Molly Solomon: Taking Big Swings at Golf Channel
Our sister site, NBCUniversal.com caught up with Golf Channel Executive Producer Molly Solomon (a 10-time Emmy Award-winner and longtime NBC Olympics producer) as she reflected on NBC Sports’ most exciting golf schedule ever in 2016, including its inaugural coverage of The Open and golf’s return to the Olympics after more than 100 years.
Q: First year with a men's major (The Open), the Rio Olympics, huge ratings and now the upcoming Ryder Cup. Can you talk about a huge 2016 at Golf Channel?
Molly Solomon: We couldn't wait for the "summer of golf" to begin. Golf Channel televising its first-ever men's major at Royal Troon in July; golf returning to the Olympics for the first time in more than a century in August followed by September's PGA TOUR FedExCup Playoffs; four LPGA Tour major championships and what many term the greatest event in golf – the Ryder Cup returning to American soil. Every week was "major" as we often say at Golf Channel. Our production, technical and announce teams have worked incredibly hard, alongside everyone at Golf Channel, and we expect this to be one of the highest-rated years in our 21 year history. But we need to now carry our tremendous momentum through the end of the year and continue to serve our viewers this fall with Tiger Woods’ return to professional golf, our new original series Driver vs. Driver, our World Long Drive Championship and our position as the exclusive home to live golf from around the globe.
Q: You are the first female executive producer of a national sports network. What does that mean to you and to women coming up in this business?
Solomon: I never realized how meaningful it was until after I took the job. I heard from dozens of women about why it was important. I kept those notes, and it was humbling that women took the time to reach out. The best part of being "the first" is that tag will never be used again – and that's a good thing. Now we get to celebrate women attaining executive jobs in sports as their own personal accomplishments. The challenge now is to sponsor more women so they are offered executive opportunities.
Q: So not only are you an executive at Golf Channel but your husband, Geoff Russell, is the Executive Editor. How did that happen? And how is it working together?
Solomon: Geoff was a magazine editor for Golf Digest's news weekly, Golf World, for 12 years and he was approached to work for Golf Channel before I was! As the print industry was increasingly challenged, it was a terrific opportunity for Geoff to take on the role of Executive Editor, molding Golf Channel's editorial direction. As for working together, I don't recommend it for any marriage! Just kidding...we knew our relationship could handle it, but there have been more trying times in the last 4½ years than there were in the first 16! He's an incredible people person and I admire him even more after having the opportunity to work together at NBCUniversal.
Q: How’s your golf game?
Solomon: I worked with someone at NBC Sports who made sure he added a few whimsical accomplishments and goals to his year-end review. Inspired by his sense of humor, I've added a golf handicap goal to my EMS report since moving to Florida. I'm at a career-low 14 and came within two shots of breaking 80. So I'm headed in the right direction, but playing in pro-ams and with business partners is a whole different kind of pressure than weekend games with my friends and kids.
Q: You started as an Olympic researcher in 1992 in Barcelona. With golf back at the Olympics in Rio you got to work another Olympics. How was that?
Solomon: Rio was my 10th Olympics and I saw it through two completely different lenses; both the golf community including the PGA TOUR and LPGA Tour professionals, as well as our Golf Channel team working at an Olympics for the first time. They were amazed by the experience and being a part of the world's biggest sporting event. To steal a line from one of the reporters covering the Games, "It wasn't ‘Olympic Golf,’ it was ‘Golf in the Olympics.’" Many of our Golf Channel employees also worked for the Olympics Division in Rio and at the Stamford, Conn., headquarters. We had a "Lunch and Learn" panel after Rio for our Orlando-based employees, and to hear them rave about this professional experience was everything we hoped for as part of the NBC Sports Group.
Q: What is your advice to women who are trying to break into the sports TV business?
Solomon: The advice is the same for both genders; observe, listen intently and work harder than what's required. I always tried to learn something new every day – a fact, a skill, a takeaway. Leave work daily with one accomplishment. Feel like you got smarter in your craft.
Q: You have a big job at the office, but at home you are the mother to 13-year-old triplets. How do you do it?
Solomon: Mom to 13-year-old triplets is a lot easier than 2-, 3- and 4-year triplets. Like every working family we have good days and challenging ones, but in the end organized chaos is exhilarating, be it in the control room or at home.
Q: Guilty TV pleasure?
Solomon: "The Real Housewives of..." any city is my coast-to-coast airplane indulgence.
Q: Three life mentors?
Solomon: I always used to list my Dad who made me aim high and "leave it all on the track." As I raise children, I am in awe of my mother who dreamed of leaving a farm town in rural Illinois to see the world as an army nurse in the 1960s, raised three kids and went back to work to give her kids' debt-free college educations. Now she cares for my father who is suffering from Parkinson’s disease. I can't say enough about her strength and faith. It's inspiring every single day. And Dick Ebersol, former Chairman of the NBC Sports Group, mentored me by giving me challenges and opportunities before I ever knew or believed I was ready. You need someone who believes in you, almost more than you do.