Lifetime Close to Choosing New CEO

Jan 17, 2005  •  Post A Comment

One of the executives leading the search for a new CEO of Lifetime Entertainment said he expects to have a candidate in the next 21/2 weeks.

“We’ve interviewed a lot of people. We have a quality list,” said Hearst-Argyle Television Director John Conomikes, a member of Lifetime’s board. He and President of Disney-ABC Television Group Anne Sweeney are in charge of the search, which began when Carole Black said in November 2004 she will step down when her contract expires in March.

Mr. Conomikes said they talked to about 15 people, some of whom called to be considered.

“There were a couple who came out [about whom] we were surprised and pleased and have interviewed,” he said.

The list has been cut down to four or five names. Another round of interviews will hone the list down to one candidate to be presented to the heads of Hearst and The Walt Disney Co., which together own Lifetime.

“It’s going to be a very tough call because there are some very good people out there,” Mr. Conomikes said.

Mr. Conomikes declined to name any of the people with whom he and Ms. Sweeney are talking. After an initial speculative flurry of names, mostly of woman programming executives and other senior women within Disney, the rumor mill has been quiet on the subject of who will replace Ms. Black.

Once a CEO is in place, one early order of business will be to hire a programming chief. That job has been open since the middle of last year when Barbara Fisher left the post.

“We told Carole it doesn’t make any sense to have you hire the new head of programming,” Mr. Conomikes said. “That’s a big-time job for us and especially with her stepping down, that’s another reason we’re trying to get this wrapped up as quickly as we can.”

Whoever gets Ms. Black’s job will have big shoes to fill, said advertising executives who keep tabs on Lifetime.

“We think very highly of Carole Black. It will take a true visionary to make a mark on that network and make it their own,” said Tom Weeks, associate director of Starcom Entertainment.

Mr. Weeks said the network has two strong internal candidates in Lifetime Television General Manager Lynn Picard and Lifetime Entertainment General Manager Rick Haskins.

Mr. Weeks said the key task for Lifetime was to “remain relevant to the newer audiences.” The network has been emphasizing weekly original movies, but Mr. Weeks said, “The strength of any successful cable network is going to be embedded in having strong scripted original programming.” Like FX with “Nip/Tuck,” “Lifetime needs one of those breakthrough hits,” he said.

“They need to generate as much buzz as possible,” added Peter Butchen, senior VP and group director of national television at Initiative Media. “The perception is that things are OK. They’ve beefed up movie production. They’re spending money on original programming, but it’s hard to break through.”

Mr. Butchen said that with its focus on women 25 to 54, who watch a lot of TV, Lifetime doesn’t command the highest ad rates, but, “They’re certainly up there. There’s a huge amount of clients that target women 25 to 54.”

Mr. Butchen said ad buyers don’t focus much on the leadership of a network like Lifetime. “It’s a nothing fact. What kind of schedule can you deliver to us now? That’s what matters.”