New Lifetime Boss to Keep Movie Fare

Apr 4, 2005  •  Post A Comment

New Lifetime Entertainment Services President and CEO Betty Cohen doesn’t plan to mess with the movies.

“When you have a strong franchise, as Lifetime does with movies, you don’t want to run from that. It’s what’s been driving their success,” said Ms. Cohen, chosen last week by Lifetime owners The Walt Disney Co. and Hearst Corp. to succeed Carole Black.

Ms. Cohen, who helped bring “The Powerpuff Girls” to the world when she launched Cartoon Network and was an early staffer when Lifetime was formed, said she’s amazed that Lifetime’s ratings have been strong and rising despite the absence of a programming chief at the network. “There have been some great people here really stepping up,” she said.

Naming a programming chief will be one of her first concerns.

Ms. Cohen’s first day at Lifetime will be April 26. (Ms. Black left March 21.) She was in New York Friday morning, the day after her appointment was announced, but hadn’t yet met executive VP and general manager Rick Haskins, who has been making many of the network’s programming decisions since the departure last year of Barbara Fisher, executive VP of entertainment.

While the movies are the network’s staple (and provide programming for the Lifetime Movie Network), Ms. Cohen wants the network to continue to put resources behind series. “You want to expand from that [success with its weekly movie franchise] and get into both acquired and originally produced series that can create another sort of take for people on what Lifetime could stand for. Not to mention the kind of loyalty that you build with series,” she said.

Ms. Cohen was a last-minute entry in the Lifetime leader competition. She said Anne Sweeney, co-chairman of media networks for Disney and a member of the Lifetime search committee, contacted her late last month.

The two women worked together at Nickelodeon. Before Nickelodeon Ms. Cohen was a writer-producer for on-air promotion with Cable Health Network, which was merged with Daytime to become Lifetime Television. Ms. Cohen became managing senior producer of on-air promotion there.

From Nickelodeon she went to Turner Broadcasting, where she spent 14 years. She was general manager of TNT and launched Cartoon Network.

In 2001 she did not re-up as president of Cartoon Network Worldwide. “I was afraid I would die the queen of cartoons,” she said. Instead she began to develop a new youth culture network at Time Warner. When the company decided not to go forward with that project in 2002, Ms. Cohen left to become a consultant. She was just beginning fund-raising for a broadband channel when she got the call from Ms. Sweeney.

At Lifetime, she said she wants to “develop more crisply the attitude of Lifetime, what its point of view is about women, so that maybe we can get into segmentation of different types of women audiences and build the day to be even stronger than it is right now,” she said.