ABC reality/late-night chief Andrea Wong has joined Lifetime as President/CEO. She starts immediately and replaces Betty Cohen who resigned from the post yesterday after two years with the company.
Wong, Executive VP of Alternative Programming, Specials and Late-Night at ABC Entertainment since 2004, had topped a short list of candidates said to be under consideration for the gig. Her experience is mainly in programming, having brought ABC some of its biggest reality hits like The Bachelor, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and Dancing With the Stars.
But coming from the network, she is schooled in the corporate ways of Disney, a parent of both ABC and Lifetime. As President/CEO of Lifetime Entertainment Services, she is now charged with overseeing all aspects of the flagship women's network, as well as its sister networks LMN and Lifetime Real Women and their digital extensions. That includes ad sales, marketing and affiliate relations.
In an interview after the announcement, Wong told B&C she was excited about the new responsibility and planned to rely upon Lifetime’s current executive team, including programming chief Susanne Daniels and ad sales/network GM Lynn Picard for support.
“There’s a first time that everyone becomes a CEO of a company and certainly there’s a lot to learn and a lot of growing to do,” she said, noting her own background included business and engineering experience.
Lifetime parent companies Disney and Hearst, each a 50% owner, moved swiftly in appointing Wong the day after Cohen resigned. With three new dramas launching this summer, a vacant chief marketing slot and the ongoing upfront season, Lifetime would be hard-pressed to go on for too long without a new leader in place.
In contrast, when Cohen's predecessor Carole Black announced she was leaving the women's network in 2005, it was several weeks before Cohen was announced, prompting wide rumormongering about who would get the job.
Wong, who said she will spend most of her time in New York, cited filling the open marketing executive VP slot as her first priority. The job has been open since former McCann Erickson executive Martha Pease left Lifetime in March, after nearly a quarter of her staff of about 70 people had done the same, insiders say. Wong said other priorities were familiarizing herself with new programming already in the works for Lifetime and working to "broaden the brand."
In appointing Wong, Disney Media Networks co-chair Anne Sweeney praised her "entrepreneurial style" and called her "a straight shooter who is smart enough to know which challenges to undertake and fearless enough to see them through."
Hearst Corporation Director John Conomikes noted her "key relationships in the Hollywood community."
Cohen resigned yesterday after a rocky two-year stint with the company. Disney Co. and Hearst Corp. announced Cohen's exit amid rampant industry chatter that they have met with potential replacements for her job. The decision came just a day after Cohen presided over Lifetime’s upfront show in New York.
Wong joined ABC in August 1993 as a researcher for Primetime Live and rose through the network ranks as Executive Assistant to the President of the network and then of ABC, Inc. She joined the alternative series/specials department as Vice President in 1998. In addition to ABC's reality series, she has overseen late-night shows, including Jimmy Kimmel Live and specials, including the Academy Awards.
An ABC representative said the network will not fill her role until after the upfront season, which can go on into the summer.
"We all wish Andrea the best as she steps into this next challenge," said ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson in a statement.
Other candidates said to have been in the running for the Lifetime President/CEO slot included Comcast/Sony Networks President Diane Robina and USA/Sci Fi president Bonnie Hammer.
Still unclear is whether Susanne Daniels, the former WB entertainment chief who Cohen brought in to oversee Lifetime’s programming, will remain with the network. Daniels is poised this summer to introduce a trio of scripted dramas which she oversaw and has an ambitious slate of shows in development, but might not decide to stay through the leadership shuffle.
Wong told B&C she would like for Daniels to stay on.
"I’m looking forward to working with her and I would love for her to be a part of the team," she said.
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