Andrea Wong, the chief executive of Lifetime Networks who spent three years making over the once-frumpy cable network into a showcase for splashy shows including “Project Runway” and “Drop Dead Diva,” is stepping down before her contract expires in April.
The move was not unexpected. Nearly six months ago, Lifetime was consolidated into the A&E Television Networks group, a shift that stripped Wong of some of her authority. She found herself reporting to a new boss, group CEO Abbe Raven. Lifetime now is a joint venture of Walt Disney Co., Hearst Corp. and NBC Universal.
“As with all acquisitions and mergers, change is inevitable,” Wong wrote Friday in a memo. “Now that my role in the acquisition of Lifetime by AETN is concluded, and the integration of the organizations including a more streamlined management structure is nearly complete, I believe that it is the right time for me to step down.”
She said she would “move on in the coming weeks” after assisting with the transition. In her letter, she noted the networks’ record highs in revenue and profit, and the launch of Lifetime’s most successful drama ever, “Army Wives.”
It certainly was not the uplifting Lifetime story that Wong had been hoping to write.
Her boldest moves for Lifetime didn’t work out as she had hoped. Lifetime agreed to pay Weinstein Co. more than $150 million to snatch the popular “Project Runway” away from rival Bravo. But the expensive gambit, which included an agreement by Lifetime to air low-budget Weinstein movies, landed in court when NBC Universal, Bravo’s owner, contested the switch. NBC Universal won a settlement, although it allowed “Project Runway” to move to Lifetime.
Despite high expectations, ratings for “Project Runway” have been sliding. Viewership is down about 20% in key demographics from its performance during its final season on Bravo.
Wong started at ABC in 1993 and the following year became an assistant to Bob Iger, now CEO of Disney. In 1998, she became a programming executive and eventually shepherded such hit shows as “The Bachelor” and “Dancing With the Stars” on the air.
“We thank Andrea for her many contributions to Lifetime,” Raven said. “We wish her well in her future endeavors.”