted — interviews: one with kidnap victim Jaycee Dugard in July and the other in November with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, following her recovery from an assassination attempt. Who is left on Sawyer’s must-meet list? “The pope,” she says. “Do you have his number?”

  • Ben Sherwood

    When Sherwood took over ABC News at the end of 2010, the division had just limped through a series of deep cuts that excised 25 percent of the staff and gutted morale. A little more than a year later, ABC’s Good Morning America is challenging morning leader Today; millions of new eyes are on the network’s work via a content deal with Yahoo; and a partnership with Univision on an English-language news network aimed at acculturated Latinos is on the horizon.

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    “The news division is much more united,” says Sherwood, 48, whose entrepreneurial energy resulted in, among other efforts, breaking down calcified internal silos. A Harvard graduate who attended Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship, Sherwood began his career at ABC in 1989 as an associate producer on the newsmagazine Primetime Live, followed by a stint at NBC News and a return to ABC, where he was named executive producer of GMA in 2004.

    “I think what you’re seeing [on GMA] is a broadcast that’s really clicking,” says Sherwood. So far this season, the gap between Today and GMA stands at just over 500,000 viewers and 450,000 in the critical 25-to-54 demo.

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    With multiple best-selling novels under his belt, Sherwood published his first nonfiction book in 2009, The Survivors Club, about the science of human survival. Since moving back from an L.A. sabbatical to New York with his wife, Imagine Films consultant Karen Kehela-Sherwood, and their two young sons, Sherwood is more likely to be found coaching one of his 7-year-old’s sports teams than at the proverbial typewriter. “I will always love writing,” he says. “But this job taps all of my curiosity and creativity.”

  • George Stephanopoulos

    In December 2009, Stephanopoulos, former White House senior adviser during the Clinton administration and ABC news political correspondent, joined GMA to help boost ratings and challenge NBC’s reigning Today powerhouse.

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    “With the team in place, we’re gaining ground every week,” says the 51-year old father of two. Stephanopoulos’ sharp intelligence and easy wit have helped energize GMA, and turned it into a legitimate morning contender. “It’s nice to be in the hunt,” says the anchor, whose exclusive sit-down last year with President Obama the day after he laid out his deficit reduction plan was a reminder of what he does best.

    In December, the GMA co-anchor announced his return to ABC’s Sunday morning talk show This Week to focus on politics. (He served as political correspondent and later host from 2002 to early 2010.)

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    While the Massachusetts native considers the entertainment aspects of his role a bit “outside his wheelhouse,” Stephanopoulos is no stranger to Hollywood, having been the inspiration for Rob Lowe’s Sam Seaborn in NBC’s The West Wing and Michael J. Fox’s Lewis Rothschild in Rob Reiner’s The American President.

    “People are fascinated with anything that lifts the veil on our political life,” says Stephanopoulos, who was impressed by HBO’s Game Change and the George Clooney starrer The Ides of March. In his downtime, Stephanopoulos plays supportive husband to actress Alexandra Wentworth, who does a morning podcast of her own from the couple’s kitchen. Says Stephanopoulos: “Sometimes I make a cameo in my gym shorts.”

  • Howard Stern

    While Stern, 58, lacks the mass reach his terrestrial radio gig once offered him, the New York-born shock jock has had no trouble stirring the pot with his now long-running SiriusXM satellite show.

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    In recent months, he has coaxed The Talk host Julie Chen to spill about her “generous” prenup with CBS’ Leslie Moonves and then-Oscar producer Brett Ratner to dish on his sex life days before resigning from the gig.

    Despite murmurs of etirement, in late 2010 the famously brash married father of three renewed his contract with SiriusXM through 2015. In May, Stern, the self-declared king of all media, will take a seat at the judges’ table on NBC’s America’s Got Talent.

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    His leverage was so great that the network not only agreed to pay him about $15 million but also moved the show to New York to accommodate him and his dislike for travel. “I’m going to be Piers Morgan on steroids,” Stern has promised, referring to the former judge.

  • Jon Stewart

    In 2008, a New york times headline asked a provocative question: Is Jon Stewart the most trusted man in America?

    In the nearly four years since, as TV news has provided further fodder for nightly ridicule and politicians (including Stewart’s college buddy Anthony Weiner) continue to disappoint, the question seems less of a stretch.

