Carole Black Leaving Lifetime

Lifetime Entertainment Services CEO Carole Black said she is leaving the cable network in March when her current contract expires.

Black, who has overseen women-targeting Lifetime since 1999, will stay on with the network -- owned by The Walt Disney Co. and Hearst Corp. -- and work with its board of directors as it looks for a successor.

Rumors that Black might leave have been heard since the summer, fueled by the upcoming expiration of her contract. But she told Multichannel News Monday that she informed the board only two weeks ago of her decision to take some "personal time" and move back to Los Angeles. She’s been commuting between New York and Los Angeles while at Lifetime.

Disney-ABC Television Group president Anne Sweeney and Hearst director John Conomikes “tried to make it work for me when I told them [about the departure] two weeks ago," Black said. "But my family is in Los Angeles and the job is in New York and Los Angeles. It's been the most wonderful journey, but there really is no place like home."

One of the most powerful and influential women in cable, Black's tenure at the channel has been mixed. After placing first in the primetime-cable ratings in 2001 and 2002 on the strength of original movies and series such as The Division, Any Day Now and Strong Medicine, the network's fortunes began to fall in 2003 as general-entertainment networks Turner Network Television and USA Network rode the phenomenal success of the Law & Order brand past Lifetime in the ratings.

Lifetime's third-quarter-2004 primetime rating was a 1.6, down 11% from the same period in 2003.

But distribution of all Lifetime brands has grown exponentially, with the flagship network now reaching more than 88 million homes and Lifetime Movie Network reaching more than 43 million.

"Carole's influence can be measured in Lifetime's record advertising and affiliate revenue generated during her tenure, in its high ratings, in the Emmy- and Academy Award-winning talent attracted to work for the network and in the numerous awards these projects have received," Sweeney said in a prepared statement.

"Her commitment to advocacy also allowed Lifetime to directly impact the lives of its viewers by helping to change laws for the better,” Sweeney added. “She built an impressive legacy and will be missed."

There’s been no announcement of a successor. On Monday, she would not respond to questions about the buzz this past summer that a male executive had already been picked to take her place, saying only, "I don't think that's true."