Nickolas Davatzes, who was instrumental in founding the A&E and History Channel cable television networks, which now reach 335 million homes worldwide, died on August 21 at his home in Wilton, Connecticut. He was 79 years old.
The cause was complications from Parkinson’s disease, his son George said.
Mr. Davatzes (pronounced dah-VAT-sis) was President and CEO of A&E, originally the Arts & Entertainment Network, which he led from 1983 to 2005 as a joint venture of Hearst Corporation and Disney -ABC Television Group. He started the History Channel in 1995 and has remained an aggressive advocate, both within the industry and as a spokesperson before Congress, for education and public affairs programs.
By the mid-1980s, A&E had emerged primarily through program buying and building a bankable audience by negotiating distribution rights with local cable systems as the only cultural cable service supported by advertisers. .
After 60 days here I told my wife I didn’t think this thing had a 20% chance, because every time I turned around there was another obstacle, Mr Davatzes told the New York Times in 1989. I used to say that we were like a bumblebee that we weren’t supposed to fly.
But they did. A&E turned profitable in three years by offering an eclectic menu of daily programming which, as the Times says, could include a biography of Herbert Hoover, a show about the besieged bison, a dramatization of an Ann Beattie short story. and a tour of the stand-up comic Buzz Belmondo.
We don’t want to duplicate The A-Team or Laverne & Shirley, Davatzes told The Times in 1985. There is a younger generation that has never seen uplifting entertainment on television. They saw a rock star destroy a guitar every 16 minutes, but they never saw classical music.
By network standards, he continued, our audience will always be limited. But it is the function of the cable to present enough alternatives for individuals to be their own programmers.
Under the umbrella of A&E, the network encompassed a wide range of entertainment and non-fiction programming. He created a singular identity with scripted shows (100, rue du Center, A Nero Wolfe Mystery) and collaborations like her hugely popular BBC co-production of Pride and Prejudice, a mini-series based on Jane Austen’s novel starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.
Mr. Davatzes received the National Medal for Human Sciences from President George W. Bush in 2006. The French government made him a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters in 1989. He was inducted into Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame in 1999.
After his death Frank A. Bennack Jr., executive vice president of Hearst, called him the father of the History Channel.
Nickolas Davatzes was born on March 14, 1942 in Manhattan to George Davatzes, a Greek immigrant, and Alexandra (Kordes) Davatzes, whose parents were Greek. Both of her parents worked in the fur trade.
After graduating from Bryant High School in Astoria, Queens, he received a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1962 and a master’s degree in sociology in 1964, both from St. Johns University, where he met his future wife, Dorothea Hayes.
Besides his son George, he is survived by his wife; another son, Dr. Nicholas Davatzes; one sister, Carol Davatzes Ferrandino; and four grandchildren. Another son, Christopher, died before him.
After serving in the Marines, Mr. Davatzes joined the Xerox Corporation in 1965 and switched to information technology at Intext Communications Systems in 1978. A friend introduced him to an executive at the fledgling cable company Warner Amex, who recruited him over lunch and had him sign a contract drawn on a restaurant napkin. He went to work there in 1980, alongside cable television pioneers such as Richard Aurelio and Larry Wangberg.
The Arts & Entertainment Network took shape in 1983, when it helped put the finishing touches on a merger between two struggling cable systems: Entertainment Network, owned by RCA and the Rockefeller family, and ARTS Network, owned from Hearst and ABC.
Its strategy at the beginning was twofold: to concentrate on the accessibility of the network to the televiewers, and not to be diverted by the production of original programs, but rather to concentrate on the acquisition of existing programs.
If you’re into programming, we know that 85 percent of every new show that airs typically fails, said in a 2001 interview with The center of the cable, an educational branch of the cable industry.
Our overall approach is to create a healthy business model, Davatzes said in 1985. I like to tell the people who work for us that we don’t eat at 21.
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