Network head cites personal reasons for exit

Susanne Daniels is ankling Lifetime, where she has served as president of entertainment since 2005.

Daniels will remain in the position until Lifetime Networks CEO Andrea Wong locates a successor and will continue to serve as a consultant for the channel.

Daniels stressed — and insiders confirmed — that the decision to leave was personal. Daniels has three children, and her husband Greg is busy exec producing the wildly successful “The Office” while simultaneously plotting the NBC hit’s new companion show.

“It’s extremely difficult to leave here,” Daniels said. “I’m not leaving for another opportunity. I have truly enjoyed working with Andrea Wong, and the board of Lifetime has been tremendously supportive. I’ll continue to help until Andrea finds someone new. I didn’t want to abandon the job and the people who I’ve helped to assemble. It’s a remarkable group of executives, and I’m also proud to be a part of this company. I love the advocacy it does for women.”

According to those familiar with the situation, Daniels’ three-year deal with Lifetime was up in August, and a new contract had already been drawn up. But after agonizing over whether to sign on for another lengthy stint, the exec recently made the decision to take a break.

“While I totally respect and understand Susanne’s decision to spend more time with her children and family and evolve her role into a consulting position, I will miss our daily collaboration,” Wong said. “The fruits of her labor will be enjoyed by Lifetime and our viewers for many years to come.”

Daniels had initially pondered departing the net after Wong was brought in as prexy-CEO last year. Instead, she opted to stick around, and the two helped steer the network to its best series showing ever (“Army Wives”).

Daniels leaves just as the net’s signature “Army Wives” bowed its second season to huge numbers. Lifetime ranks fourth in primetime households among all basic cablers and has seen its younger female viewership grow under Daniels’ watch.

“It’s not easy giving up working on a daily basis with the dynamic and talented team with whom Andrea and I collaborate,” Daniels said. “But I look forward to contributing to these networks on the move in my new capacity as a very engaged and passionate consultant.”

Network insiders described the mood inside Lifetime on Wednesday as “dark,” as the announcement of Daniels’ departure has put a damper on the net’s recent spate of good news.

Besides “Army Wives,” Lifetime last year bowed the Carson Kressley-hosted “How to Look Good Naked” to its best nonscripted series premiere ratings ever. Channel just picked up its first original comedy in a decade, “Rita Rocks.”

Also under Daniels, Lifetime managed to revamp its movie franchise, shedding its image as the home for “women in peril” pics in favor of deeper pieces. “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter” became Lifetime’s most-watched original movie in more than a decade, while mini “The Capture of the Green River Killer” gave Lifetime Movie Network its best-ever ratings.

“They were taken out of the cliche and made people in the industry stand up and notice that our movies are more like HBO movies,” she said.

And this November, channel could get another boost thanks to “Project Runway,” which jumps catwalks from Bravo to Lifetime.

Meanwhile, Daniels’ name has already popped up as a contender for CEO of the Oprah Winfrey Network — but Daniels dismissed those rumors. Sources said Daniels doesn’t rule out eventually landing elsewhere, but she’s truly committed to taking a deserved break to focus on family.

Before Lifetime, Daniels served as a consultant and producer (“Hidden Hills”). As one of the architects of the WB network, Daniels headed up the Frog’s entertainment division, developing hits such as “Dawson’s Creek” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Her career also includes stops at Fox, ABC and Broadway Video.

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