Nickolas Davatzes, founder of A&E and History, dies at 79

Nickolas Davatzes, the longtime president and CEO of A+E who helped found A&E and the History Channel, died on Aug. 21 at his home in Wilton, CT at age 79, ...
August 23, 2021

Nickolas Davatzes, the longtime president and CEO of A+E who helped found A&E and the History Channel, died on Aug. 21 at his home in Wilton, CT at age 79, A+E Networks announced.

Davatzes served as president and CEO of A+E for more than 20 years from 1983 to 2005. Under his stewardship, A+E started with just one programming network. Today, it’s expanded to a portfolio in more than 180 million households around the world. Davatzes was a founder of A+E Networks, joining the company following the merger of the Entertainment Network, owned by RCA and the Rockefeller family, and the ARTS Network, owned by Hearts and ABC.

Up until his death, Davatzes still served as CEO Emeritus of A+E. Davatzes had helped create and develop the signature Arts & Entertainment Network in 1984, and also went on to launch the History Channel in 1995.

“Nick Davatzes made an indispensable contribution to the growth and success of A+E,” said Frank A. Bennack Jr., executive vice chairman and former CEO of Hearst, in a news release on Saturday (Aug. 21).

“Additionally, if any individual can be thought of as the father of The History Channel, the highly successful franchise born out of A+E, it was Nick. He was an incredibly talented and strongly committed head of both channels for decades when they grew to domestic and international prominence. He was, importantly, for me, for Steve Swartz and all of Nick’s friends at Hearst, a beloved colleague who will be deeply missed. Our condolences go to his wonderful family and all who loved him.”

A+E credits Davatzes for being a leader in advocating for education and public affairs initiatives in the cable industry. Davatzes was inducted into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame in 1999, and was honored by the Cable Television Public Affairs Association with its annual President’s Award in 1996, for his commitment to public outreach and educational initiatives. Davatzes also received the Vanguard Award for Programming from the National Cable Television Association in 1994.

In 2006, President George W. Bush awarded Davatzes with the National Humanities Medal for his contributions to the humanities. Before then, Davatzes had been recognized by the French government with the Chevalier des Arts et Lettres for the relationship between A+E Networks and the French TV industry.

The former A+E CEO was also a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and an advocate for veterans and military families. He received the Marine Corps Historical Foundation Heritage Award for his support to this foundation, and in 2000, Davatzes and the History  Channel was honored by the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation with the Lone Sailor Award.

Davatzes was succeeded as A+E’s CEO by Abbe Raven in 2005, who called Davatzes an incredible leader, innovator, mentor and humanitarian.

“As the first CEO of A+E Networks and a pioneer in the cable industry, he set the standard for excellence in television programming, integrity in business and extraordinary leadership,” Raven said in a statement.

“His drive and passion for quality programming led A&E and The History Channel to become leading brands, along with iconic programs such as Biography, in the U.S. and across the globe. Nick was responsible for creating and nurturing a culture of creativity and innovation. His commitment to education was at the center of our corporate and community service.

“His legacy lives on as A+E Networks continues to reflect his leadership, his values, his passion for entertainment, and his principles. He was my mentor, champion and dear friend and I, along with so many, will miss him dearly. He was deeply loved and admired by all who had the honor to know him.”

Today, the A+E Networks is a 50-50 joint venture between the Walt Disney Company and Hearst. Disney executive chairman Bob Iger complimented Davatzes, calling him a towering figure in the early days of cable TV, and an incredible leader with true integrity.

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