Betty Cohen, the newly named president and CEO of Lifetime Television, was first approached about the job at roughly the end of February by her former Nickelodeon colleague, Anne Sweeney.
“We stayed in touch over the years, and I’ve just always been so proud of what she’s done,” Cohen said of Sweeney, who is now co-chairman of Walt Disney’s Media Networks unit. “And I guess she’s been impressed with what I’ve done.”
Cohen, the founder and ex-president of Cartoon Network, was the surprise choice to fill Carole Black’s open slot after a nearly five-month search by Lifetime’s owners, Disney and Hearst.
Black announced back in November that she would leave at the end of her contract, in March, to take some
time off. Cohen, a 14-year veteran of Turner, said she’s eager to tackle the task of serving the complex female audience -- and turning up signature hits for the veteran women’s network.
Cohen flew to Lifetime’s Manhattan headquarters Thursday night to start meeting staff, which she also did Friday before heading to the National Show in San Francisco. She’ll then swing south to stop by Lifetime’s
Los Angeles office. Cohen, who is relocating to New York from Atlanta, lauded Lifetime for its success with its original movie franchise.
“It struck me that Lifetime has a very solid foundation with their movies, but probably would like to be looking at what else can they do,” she said.
But hit series have been important in terms of brand-building, she said -- which has been Cohen’s strong suit.
“There’s no question that signature hits have defined and driven cable networks,” she said. “Movies say a certain amount about Lifetime and have attracted a strong audience, and I think we’re going to want to preserve that. “But there’s a great interest here in both acquiring and developing series as well. Series are important for every network, not only in defining their identity, but they’re how you build habit viewing, too.”
One of Cohen’s top priorities is to decide who will permanently fill the vacant top programmer slot at Lifetime. Rick Haskins, Lifetime’s GM, has been handling that duty.