Cascio Leaving Animal Planet

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Veteran programmer Michael Cascio, Animal Planet’s executive vice president and general manager, is leaving the network, he said Friday.

Cascio -- who is credited with building Biography into a marquee show back when he was at A&E Network -- was named head of Animal Planet in May 2001. His resignation is effective Dec. 31.

Emmy Award-winner Cascio -- who was VP of cable programming at NBC News just prior to joining Animal Planet -- said he is leaving to pursue new professional opportunities that have opened up and to spend some time with his family.

Cascio -- who worked on shows for MSNBC while at NBC News -- wouldn’t get into what business options he is exploring, but he stressed that he is leaving on good terms.

"I have an opportunity I can’t refuse," he added. "It’s a chance I just can’t pass up to do what I want to do. Contractually, I have a chance to leave and pursue some things professional and personal that I couldn’t do if I was at Animal Planet."

Billy Campbell, president of Discovery Networks U.S., will oversee Animal Planet until Cascio’s successor is named, a Discovery spokeswoman said Friday.

"Billy and I have been talking about this for awhile," Cascio said.

A hunt for Cascio’s permanent replacement at 84.5 million-subscriber Animal Planet will start immediately.

Year to date, the network’s primetime ratings are up 20%, to a 0.6 from a 0.5 a year ago, according to an ABC Cable Networks Group analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.

Cascio was responsible for the launch of successful shows such as The Pet Psychic and Animal Precinct,and he commissioned a slate of original movies, including Gentle Ben.

"I’m leaving on an up note," he said. "The ratings for the network are as high as they’ve ever been. Our revenue is up. Everything is going well."

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