ABC Family exec Mancuso dies

Veteran helped channel launch comedies, up ratings

Linda Mancuso, head of programming for ABC Family and an NBC vet, died Sunday night after a six-year battle with breast cancer. She was 44.

Mancuso joined the Disney-owned cable network in November of last year and oversaw the channel’s original movies, scripted series, reality programming and specials. Under her programming stewardship, the channel launched a line of romantic comedies that have given the network much-needed ratings lifts. It also picked up several series pilots from the likes of Rosanna Arquette and Lisa Kudrow.

“Linda never stopped working. She was in a five-hour meeting with me last Monday. Even in the hospital, she was asking for a paper and a pen — the ideas never stopped coming to her,” said ABC Cable Networks Group-Disney Channel Worldwide prexy Anne Sweeney. The two met years ago while Sweeney worked at Nickelodeon and Mancuso was at NBC.

“She made so many contributions to our industry. Her love of the creative process, talent and her team were inspiring to everyone who came in contact with her,” Sweeney continued. “We will remember her warmth, humor and generosity of spirit forever.”

Time of transition

Mancuso’s death comes at a transitional time for ABC Family. Net prexy Angela Shapiro, to whom Mancuso reported, left the company following a decision by Disney brass to put the channel under Sweeney’s jurisdiction. No decisions on replacements for either Shapiro or Mancuso have been made.

Before joining ABC Family, Mancuso had been president-chief operating officer at NBC Enterprises-based Peter Engel Prods., which produced shows for “TNBC,” the Peacock’s old teen block. She spent four years with the shingle, responsible for more than 500 half-hours of teen comedies including “Saved by the Bell” and “City Guys.”

During her last year with Engel Prods., Mancuso told Daily Variety about her supportive colleagues and dealing with breast cancer:

“I’m overcoming breast cancer at the moment. When I went to get my head shaved, because my hair was falling out, Peter Engel sent a letter to everybody in the company that said, ‘We all can’t be there and shave our heads for Linda, but if you want to show your support for her, wear a hat today.’ ”

“So I came back to work, and on every stage of every show, everybody — the caterers, the directors, the writers, the actors — had hats on. It was such a simple thing, but it meant so much to me. I’ll never forget it.”

Mancuso recently oversaw “Last Comic Standing” for NBC and the E! pilot “America’s Houseguest.”

Started as intern

A native of Winnetka, Ill., Mancuso attended Duke U. She got her start in television with an unpaid internship at NBC’s Chicago affiliate. After five years producing local shows at the station, she moved to the network’s Burbank-based headquarters, where she played an integral role in NBC’s children’s and family programming.

Over seven years, she held the posts of veep and director and proved instrumental in NBC’s transition from animated to live-action programming, helping launch the teen staple “Saved by the Bell.”

Mancuso later worked her way up to VP of primetime series, overseeing shows including the longstanding hospital drama “ER.”

She also served as president of Beyond Talent Management.

Mancuso is survived by her sister Laura, brothers Rob and Rick and nieces and nephews. Memorial services will be held Saturday in Chicago and Jan. 14 in Los Angeles. The family asks that donations be sent to The Linda Mancuso Memorial Fund at Good Samaritan Hospital, 1225 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90017.