Scannell changes channel

Prexy exit leads to shakeup at Nick

Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite is getting its biggest shakeup in more than a decade with the resignation of Herb Scannell as president of Nickelodeon Networks and the promotion of Cyma Zarghami to head of the newly formed Kids & Family Group.

In a phone interview, Scannell, 48, said his departure after 18 years as a Nick executive is voluntary, set in motion by his desire to, as the company put it, “pursue other business opportunities.”

The industry perception is that when Judy McGrath edged out Scannell to get the nod as chair-CEO of MTV Networks in July 2004, he began exploring opportunities beyond Nickelodeon.

Geraldine Laybourne, who founded Nickelodeon, was Scannell’s mentor for a number of years and is now chair-CEO of Oxygen Media, said, “One of the things Nickelodeon will miss from Herb is that he has a fine strategic brain, with a natural ability to understand the competitive landscape.”

Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite’s cash flow for 2006 is projected at $1.03 billion, according to Kagan Research, making it the most profitable cable network in the industry.

All the Nick divisions that reported to Scannell will report to Zarghami, except for TV Land, which will join Comedy Central and Spike TV under the aegis of Doug Herzog.

Zarghami acknowledged the TV Land shift will be “awkward” and “tricky” because Larry Jones, as president of Nick at Nite, reports to Zarghami. But Jones, in his role as president of TV Land, also will report to Herzog.

“But Larry and Doug and I go way back in the business,” Zarghami said, “so we’ll find a way to work it out.”

The shift of TV Land makes sense, she continued, “because that network is aimed at baby boomers” nostalgic for the sitcoms they watched three or four decades ago. By contrast, Nick at Nite is more kids- and family-oriented, with original programming like “Hijinks” and “The World’s Funniest Mom” “playing nicely to parents with their kids,” Zarghami said.

Zarghami said she’ll continue to devote lots of attention to “devising a creative strategy and a business strategy that will get our programming content to all of the platforms being set in motion by technological advances, from video-on-demand to wireless to broadband.”

The separation of CBS from Viacom and its MTV Networks, which became official earlier this week, will actually “put less pressure on us, and give us more freedom” to do future broadcast-network deals, said Zarghami. She said the CBS Saturday-morning sked of Nickelodeon shows runs through September, with no commitments going beyond that date.

Zarghami said she’ll continue to develop Nickelodeon-based theatrical movies for distribution through sister company Paramount Pictures. Three movies are in production: “Nacho Libre” starring Jack Black, as well as animated features “Barnyard,” directed by Steve Oedekirk, and a remake of “Charlotte’s Web.”

The divisions reporting to Zarghami are Nickelodeon TV, Nick at Nite, Nick Online, Nick Movies, Noggin/the N, Nicktoons TV and Nick Games & Sports. She’ll also be responsible for Nick’s magazine and recreation divisions and its new digital businesses, including Neopets.

Zarghami began her career at Nickelodeon in 1985 as a marketing exec. She helped to launch Nickelodeon U.K. in 1993 and TV Land in 1996. She became general manager of Nickelodeon in 1996 and eventually rose to president of the network.