Former TNT Exec DeBitetto Joins A&E As Program Chief
By John M. Higgins -- Broadcasting & Cable, 1/12/2003 7:00:00 PM
Ratings-impaired network A&E went outside for a new head of programming, tapping former TNT executive Robert DeBitetto. He replaces Allen Sabinson, who was ousted last July amidst the cable network's sliding ratings and increasing audience age.
In an executive shuffle last year, A&E and sister net History Channel largely traded executives, with History Channel Executive Vice President and General Manager Abbe Raven exchanging jobs with A&E's Dan Davids.
DeBitetto's background is in movies and scripted series rather than A&E's core programming: light documentaries and various crime-oriented series.
He was most recently president of original programming for TNT and head of TNT Originals and also oversaw production of movies Mists of Avalon, James Dean and Crossfire Trail. But he failed with dramatic series Breaking News (which TNT refused to air), Bull (canceled after one season) and Witchblade (canceled after two 13-episode seasons)
But Raven said that DeBitetto's experience is what she needs to pair with her expertise in the non-fiction side of A&E's schedule. "Bob is a well-rounded, effective entertainment executive," she said, adding that she values his reputation in the Hollywood community that she needs to feed projects to the network: "He has terrific relationships there."
Said DeBitetto, "A&E has tremendous things going forward, tremendous penetration. Their programming taste and sensibility is right with me. They've clearly staked out the high end of the spectrum."
He has a big job ahead. A&E's ratings have dropped significantly: 20%-30% in whatever key Nielsen measure you care to pick. The network's attempts to develop original drama like 100 Centre Street and Nero Wolfe have fizzled, and the network paid heavily for off-network series Third Watch, with mixed results.
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