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Life decisions as Lifetime is merged into A&E Networks

October 23, 2009 |  9:38 am

Senior executives and staff are on pins and needles at Lifetime Television and A&E Networks these days. Now that the deal to merge Lifetime and its sister channels into A&E Networks has closed, the brass at A&E (which stands for Arts & Entertainment) has started the unpleasant task of figuring out who's staying and who's going at their various channels. 

RAVEN Exits -- either voluntary or forced -- were expected when the deal was announced last summer. Even the press release detailing the sale said combining the channels into one entity would "yield substantial cost efficiencies." While A&E is offering some senior staff the option to stay on, that does not guarantee the same position or salary, people familiar with situation said. In other words, the lawyers are working overtime figuring out exit packages. The cuts could be as much as 10% of the 1,100 staffers.

Still to be determined is how Lifetime CEO Andrea Wong's management duties will change. Before the merger, she reported to a board of executives from Lifetime's parent companies, Walt Disney Co. and Hearst Corp. Under the new ownership, which brought NBC Universal into the mix with Disney and Hearst, Wong now reports to A&E TV Networks CEO Abbe Raven. There is talk that while programming and marketing will continue to report to Wong, other business units at Lifetime including sales, affiliate relations, legal, human resources and public relations will report to Raven and her team.

WONG Industry watchers are curious to see if Wong and Raven can coexist. Wong, a flashy executive and MIT graduate with close ties to Disney CEO Bob Iger and TV co-chief Anne Sweeney, has been at Lifetime for a little over two years. Before that she oversaw alternative programming for ABC. Raven, who keeps a lower profile, has quietly risen through the ranks of A&E to become one of the most powerful executives in the cable industry.

So far, the biggest name opting to leave Lifetime is Patricia Langer, the executive vice president of the network's legal, business and human resources units. Chief Financial Officer Jim Wesley may also leave the network in the next few months. Expected to stay on are marketing chiefs Bob Bibb and Lew Goldstein, and JoAnn Alfano, the well-regarded executive vice president of programming there.

For Lifetime, the changes come as the channel has looked to build its audience with more original programming and an expensive acquisition in "Project Runway." The track record so far is mixed. "Drop Dead Diva" has turned into a surprise hit for the network, but "Project Runway," which Lifetime snagged from Bravo in an ugly legal battle, has seen its ratings take a fall after a strong premiere.

-- Joe Flint

Photos: Top right: Abbe Raven. Credit: A&E Networks. Bottom left: Andrea Wong. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times