Gary Lico, the driven and effusive CEO of Connecticut-based distrib Cableready, is one character in the industry who seems to need no introduction.
He’s worked as on-air talent – from early days disc jockeying to co-hosting a Milwaukee morning talk show with a Miss America – but chose to leave the spotlight when he discovered his love of sales. Lico began at SFM Entertainment, where he was involved with the selling of Disney’s New Mickey Mouse Club to syndication, and then moved on to become vice president of programming for Katz Communications, before winding up at Columbia Pictures Television. Unhappy with the syndication game, Lico left to start his own company, founding Cableready in 1992 to fill a need he saw in cable programming in the US, a platform that was just starting to flourish. The company quickly tapped into the market, developing original program ideas for cable networks.
Cableready has been successful in providing programs such as Forensic Files for Court TV and Inside the Actors Studio for Bravo. The innovative company has now branched out with CableU, a venture that analyzes the US cable system and highlights programming trends. The truth is, the man behind Cableready and CableU is as recognizable as some of the programs he’s had a hand in. As Cableready sets out to celebrate its 15th anniversary, Lico reflects on the business.
How did you get your start in the TV business?
I accepted a programming job in New York working for Katz Media, helping stations program themselves in the 1980s. Great time to do it – independent stations were coming on. Cable wasn’t much of a factor, but it was starting to be… I had a chance to really learn the cable business probably earlier than all the other guys.
What’s the worst job you’ve had on your way up?
In the TV business, I don’t think I’ve ever had a worst job. I’ve had lousy bosses, but there was always something about the job that I enjoyed. Probably the worst job in my life was working on an assembly line all night, as a summer job. And the best job I’ve ever had was as a talk show host… If you’re a voracious reader like I am, and you like to talk as I do, it’s a pretty good job.
Why did you decide to start your own company?
I’d pretty much had it with the syndication business, traveling from Bangor to Beckley, from Pittsburgh to Nantucket, and I really enjoyed the cable side of things… So, I asked the company not to renew my contract – I was going to start a company of my own. In two days I had the idea and the name for Cableready. The first company that gave us programming was Hearst – it was a kids’ show out of Milwaukee – and we ended up selling to Nickelodeon and that put us in business.
What was the hardest part?
Not throwing up every morning. For about six months, I used to walk down the driveway every morning to get The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times and I’d start to barf about half way down. Not for any reason other than just ‘Oh my god.’ I remember after I first started my company someone said, ‘So, Gary, what are you going to do?’ I said ‘What do you mean? I started Cableready.’ She said ‘No, no really. Are you going to get a job or something?’ And I said, ‘No, this is what I’m doing now. I started this company and we’re going to make a go of it.’ She said, ‘Oh, I thought you were just going to do this until you found a job!’ Thanks a lot.
Who are your mentors?
My first boss Stan Moger. He was the kind of guy who was very inclusive. He would take me to meetings with really big famous people in the business and to black tie events and big conventions. I was 22 years old. In those days, not every guy from Michigan got a chance to do that sort of thing.
What reactions did you get when you started?
Mostly positive, because I think we had a unique mission. Our mission was that cable is here, it’s growing and we’re going to make it our speciality, and no one else had said they were going to do that.
What would be your business philosophy?
Stay focused and have fun if you can. If I have a philosophy, it’s this: I want buyers, if they have a choice of two programs that are similar and one of them is from Cableready, I want them to choose the one from Cableready because they enjoy doing business with us. It sure seems to me that there’s a gap in the business for fun and we’d like to fill it.
What was the business like 15 years ago, and how does it compare to today?
There were more companies 15 years ago. I think that’s probably the biggest difference, that within the last 15 years there’s been a lot of consolidation, and because of that a lot more ownership of programming by those consolidated companies. Now, lower prices are paid to independent producers. However, having said that, there are more opportunities for independent producers to produce than ever before because there are more networks than ever before.
What’s the best time you’ve ever had on the job?
I wish I could say it was closing some big deal, but hardly any of those ever go smoothly. More times than not, it’s like passing a kidney stone: you’re kind of relieved when it’s done, as opposed to elated that you’ve done something. I also think there have been some times when we’ve done something good, like the food project at natpe that we collected a lot of food for, or our scholarship program up at Syracuse.
What have you learned in 15 years of Cableready?
How to run a business, which I never knew. I was never even in charge of running a department or a business prior to Cableready, which is absolutely amazing. That was part of my concern. I had to learn Quickbooks accounting type of things!
What keeps you going?
I have boundless energy. Sometimes I think I have two speeds: relentless and sudden stop. I always have a desire to improve. No matter what it is, I always wonder if it can get better. Maybe that’s perfectionism, which can get out of control, if unchecked.
What are your future plans?
We have a new company, CableU, that we want to grow – we want that to be self-sustaining. We want to have a presence for Cableready across the big ditch in Europe. I’ve been doing a little more teaching of late. I was up at Syracuse University a couple of weeks ago. I’m going to Central Michigan next week to teach for two days. I enjoy that a lot. But we’ve never had a five-year plan or a 10-year plan or anything like that. A lot of life is serendipitous and I think if anyone tells you they know what’s going on in five or 10 years they’re smoking some good stuff.
If you could be doing anything else, what would it be?
A whole lot of people in their life say ‘Boy, I sure would like to be a disc jockey.’ I’ve done that. ‘I sure would like to be a talk show host.’ I’ve been lucky enough to do that. ‘Sure would like to have my own company.’ You know, I have two. I own this one and I’m a partner in CableU. I’m very lucky in that at only 53 I’ve been able to accomplish the goals of five people. If I could be doing anything, I guess it would be to relax and look back at all of this and in good health, savor it and share it by teaching, by writing. That would be what I think I would like to do, in a big rv with golf clubs and a little boat on the back.