AMC Networks Entertainment Group President Sarah Barnett will be stepping down from her position after Labor Day. Following her departure, the company’s Entertainment Networks, which includes AMC, BBC America, IFC and Sundance TV, and AMC Studios will report to AMC Networks COO Ed Carroll on an interim basis.
Barnett’s departure comes at a challenging time for linear television and especially ad-supported basic cable whose prospects were further hurt by the coronavirus pandemic, which cut ad spending. Her exit also comes at a high for her division. The announcement follows Tuesday’s Emmy nominations, where AMC Networks scored two of the eight best drama series Emmy noms with AMC’s Better Call Saul and BBC America/AMC’s Killing Eve, the only non-premium/streaming series to make the cut in the top drama category this year.
Like most linear TV companies, AMC Networks has been shifting its focus to streaming. Earlier this year, the company announced that it had passed 2M subscribers for its four streaming services, which include Shudder, Sundance Now, Acorn TV and UMC (Urban Movie Channel)
“This is a year that has confronted us with radical change on multiple fronts,” said Barnett. “After a lot of consideration – and with a slightly breaking heart – I have decided that it is the right time for me to follow my curiosity and leave things in the very capable hands of the outstanding team at AMC Networks.”
Earlier this year, Barnett, warned that the streaming wars and the drive towards data-led commissioning would hurt the quality of television. Speaking at TCA, she said, “Optimization begets imitation. If something needs to work as well in India as in America, then everything starts to look the same. If you try to talk to everyone you’re not going to be able to say much meaningful to anyone.”
Continued Barnett, who would not elaborate on her future plans, “Shaping stories and connecting them to audiences alongside brilliant people inside and outside of this company has been a unique joy and privilege for the past 11 years. Ed Carroll and Josh Sapan gave me many rich opportunities to build great brands and take creative risks in the pursuit of exciting television, I am so thankful to them for that. I leave with gratitude and huge affection for all my AMC Networks colleagues who will continue to make and do great things.”
Carroll is an AMC veteran. He was AMC Networks’ president of entertainment services before being named COO in 2009. Some of the senior executives who will continue in their roles following Barnett’s exit include Dan McDermott, who recently joined as president of original programming and co-president, AMC Studios; and his lieutenants, Ben Davis, EVP scripted programming for AMC Studios and the Entertainment Group; and Kristin Jones, EVP international programming and programming innovation.
In 2014, as boss of BBC America, she shepherded female-fronted spy drama Killing Eve, written by the then relatively unknown Phoebe Waller-Bridge, whose breakout Fleabag had yet to hit screens.
“Sarah came to AMC Networks more than a decade ago, when we acquired Sundance Channel,” said Carroll. “She immediately put her stamp on Sundance with fresh, impactful storytelling like Rectify and Top of the Lake which continued when she took the reins of BBC America, growing Orphan Black, the network’s natural history franchises and developing the critical and audience hit Killing Eve. At AMC, she expanded the growing franchise of The Walking Dead while greenlighting new shows including Kevin Can F*** Himself and 61st Street, and she built a strong team to meet the shifting nature of our business. Sarah is one of the most versatile executives I have had the pleasure of working with – expert at programming, branding and team building, all with an eye toward the business of a rapidly changing entertainment landscape. She is also a truly progressive leader. We will miss her at AMC Networks.”
Barnett joined the company following its acquisition of SundanceTV (then called Sundance Channel) in 2008 as SVP of marketing. She was promoted to president and general manager in 2009 and launched the network’s scripted strategy, with the Golden Globe-winning Carlos followed by a slate of buzzy titles. Following the company’s joint venture with BBC Studios in 2014, Barnett was named president and general manager of BBC America, overseeing the channel’s transformation with the award-winning series Killing Eve and ratings successes for Orphan Black, Doctor Who and landmark BBC natural history series, including Planet Earth II and Seven Worlds, One Planet.
In her current role, Barnett shepherded the upcoming series The Walking Dead: World Beyond and greenlit upcoming AMC Studios productions 61st Street from executive producer Michael B. Jordan, Kevin Can F*** Himself from executive producers Rashida Jones and Will McCormack, and sci-fi drama Pantheon, the network’s first animated series.
Brit Barnett, a history of art major from the UK’s University of Warwick, spent the first 12 years of her career working for the BBC in London.