Yeah, yeah. We all know that the typical perception of television executives is that they are "schlubs, grown bloated and neurotic on expensive meals and drugs". But is that entirely accurate? A lot of the time it may be, but it at least pays to understand the different breeds of exec out there.
A television network is a huge organisation, employing hundreds, if not thousands, of people. Many of these people will have vastly different jobs. A few of those more typically defined as Network Executives are outlined below.
Programming - These are the guys responsible for commissioning and managing the production of the actual programmes. These are the people that most people mean when they talk about Network Executives, but they aren't always responsible for the decisions that we hate. Often, but not always, they will have some experience making programmes. However, because Programming is traditionally the most precarious of departments, people who work there have a tendency to play things as safe as possible. Every once in a while, someone in Programming will take a risk and give a chance to a talented and original program maker. If this risk pays off, they'll be acclaimed as a genius. If it doesn't, they'll probably get fired.
Scheduling - Schedulers, as the name suggests, are responsible for creating the television schedule. They're the ones who decided to put your favourite show on Friday or at Midnight...or Midnight on Friday. Their primary concern is the ratings — virtually every decision that Scheduling makes is concerned with making the network's overall ratings as high as possible. Every time you think a show's been Screwed by the Network, you should think about whether the network's overall share would've been higher if they'd treated that show better...but a lot of the time, it wouldn't. The fact of the matter is that some shows simply won't have the mass appeal of others — putting them in a prime slot might give them better ratings, but will drag down the channel overall. Sometimes, though, they just don't care about what's best in the long run, and are happy to sacrifice a long-term growth for a one-night win.
Marketing - Marketing are the department primarily responsible for making sure that people want to watch the network's programmes. Although they care about the ratings too, they have a concern that supersedes this — brand. Marketing is happier if the channel is perceived as being good than if it's winning in the ratings, though of course they'd prefer both. As such, there can be conflict within a network over the nature of the marketing strategy, exacerbated by the fact that marketing is in most industries the glamorous part of the business, but not in TV. Departments such as Scheduling and Ad Sales would prefer to see trailers selling the program as simply and aggressively as possible, while Marketing prefer the trailer itself to look as good as possible...even if it doesn't sell the show well at all.
Ad Sales - Sales care about the bottom line, i.e. how much airtime is the channel selling and how much can they sell it for. Unlike most departments, some of the Sales department's salary will probably come from commission, and as such are much more focused on the channel's ratings. Luckily (or unluckily, depending on your point of view), they care more about young and high-earning viewers. This is why a relatively low-rating show can survive the axe, as long as those who watch it are young and rich.
Research - These are the guys who actually work out the ratings and run the focus groups. It should be noted, however, that they don't actually make the decisions — they just supply the others with the info. A good Research department should make sure any Programming or Marketing decisions are backed up by empirical evidence. A bad Research department will simply tell people what they want to hear.
Legal - Wherever you are in the world, there are certain things that you simply can't show on television. Whether it's defamatory, offensive, or misleading, the Legal department are the ones who tell the rest of the business not to show it. Legal care about what they can and can't defend to the regulators, because it's their jobs on the line if the network gets into trouble for broadcasting unsuitable material. Related to Media Watchdog.
Finance - As much as Ad Sales care about the bottom line, it's really Finance who are all about the balance sheet. They're the ones signing the checks, so if a programme costs $50,000,000 per season to make but only brings in $20,000,000 in ad revenue, they'll want to cancel it. If there's a compelling reason not to, other parts of the business might be able to persuade them not to, but typically they don't care that a small but devoted community loves the show.