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    Stewart, 49, now drives the political conversation as much as any of the “straight-news” figures he regularly lampoons, deconstructing Mitt Romney’s tax returns and unearthing years-old videos of Newt Gingrich apologizing in Spanish for slamming those who speak “the language of living in a ghetto.”

    For a certain segment of the country’s left-leaning pragmatists, the New Jersey native (born Jonathan Stuart Liebowitz) speaks a singular truth, highlighting government and press hypocrisy with a fearlessness not found in other media — and making his 2.4 million nightly viewers (tops among cable comics) laugh in the process.

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    It’s how The Daily Show has won 15 Emmys and a Peabody since Stewart took over in 1999, and it’s what makes him worth a reported $15 million a year to Comedy Central. Trust isn’t cheap.

  • Barbara Walters

    It’s not easy to get Walters to concede that she might be a legend. “I do think people know I do my homework and don’t come into any interview with an agenda,” says Walters, an octogenarian who has enjoyed an unmatched, zeitgeist-y run of more than 50 years in entertainment and hard news.

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    Predating Oprah, Walters has been making a wide range of personalities, from entertainment to business to politics, squirm, confess and cry (notably drawing 48.5 million viewers for her Monica Lewinsky interview in 1999) since the ’70s.

    After 15 years on NBC’s Today, where she began as a writer, she was officially designated its first female co-host in 1974. Walters followed that with 25 years as host of ABC’s 20/20, then anchor of ABC Evening News — another female first — during which she developed signature lighter fare via her annual Oscar night and 10 Most Fascinating People specials.

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    In the past decade, she has been one of the less confrontational voices on ABC’s The View but takes pains to emphasize that it’s secondary to her role as ABC News contributor.

    In December, she sat down with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad following nine months of his bloody crackdowns of revolutionary protest. It was the only interview he granted to a Western outlet, and Walters was tough as nails. (Example: “Much of the world regards you as a dictator and a tyrant. What do you say to that?”) Says Walters, “We couldn’t let anyone think the interview was a softball.”

  • Brian Williams

    In the past decade of flux at most anchor desks, Williams, 52, has been a constant at NBC Nightly News since Tom Brokaw handed him the reins in 2004. His familiar voice gave NBC the top-rated evening news program — 9.1 million viewers in the first quarter — as broadcast news viewership grew for the first time in a decade.

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    “I think brands become more important as media continues to proliferate,” says Williams, a New Jersey native who went from White House intern to chief White House correspondent without completing college.

    “We are the longest-established broadcast in this building, which dates back to the Depression....When the market gets weird, people go with blue-chip stocks. I think we’re a blue-chip stock.”

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    The building he references also is the namesake of his new primetime newsmagazine, Rock Center, which played host to the second-most-watched GOP debate of the election cycle since it launched in October. Still, ratings haven’t been great. And its move from Monday to Wednesday has it competing with TV juggernaut Modern Family.

    Fortunately, with what he calls “the trifecta” — the election, the Olympics and the conventions — there’s no shortage of material for both his shows. And in the rare moments he’s not working or with family, Williams likes to be funny on Letterman, The Daily Show, Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and 30 Rock.

  • Wendy Williams

    “I am a woman from New Jersey who happens to have a talk show,” says Williams, 47.

    It’s a combination of relatability (“Bullying and cooking are things all women with families deal with”), high energy, daily obsessions (Kim Kardashian’s flour-bombing incident and a serious Trayvon Martin discussion) and her signature phrase, “How you doin’?” that earns Williams cheers from her syndicated show’s devoted and diverse audience.

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    Renewed on Fox-owned stations through 2014 after being top-rated in its slot among its core demo of women 25-to-54 in New York and a handful of other large markets, Williams started 2012 with a bang, hitting record ratings for the week ending Jan. 15.

    “A 72-year-old woman in my audience is still having sex, is still fashionable and wants to go see The Hunger Games with her granddaughter,” she says. Williams, who has a line of accessories on QVC, describes her impact on Hollywood vaguely: “We have something to do with selling people’s music. We have to do with the popularity of the Housewives and the new show GCB,” but she is more specific about plans to extend her brand.

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    “We just started a production company,” says Williams. “I have five books out. I would love to turn one or three into made-for-TV movies or even big-screen movies.” But Williams is first a family woman. Her son Kevin Jr., 11, comes and stocks the studio fridges on days off from school, and her husband of 14 years, Kevin, is an executive producer, like herself.

    “We commute in together, but I leave separately,” she says. “Somebody has to go home and make sure the dishwasher is empty.”