Corbi, Lana 1955–
Lana Corbi 1955–
Her name may not be as well known as daytime diva Oprah Winfrey or BET big wig Robert Johnson, but in an Ebony 2002 ranking of the ten most powerful blacks in television, Lana Corbi was right alongside these media moguls. That same year Corbi, then CEO of the Hallmark Channel, found herself listed as number 35 on Fortune’s highly touted list of America’s 50 most powerful black executives. It was a long way from her first media job as a secretary. However, Corbi was determined to succeed even from her first day. “I knew early in life that I wanted to pursue the field of communications,” Corbi told Contemporary Black Biography (CBB). “However, I fundamentally believed that I couldn’t follow anyone else’s path. I followed my own gut feelings and always prayed to God for guidance in my decisions.”
Corbi was born in Los Angeles in 1955 to Elizabeth and Carl King, a schoolteacher and mortgage broker respectively. “They were strong and loving examples of a life that I wanted to emulate in their zest for living and their commitment to family and friends,” she told CBB. “Many years after their classes with my mother, her students would regularly come up to her and tell her that she was the best teacher they ever had.” Meanwhile, Corbi’s father inspired her by owning his own business. “I got my entrepreneurial spirit from my father, who also taught me the importance of strong business ethics and the importance of creating balance in achieving good quality of life,” she continued to CBB.
At the University of Southern California, Corbi earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1979. She followed that with two years of graduate studies in television and film at California State University, Northridge. It was an exciting time for Corbi. “I excelled with the greatest passion for my work in graduate school when I was focused on the television industry,” she told CBB. However, her passion would never culminate in a master’s degree. “I began my career prior to completing the thesis for my MA,” she told CBB. After a stint as a secretary for INTV, an association of independent television stations, Corbi joined the Fox Broadcasting Company in 1991 as a vice president. As part of the distribution team, Corbi was responsible for coordinating Fox broadcasts with the network’s Midwest affiliate stations. She quickly developed a reputation as a hard worker. “Someone long ago told me that the best way to success is by putting in a solid 8-hour day. I would stand out and be ahead of the game,” Corbi told CableFax. “I’m still waiting for a day that’s only 8 hours. The bottom line is developing a solid and dedicated work ethic.”
Corbi’s commitment paid off and by 1994 she had been promoted to senior vice president of network distribution at Fox. She remained in that position for a year before being appointed chief operating officer (COO) and president of Blackstar, a minority-owned station partnership begun by Fox and Silver King Communications. In that role Corbi was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the partnership including
At a Glance…
Born in 1955, in Los Angeles, CA; daughter of Elizabeth (schoolteacher) and Carl (mortgage broker) King; married Al; children: twin boy and girl. Education: University of Southern California, BA, journalism, 1979; California State University, Northridge, graduate studies, television and film, 1980s. Religion: Christian.
Career: Fox Broadcasting, vice president, 1991-94, senior vice president, 1994-95, executive vice president, 1996-97, president, 1997-99; Blackstar, president/COO, 1995-96; Odyssey Holdings, COO, 1999-2000; Crown Media Holdings, executive vice president/COO, 2000-01; Hallmark Channel/Crown Media United States, president/CEO, 2001-02; Cor-bico, president/CEO, 2002-.
Selected memberships; Board member: Monte Carlo Television Festival Honorary Committee; Entertainment industries Council; International Academy of I Television, Arts and Sciences; National Association of Minorities in Communications. Member: Women in Cable and Telecommunications; American Women in Radio and Television.
Selected awards: Congressional Award, Adoption Advocacy, 2002; Publisher’s Award, Minorities in Business Magazine, 2002; Ranked 35, “Most Powerful Black Executives,” Fortune, 2002; named, “10 Most Powerful Blacks in TV,” Ebony, 2002.
