Cable TV Pioneer Nickolas Davatzes Dies at 79

(Image credit: A+E)

NEW YORK—Nickolas “Nick” Davatzes, CEO emeritus of A+E Networks who helped create two of the leading cable television networks, A&E and The History Channel, passed away at his home in Wilton, Connecticut on August 21, 2021. He was 79.

Davatzes, a pioneer in the cable television industry, served as president and chief executive officer of A+E from December 1983 to April 2005. 

A+E Networks, a joint venture with Hearst and Disney-ABC Television Group, started with one programming network under Davatzes’ stewardship. Today the company has a portfolio that reaches over 350 million households and 180 territories around the world across every platform.

Davatzes joined the company in 1983 following the merger of the Entertainment Network, owned by RCA and the Rockefeller family, and the ARTS Network, owned by Hearst and ABC. 

He was a founder of A+E Networks, creating and developing the channel in 1984 as the Arts & Entertainment Network. He went on to found and launch The History Channel in 1995. He was succeeded by Abbe Raven as CEO of A+E Networks in 2005. Lifetime and the Lifetime brands later joined the portfolio in 2009.

Davatzes was a leader in advocating for education and public affairs initiatives in the cable industry and was honored with numerous awards for his commitment to education and corporate social responsibility. In November 2006, President George W. Bush presented Davatzes with the National Humanities Medal in recognition of his contributions to the humanities.

In announcing the news of his death, a number of prominent industry executives issued statements highlighting his accomplishments. 

“Nick Davatzes made an indispensable contribution to the growth and success of A+E,” said Frank A. Bennack Jr., executive vice chairman and former CEO of Hearst. “Additionally, if any individual can be thought of as the father of The History Channel, the highly successful franchise born out of A+E, it was Nick. He was an incredibly talented and strongly committed head of both channels for decades when they grew to domestic and international prominence. He was, importantly, for me, for Steve Swartz and all of Nick’s friends at Hearst, a beloved colleague who will be deeply missed. Our condolences go to his wonderful family and all who loved him.”

“Nick was a towering figure in the early days of cable television, helping build some of the most iconic brands in the media landscape,” said Bob Iger, executive chairman of The Walt Disney Company. “An incredible leader, Nick was a person of true integrity and was always a wonderful partner to all of us at Disney. Our deepest condolences go out to his family and to all of our friends and colleagues at A+E Networks.”

Paul Buccieri, president and chairman, A+E Networks Group, said: “Nick was an extraordinary person and leader, and one of the true giants of the cable industry. He launched A&E and The History Channel, two of the most successful brands in television. Nick believed in the power of media not only to brighten people’s lives but also to inform and enrich communities. He leaves a tremendous legacy of support for education and the humanities. Nick is at the heart of everything that is A+E Networks and the soul of our organization. All of us owe a great debt to Nick Davatzes and he will be sorely missed.”

Abbe Raven, chairman emeritus, A+E Networks Group, said: “Nick was an incredible leader, innovator, mentor and humanitarian. As the first CEO of A+E Networks and a pioneer in the cable industry, he set the standard for excellence in television programming, integrity in business and extraordinary leadership. His drive and passion for quality programming led A&E and The History Channel to become leading brands, along with iconic programs such as ‘Biography,’ in the U.S. and across the globe. Nick was responsible for creating and nurturing a culture of creativity and innovation. His commitment to education was at the center of our corporate and community service. His legacy lives on as A+E Networks continues to reflect his leadership, his values, his passion for entertainment and his principles. He was my mentor, champion and dear friend and I, along with so many, will miss him dearly. He was deeply loved and admired by all who had the honor to know him.”

A veteran of the Marine Corps, Davatzes was an advocate for veterans and military families and was the recipient of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation Heritage Award for his support of the foundation. In December 2000, Davatzes and The History Channel were honored by the United States Navy Memorial Foundation with the Lone Sailor Award. In November 1999, Davatzes was inducted into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame. Davatzes was honored in 1996 by the Cable Television Public Affairs Association (CTPAA) with its annual President's Award for his commitment to educational initiatives.

In 1995, Davatzes received a Salute to Freedom award on behalf of The History Channel from the USS Intrepid Foundation and, in 1994, Davatzes received the Vanguard Award for Programming from the National Cable Television Association (NCTA). In 1989, Davatzes was awarded the Chevalier des Arts et Lettres by the French government in recognition of the relationship between A+E Networks and the French television industry.

Before joining A+E Networks in December 1983, Davatzes was senior vice president, group executive, for Warner Amex Cable Communications Inc., where he was responsible for four QUBE cable operating companies. He joined Warner Amex in 1980 as senior vice president, administration and human resources.

Davatzes is a member of the St. John's University board of trustees. He served on the board of directors and executive committee for NCTA from 1993 to 2006. He is a past member of the International Council of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Davatzes was a member of the board for Cable in the Classroom from 1989 to 2006.

Davatzes received a Bachelor of Arts in 1962 and a Master of Arts in 1964 from St. John's University and received an honorary doctorate in 1995. He also was involved in postgraduate studies at New York University.

Davatzes is survived by his wife Dorothea Hayes Davatzes; son George (Geody) Davatzes and his wife Jennifer Davatzes; son Dr. Nicholas Davatzes and his wife Dr. Alexandra Davatzes; and grandchildren Julia, Nicholas, Elias and Lilly. Davatzes is predeceased by his son Christopher Davatzes.

Calling hours will be held at Raymond Funeral Home in Norwalk, Connecticut, Friday from 4 to 8 p.m. A memorial service will be held at Our Lady of Fatima church in Wilton, Connecticut, Saturday at 10 a.m. Donations can be made in memory of Nick Davatzes to Wilton Library Association Endowment Fund, 137 Old Ridgefield Road, Wilton, Connecticut 06897.

George Winslow

George Winslow is the senior content producer for TV Tech. He has written about the television, media and technology industries for nearly 30 years for such publications as Broadcasting & Cable, Multichannel News and TV Tech. Over the years, he has edited a number of magazines, including Multichannel News International and World Screen, and moderated panels at such major industry events as NAB and MIP TV. He has published two books and dozens of encyclopedia articles on such subjects as the media, New York City history and economics.