The last eighteen months have been busy for Michael Cascio. He left his position as senior VP of programming at the A&E Network in December 1999 to join NBC News as VP of cable programming development, and is now readying to become executive VP and general manager of Animal Planet – his third job title in under two years. ‘Life’s too short to just keep doing the same thing,’ says Cascio, reflecting on his recent job history. ‘But, at the same time, you can’t swing from one area to another without some idea of what you’re doing. There is a thread that goes through there. I’m familiar with the form of programming they’re doing at Animal Planet as well as the subject matter.’
As Cascio doesn’t officially take his position within the Discovery family until June, he is hesitant to reveal any plans for the channel. He does mention, however, that Animal Planet will continue to pursue a variety of program genres. ‘I think the success of the channel has been trying different forms. We’ll continue to do that, but will now figure out which of those forms really works best, and concentrate on those.’ Additionally, Cascio is looking forward to working in an environment that operates under a clear mandate. ‘This is not a side game for [Discovery], this is what they do and what they want to do… It’s not a start-up situation. It’s not even a fix-up operation. [Animal Planet] just wants to move to the next level. I’m joining a winning team.’
The scenario was decidedly different when Cascio joined MSNBC at the turn of the millennium. The growing competition between news networks had prompted budding and veteran newscaters alike to look for programming strategies that would carve out a unique identity for their channel. While the Fox News Channel embraced pundits in an almost all talk format, MSNBC decided to invest in long form docs, which were thought to appeal to a younger audience and might, therefore, attract advertisers. Cascio was brought in to helm this effort. ‘Make no mistake, that was a start-up,’ says Cascio. ‘Although [NBC] knew the news game, it didn’t know the long-form game. It was, frankly, a challenge. They wanted to move in that area but didn’t know how to do that. It was like starting over again at the very beginning of A&E, but they didn’t want to wait five years, they wanted it right away. It was a furious year until the layoffs hit in the early part of this year.’
Pink slips and cutbacks were issued in January following a sharp dip in the ad sales market. Given the priorities of a news network, says Cascio, docs were vulnerable. ‘A lot of networks were hit hard with declining revenues. Some networks cut back on marketing, some cut back on management staff and others cut back on programming. At NBC, you can’t cut back on the core business – you can’t cut back on covering the news. MSNBC cut back on staff and programs. It wasn’t fun. I think, as I’m leaving now, things are starting to settle and become more normal. I think they’ll pick up their faith in some of the programming.’
An MSNBC spokesperson said the outlet was unsure whether a successor will be named to Cascio’s former post.