Addresses: Home —West Hollywood, CA.
the acquisition and operation of local television stations throughout the United States. Corbi rejoined Fox Broadcasting in 1996, again in distribution, but with the higher rank of executive vice president. A year later, with a promotion to president of network distribution, Corbi became the highest ranking female executive at the network. As the main liaison between Fox and its station affiliates throughout the country, she was responsible for all aspects of distribution of Fox broadcasts. During her tenure the number of Fox-affiliated stations rose and its distribution systems increased significantly, resulting in Fox becoming one of the top broadcasting networks in the country. In addition she was instrumental in Fox’s renewal of its rights to National Football League coverage.
Corbi made the leap from network television to cable when she left Fox to join the Odyssey Network as COO in 1999. A Christian programming channel formed in part by the National Interfaith Cable Coalition, Odyssey was a good fit for Corbi, a committed Christian. Active in her faith, Corbi was on the board of the Fellowship West International, a network of born-again Christians dedicated to promoting Christianity. However, Corbi was recruited by Odyssey, not because of her religion but because of her business expertise which she applied to the daily operations of the channel. When the international media conglomerate, Crown Media Holdings, purchased Odyssey in the spring of 2001, Corbi was promoted to the dual role of executive vice president and COO of Crown. Her duties included business development, corporate communications, and government relations. At the time Crown held broadcasting interests in over 100 different countries and Corbi played a key role in consolidating these holdings into one international company. Corbi was also instrumental in Crown’s transformation of the Odyssey Network to the Hallmark Channel. “Once we launched as Hallmark Channel, we became a general entertainment, very broad-based family-friendly network,” Corbi told the Los Angeles Business Journal. “We are producing broader commercial, general entertainment programming that has a values base but is not necessarily religious programming.”
In October of 2001, just two months after Hallmark launched, Corbi made yet another upward career move. She became president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Crown Media United States, the corporate subsidiary that ran the $114 million Hallmark Channel. Her position made her the top executive at Hallmark and marked her first venture into the creative side of the network industry. She had proven her mettle on the business side and was now responsible for creating programs, films, and other media ventures. She tackled her new position with characteristic vigor, proclaiming to Electronic Media, “the goal of this network is to become the dominant choice in family-friendly entertainment.” With that in mind she hired a top-notch programming executive and implemented a heavy production schedule of new Hallmark movies. “We’re looking now at about eight original movies a year,” she told Electronic Media. “We’d like to increase that to at least one a month, so we have major promotable events at least once a month.” One promotion that garnered international attention was a cattle drive through New York City’s Times Square in order to promote Hallmark’s 2002 film, Johnson County War. The film debuted to favorable Nielsen ratings.
Other successful programming coups under Corbi’s watch included obtaining the exclusive rights to Roots, the ground-breaking miniseries based on Alex Haley’s book about slavery. Rebroadcast in its entirety to mark its 25th anniversary, Roots brought high ratings and increased visibility to Hallmark. Another high profile program was the 13-part Hallmark-produced reality series, Adoption, which followed families and individuals as they went through the adoption process. “We are all excited about this series because it gives insight into the human spirit,” Corbi said according to the website of the adoption organization The Cradle. “What we see in each show is the love, patience and extraordinary sacrifices people are willing to make in order to give and to share their love with a child.” Corbi hosted a gala screening of the series in Washington, D.C., for the Congressional Coalition on Adoption. She also spearheaded Hallmark’s involvement in adoption as a social cause. The network rolled out a program to promote adoption awareness in communities nationwide. All of this resulted in the series debuting to high ratings and heavy media interest. It was featured on Fox News, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and Entertainment Tonight. Though the success of the program was a career highpoint for Corbi, she told CBB, “My proudest career moment was when I received a Congressional Award for work in the area of adoption and foster care. I was proud of Hallmark Channel’s weekly series on the subject as well as the national and local initiatives that directly impacted some of the country’s most at-risk and vulnerable children.”
