Viacom Inc. (VIA.B) President and Chief Operating Officer Mel Karmazin quips that his biggest role in last summer's CBS hit Survivor was to fly to the South China Sea island ahead of filming and chow down on a couple of rats. "They wanted to make sure they were all right for the participants. Hey, what can I say? I'm a hands-on manager."
Rat stew notwithstanding, it was a dazzling year for Karmazin and Viacom. Viacom closed on its $90 billion acquisition of CBS Corp., where Karmazin was once a radio ad salesman. It spent an additional $1.4 billion to buy 18 radio stations from Clear Channel Communications (CCU). Karmazin then scooped up cable-TV outfit BET Holdings for $3 billion. And he did it all while keeping Viacom's share price stable in a market that saw many media stocks fall 20%.
The big story of the year for Viacom though, was Survivor. Karmazin approved it. But the self-effacing exec, who shuns the celebrity lifestyle enjoyed by many of his peers, credits CBS TV President Leslie Moonves for its buzz. With both the Super Bowl and the Australian-set Survivor II airing on Jan. 28, Karmazin hopes 2001 is as good as 2000. Roast snake, anybody?