By Lee Alan Hill
Special to TelevisionWeek
Abbe Raven, recently promoted to president and CEO of A&E Networks, sees her role in no uncertain terms: “We have a No. 1 obligation to our viewers and affiliates and our advertisers and our investors-to deliver a top-quality programming service and to be mindful toward responsiveness to their needs and what they want. That’s what we’re all about.”
But Ms. Raven, the winner of one of two 2005 Vanguard Awards for Distinguished Leadership, has another obligation as well. As VP of the National History Day organization, she helps instruct teachers on how to use television in the classroom to bring knowledge of history to the youth of America.
“I feel it’s a duty,” she said. “I believe we have to champion this. And my personal hope is that some of those students will be as inspired as I was, that the information will provide them with the same sense that there are unlimited opportunities that I had.”
Ms. Raven has been in cable television for 23 years. Before that she worked as a stage manager in off-Broadway and regional theater and as an English and drama teacher. Both of those professions served her development, she said.
“These prior careers played a large role in who I am,” she said. “Theater taught me teamwork, working as an ensemble and getting things done quickly with precision and quality. Theater is storytelling. Teaching helped me hone my skills.”
Nick Davatzes, who just stepped down as president and CEO of A&E Television Networks and from his role as Ms. Raven’s longtime boss to become CEO emeritus at A&E, said Ms. Raven’s style works.
“She’s very focused and also very charming,” he said. “She has the ability to get to the heart of the matter and then discuss it in a casual, personal way. This is what brings people to her, and she can relate to a wide range of people.”
Ms. Raven’s tenure, beginning in October 2002 as executive VP and general manager for A&E Network and the Biography Channel and continuing as president, has been marked by aggressive growth, particularly in original programming. During the past two years she has greenlighted seven new series, including “Airline,” “Family Plots” and “Growing Up Gotti,” as well as five original movies, including “Ike: Countdown to D-Day,” which starred Tom Selleck and earned six Emmy nominations last year.
Coming this year will be “Faith of My Fathers,” based on Arizona Sen. John McCain’s memoir of his time as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.
“A&E has a strong mix of programs,” she said. “What we want is for there to be a buzz about what we’re doing. Cable is in a strong position, because it is an industry that has always rewarded creativity.”
Still, Ms. Raven seems to bring every conversation back to the educational and service programs with which both she and A&E are involved and for which she has taken a decided leadership role.
“Presenting educational issues through television is my passion,” she said. “It’s important, I think, for anyone in a position in broadcasting and cable to champion using television to focus on learning and focus on positive change for our society. We’ll provide ‘Biography’ sets to school libraries. We’ll energize teachers to use television as a learning tool.
“I was raised to dream whatever you wanted to dream and that you could fulfill your dreams if you worked hard. I never think in terms of obstacles. I think in terms of the strong work ethic my parents taught me.”
Just the Facts
Title: President and CEO, A&E Networks
How long in current position: Became CEO on April 1;
previously president of A&E Network since September 2004
Year of birth: Not available
Place of birth: New York; raised in Queens, N.Y.
Who knew? Ms. Raven keeps a collection of 25 antique inkwells in her office, which symbolizes her respect for writers and the writing process.