Corbi’s programming successes coupled with her distribution skills, helped Hallmark grow substantially. Corbi told the Los Angeles Business Journal, “[In 2001] we grew by 58 percent, 16 million viewers, from 27.5 million to 43 million. We did deals with some of the major (satellite operators) in 2001. We had deals with AT&T and Time Warner, and they continued to roll us out more broadly. We did a deal with Direc TV. We were all ready on the family package and they rolled us down into (the basic package). That was a huge increase for us.” Multichannel News concurred noting, “Under the watch of Corbi… Hallmark boosted its primetime ratings by 25 percent.” This success brought Corbi industry-wide attention. Electronic Media magazine featured her in its “12 to Watch 2002” special issue. The Hollywood Reporter called her one of the top women in entertainment. CableFax magazine named her one of “Cable’s 100 Heavy Hitters.” In addition, she was widely recognized for being one of the few African Americans to wield serious power in Hollywood, as the Ebony and Fortune rankings attest. Her success has made her a role model for other young minority women hoping to break into the business of entertainment. She told CBB that she considers this “an honor.” However, she continued, “It is also a responsibility. I try to help women understand and follow their true dreams, surpass limitations that other people artificially set for them and to realize that the ladder of success is horizontal, not vertical. No one is above or below you. Life is a journey and each rung of the ladder has its own success and fulfillment.”
In October of 2002 despite increases in revenue, distribution, ratings, and original programming, Corbi was downsized. “I got plucked out on a high, not a low. That’s not how it usually happens.” she told Electronic Media. “There are just business realities these days with a public company.” Crown Media had further consolidated their international media holdings and started to focus more on their U.S. division. This caused the role of Crown Media’s CEO and that of Corbi to overlap. “There were really two CEOs and only one business,” Corbi told Broadcasting & Cable. “For the health of the whole, you have to rearrange the parts.” By all accounts the lay off was amicable. The Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News quoted Crown Media’s CEO as saying, “Lana is a very talented and skilled executive and has played an important role in the launch of the Hallmark Channel.” She agreed to continue on as a consultant through the end of the year and Crown Media agreed to pay the remainder of her $1.5 million contract.
The downsizing allowed Corbi to spend more time with her husband, AI, and their young children, a twin boy and girl. During the height of her term with Hallmark, Corbi had told CableFax. “the ideal getaway day for me is an afternoon in the park with my husband and children. It’s my favorite way to put a pause in the busy lives we lead in this business.” However, her passion for the entertainment industry would not let her settle into a life of park-filled days. Drawing on her wealth of experience she formed Corbico, a media consulting firm. She told CBB, “I am currently working on projects that better utilize the medium of television to provide higher quality product, better business strategies and to maximize our clients television investments.” Her past achievements indicate a bright future for Corbico. As one associate told The Hollywood Reporter, “Lana is the most gently relentless person I’ve ever met. She never raises her voice, but she never backs off. When she believes in something, you can tell her yes’ now or later. It just depends on how long you want to stay in the room.” She will not be moving out of Winfrey and Johnson’s ranks just yet.
Broadcasting & Cable, October 1, 2001, p. 14; October 14, 2002, p. 17.
Ebony, May 2002, p. 10; October 2002, p. 86.
Electronic Media, January 21, 2002, p. 28; January 20, 2003, p. 65.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News, October 8, 2002.
Los Angeles Business Journal, January 14, 2002, p. 19.
Multichannel News, October 14, 2002, p. 4.
“Cradle in the News,” The Cradle, www.cradle.org/wn/press.cfm (July 23, 2003).
“Lana Corbi,” Cable 2002 Conference in New Orleans, www.cable2002.com/sched-prog/sessionInfo/speakerView.cfm?speakerID=180 (July 23, 2003).
“Lana Corbi,” CableFax, www.cabletoday.com/magazine/1201/top100d.asp#67 (July 23, 2003).
“Most Powerful Black Executives,” Fortune, www.fortune.com/fortune/blackpower/snapshot/0,15307,13,00.html (June 3, 2003).
Additional information for this profile was obtained through a personal interview with Contemporary Black Biography on September 28, 2003.
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