The year’s top title changes

RealScreen spotlights 10 staff changes in the industry (listed in alphabetical order).
December 1, 2002

Airey makes a choice

These were heady days for Dawn Airey, who surprised many when she signed on with BSkyB as managing director of Sky Networks in September. The former chief exec of Five (formerly Channel 5), who is widely credited with improving that channel’s image and increasing its audience share, had been close to a deal with itv and was expected to take the top job there. But, BSkyB swooped in and made her an irresistible offer. In September, prior to her headline-grabbing job change, she was also named chair of the executive committee for the Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival (GEITF), taking over for John Willis (see page 21).

Guillemet leaves Sundance for sun-kissed Miami

Nicole Guillemet, the longtime co-director of the Sundance Film Festival and VP of the Sundance Institute, signed on with the Miami Film Festival in June as its new director. Guillemet was instrumental in creating the House of Docs component of Sundance in 2000. This event has grown to become a vital stop for aspiring and established doc-makers alike, for the networking and lessons it accords them. Her move will surely raise the profile of the Florida fest, which has expanded in scope in recent years and will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2003. Guillemet is expected to continue the festival’s focus on Spanish-language and international films.

Comings and goings at Granada

While Granada Wild’s parent continued its attempts to merge with Carlton, the natural history division enacted some personnel changes. Award-winning wildlife producer Brian Leith (Congo, Elephants of the Sand River) was appointed head of its new production center in Bristol, U.K. His predecessor, Phil Fairclough, was running the show when Granada Wild was still known as United Wildlife, and he stayed on after Granada acquired United’s TV assets at the end of 2000. Fairclough left Granada in August to become the new VP of production at Discovery Channel in Washington, D.C., U.S. Meanwhile, Mark Reynolds was appointed Granada International’s head of international factual programming. Reynolds was formerly the director of news and current affairs for BBC Worldwide, a position he had assumed only one month before joining Granada.

More upheaval at Vivendi

Vivendi Universal’s financial tribulations this past year were well known and staff cuts were inevitable, but it still came as a shock when Canal+ chairman Pierre Lescure was let go from the company he helped found and which had merged with Vivendi in 2001. He was with Canal+ for 18 years, taking over as chief executive when co-founder Andre Rousselet was himself pushed out of the company. Lescure’s firing came a week after the resignation of Denis Oliviennes, Canal+’s chief operating officer. Lescure was replaced a week later by Dominique Farrugia, who was formerly in charge of programs and production. Lescure has since been appointed to the board of Boulogne, France-based Thomson (formerly Thomson Multimedia). His successor, Bertrand Meheut, was appointed president and chief operating officer in October.

Rodgers says goodbye to Discovery

In March, Johnathan Rodgers stepped down as president of Discovery Networks, U.S., leaving for personal reasons and on good terms. Rodgers had come to Discovery after 20 years at CBS. He presided over the launch of Animal Planet and Discovery Health. His successor, Billy Campbell, formerly the president of Los Angeles, U.S.-based Miramax Television, was appointed in May. Rodgers’ exit was the last in a continuing stream of departures of Discovery’s old guard over the past two years, including former Discovery Channel general manager Mike Quattrone, former GM of Discovery Health Kathy Quattrone and TLC’s executive VP and GM Jana Bennett.

A&E’S main programmer steps down

Allen Sabinson left his position as senior VP of programming for New York, U.S.-based A&E Television Networks in late July. Sabinson had been with the company since 1999, when he worked as a programming consultant. When he was promoted to head of programming in May 2000, he oversaw such documentary and reality programming as ‘Biography’ and ‘Investigative Reports’. A&E has yet to find a replacement for Sabinson. In the meantime, programming responsibilities have fallen to recently appointed exec VP and GM, Abbe Raven.

ZDF gets a new director-general

The German TV market may have suffered the collapse of KirchMedia and declining ad revenues, but pubcaster ZDF seems to have weathered the storm. Markus Schächter, ZDF’s program director since 1998, was elected as the new director-general in March. His predecessor, Dieter Stolte, held the post for nearly 20 years. Schächter soon announced his intention to broaden the channel’s programming to appeal to a younger audience as well as viewers in eastern Germany. In October, programming changes were announced, including the replacement of some entertainment shows with docs on nature, science and history.

CNN’S loss is Discovery’s gain

In May, Vivian Schiller, senior VP of CNN Productions, moved over to Discovery Communications in Bethesda, U.S. As the new head of the Discovery Civilization Channel, Schiller now oversees all programming. She had been with Turner Broadcasting for 14 years; for the last five, she headed CNN News Group’s long-form programming, during which time she launched the current-affairs biography series People in the News and the award-winning doc series CNN Presents. Schiller’s departure wasn’t expected to undermine CNN’s commitment to long-form programming. Her duties have thus far been split between CNN News Group executive editor Sid Bedingfield and Kathy Slobogin, managing editor of CNN Presents.

Thompson makes waves at C4

The year 2001 ended with the news that Mark Thompson was leaving the U.K.’s BBC, his employer of more than 20 years, to take on the position of chief executive at Channel 4. The former BBC director of television had his work cut out for him at C4 – its failed expansion into pay-TV services and movie production had contributed to massive financial losses in 2001. C4 began the grim task of cutting jobs, and Thompson continued the downsizing (about 300 pink slips have been issued so far). He also set about changing the commissioning structure, increasing programming expenditure and creating a factual entertainment department, with long-term plans to revamp programming.

Willis heads over to the New World

John Willis, the former managing director of worldwide production at U.K.-based Granada Media, crossed the pond at the end of the summer. Willis took over as VP of national programming at wgbh, the public broadcaster in Boston, U.S. The British TV executive was handpicked by his eventual predecessor, Peter McGhee. (During his tenure as a producer at United Productions, Willis worked on several coproductions with WGBH for ‘Masterpiece Theatre’). Willis fulfilled the duties of his other job, running the Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival, before heading to Boston in the fall to start his new one.

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