ATAS taps Leavitt prexy

Chairman Zabel to share the reins

Former Alliance Television chairman Todd Leavitt has officially been tapped as the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ new president and chief operating officer.

Leavitt, whose appointment had been expected (Daily Variety, Aug. 23), will be introduced to Acad members at tonight’s board of governors meeting, but he won’t officially take over until Oct. 14.

Leavitt requested the transition period to ease out of his job as managing director of Tulip Media, a financing/packaging firm he founded in 1998.

As prexy-chief operating officer, Leavitt — who becomes the org’s top salaried executive — will be charged with overseeing day-to-day operations and a staff of about 35. He’ll report to Acad chairman-CEO Bryce Zabel, who made the announcement Tuesday, and the org’s executive committee. He also will report to ATAS Foundation chairman Tom Sarnoff on issues relating to that branch.

“This is one of those opportunities that you can’t say no to,” Leavitt said. “Not much goes on in TV that doesn’t touch the Academy, and vice versa.”

Big on business

Zabel said the org was looking for an exec with strong business sense. Leavitt joins the TV Academy as it continues to negotiate a new Emmy license fee. Org also continues to mull a proposal for an Anschutz-developed Academy theater and is looking at ways to work closer with the New York-based National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

“It was clear as we interviewed other candidates that Todd met our needs,” Zabel said. “Todd happens to have real business savvy and is someone who has run companies. Ultimately, Todd happened to have all the skill sets we were looking for in a president.”

A 15-year Academy member, Leavitt said he hadn’t spent much time with the org until now.

“That probably makes me a typical member,” he said. “In my own mind, one of the things I have to understand better is how our membership is being served and how to mobilize that membership. That’s what trade organizations are supposed to do, aggregate strength through membership.”

Having led TV operations at Canadian-based Alliance, Leavitt also possesses first-hand knowledge on runaway production, an issue ATAS on which has focused in the past year.

Leavitt replaces Jim Chabin, who departed the org in December after he and Zabel disagreed over the parameters of the prexy’s job. The group’s executive committee ultimately declined to renew his contract.

Sharing reins

“Todd and I share the same desire here,” Zabel said. “We want to create the best relationship that ever existed between a chairman and a president. We’ll try to respect each other’s work areas. The bylaws have made it clear what I’m supposed to do and what Todd’s supposed to do. I’m the elected person who runs the board, while he’s the paid member who leads the staff.”

Leavitt was selected after a lengthy search, led by TNT exec Bob DeBitetto and headhunting firm Heidrick & Struggles. Chief financial officer Herb Jellinek has been serving as acting chief operating officer in the interim.

“We spoke with hundreds of people in connection with this search and were astounded at the number of highly qualified candidates, and we are convinced that Todd will serve the position well,” said Heidrick & Struggles’ managing partner Stephen Unger.

Leavitt formed Tulip Media after leaving Alliance (now a part of Alliance Atlantis). Before that, he was exec VP of planning and operations at NBC Prods. (which evolved into NBC Studios). He also worked at Reeves Entertainment Group, D.L. Taffner and CBS/Fox Video.

Leavitt’s organizational experience includes a stint as vice chairman of AFMA (previously known as the American Film Marketing Assn.); he founded that group’s TV committee.

As for the fate of Tulip Media, Leavitt said it’s still unclear whether the company will go on without him.

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