I can’t recall a more dire game of musical chairs for programmers. It began last spring when Turner Broadcasting Systems acquired Court TV, leaving many Court TVers on the street. It ratcheted up on Labor Day when Viacom ousted Tom Freston, leaving MTV Networks’ chairman/CEO Judy McGrath with the thankless job of severing several hundred employees.
David Zaslav, who joined Discovery Communications as president/CEO (see our cover story in this issue), lost no time earlier this year reorganizing top management and later asking those left to cut head counts in their divisions. At Discovery, it’s estimated that 200 positions were eliminated, but it’s hard to tell what the ultimate number will be as yet another round of cuts begins next month, with retail under the microscope.
Then, in what was hardly a blip on anyone’s radar, Comcast programming president Jeff Shell folded G4 TV into E! Entertainment Television, headed by Ted Harbert, president/CEO. Once 300 employees strong, G4 cut some 70 positions. As I write this, G4’s COO Dale Hopkins isn’t sure, she says, if there’s a chair for her in the new structure.
Now the spotlight is on Lifetime Entertainment Services, as its new president/CEO Andrea Wong begins to makes her mark. I spoke with her in late April, two hours into her first day on the job. Her priority is filling the top marketing position vacated in March by Martha Pease, who resigned after 25% of her marketing employees bolted for the doors.
Pease was responsible for Lifetime’s new handle, "My story is on…", and Wong is evaluating if that is the right message for the network, which has been on the decline for the last two years under the now-departed Betty Cohen.
Wong, a highly respected executive from ABC Entertainment, owns bragging rights for bringing Dancing With the Stars to ABC. Trust me, she will have no trouble filling the job briefly occupied by Pease but earlier held by Rick Haskins, who helped make Lifetime the No. 1 cable network. Haskins left when his mentor Carole Black resigned.
In fact, I recently spoke with someone who said she’d interviewed for the top marketing job at Lifetime while Cohen was still alpha dog, but this person had grave reservations about the company’s direction. Now, she says, she’s reaching out to Wong, whom she knows and respects.
So the dance continues. Fasten your seat belt, because more consolidation is inevitable. And, sorry to say, redundancies in affiliate marketing, ad sales, corporate communications, legal, accounting and human resources likely will not be tolerated, meaning more staffers will be shown the revolving door. So come summer, I predict more programming veterans will be dancing, in the streets.
The veteran journalist Marianne Paskowski can be reached at: email@example.com or 508-255-1901. She loves feedback and leaves no crumbs on the reporting trail.