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TV On Demand prompts CBS executive to teach

Former CBS executive takes Temple teaching job.

“Everybody Loves Raymond” surrendered its Friday night airtime and moved to Monday nights partially thanks to Jim McKairnes. The 1982 Temple graduate became a CBS executive, two-time author and Showtime’s Funniest Person in America Contest finalist.

Now, the Mayfair native has returned to the university to teach the Business of Media and TV A to Z.

“TV A to Z is everything students need to know about TV in 15 weeks,” McKairnes said. “I didn’t think anybody would be interested because a lot of college-age people don’t really connect with the notion of primetime broadcast television, but it’s a pretty full class.”

As CBS’ senior vice president of program planning and scheduling for 15 years, McKairnes decided what shows were scheduled and at what time on the primetime lineup. His students gain insight about that process in his classes.

“I show them secret pilots of new shows and we talk about whether it works or not,” McKairnes said. “Then we talk about how that pilot gets to the air, who does what and the time of year things happen. I think you need to have a great deal of interest or knowledge to enjoy the class. I also have failed pilots, and we’ll discuss on and off the record my involvement in the decision-making.”

It takes careful planning, McKairnes said, to organize airings of shows in an effective order to reach viewers. But once On Demand allowed viewers to customize what they watched and when, McKairnes said he realized his job could be in jeopardy.

“I was beginning to phone it in,” McKairnes said. “Decisions were sometimes reached on, ‘What the hell, how bad can it do?’ You can pretty much watch anything you want anytime you want now. Yes, it still needs to be put on the air, but when my team and I planned, it was strategic and scientific and based on knowledge of television, research, gut instincts and focus groups.”

“The networks are all but capitulating to the obvious, which is ‘Yeah guys, we’re not going to get ratings like we used to in terms of overnight ratings,’” he added. “Delayed viewing and bingeing at the end of the season will be important.”

Seeking more out of life, McKairnes transitioned from the office to the classroom to teach the inner-workings of the TV industry at DePaul University for four 10-week quarters.

Temple called the former executive soon after to request he assume responsibility as the Verizon chair for the Symposium in Global Broadband and Telecommunications, a conference open to the School of Media and Communication on changes in the media’s landscape scheduled for the spring.

After an illustrious career in upper management of network television, McKairnes plans on using his industry connections to entice students to the symposium.

“Verizon establishes money to be set aside to hire someone in the ranks of working folk to come in and be part of the university for a year,” McKairnes said. “As for the symposium, I don’t know what it will exactly be yet. I can’t do karaoke, but I want it to be sexy enough to make people attend. I’m up for suggestions for who you would like to appear so you would stay on campus for a day. Everybody is focused on talking about ‘what’s the future,’ so I’m focused on ‘what’s the now.’”

“We live in a generation where there is much more defining of our own fate and our own career, and I wonder what that means,” McKairnes said. “I have friends who work on the ‘Veronica Mars’ film. I think it is amazing that ‘Veronica Mars’ was Kickstarted into life after being so many years off the air. The movie comes out in March so I want to get somebody here to represent your generation.”

Laura Oringer, senior media studies and production major, said she registered for TV A to Z as soon as she received the email announcing its existence.

“The class is the only one of its kind that discusses Hollywood, TV dramas and sitcoms as opposed to the broadcast news and sports that my major usually focuses on,” Oringer said. “I would highly recommend this course for all those interested in learning more about what it takes to develop and successfully produce a show or for those who just have a passion for television.”

McKairnes does not require any textbooks, but he recommends students read his own work, “103 Ways to Get Into TV (By 102 Who Did, Plus Me.)” It’s his “practical post-college survival guide for coming to Los Angeles and succeeding in the television business.” The text isn’t necessary for the class, but he said it’s meant to help.

“It’s not mandatory text even though someone told me to make it,” McKairnes said. “It’s not a learning text, it’s a practical guide. Some people defend requiring textbooks they’ve written because they think their book is the ultimate authority on the subject. I can’t argue with that, but it would just feel tacky to me. Plus, I only make a chunk of coins because it was self-published.”

Donald Stewart, junior media studies and production major, works as an independent videographer and writer outside of being a student.

“I chose this class because I want to produce my own content,” Stewart said. “As [McKairnes] says, ‘content is king.’ He modestly uses his real life experience from a successful career as a TV executive to provide us with a valuable mindset of someone who we may work for at a studio. We are assigned a TV show to watch for the semester and are accountable for knowing everything about it from A to Z.”

After the time he’s spent working closely with Hollywood executives, McKairnes said he’s glad to be back home.

“I’m loving Philadelphia,” McKairnes said. “I’m loving Regional Rail, which didn’t exist back then. I’m loving the Temple family and community, because back then you were off campus by 5 p.m. It’s very ‘Welcome Back Kotter’ for me.”

John Corrigan can be reached at john.corrigan@temple.edu.

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