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Loreen Arbus  Television Producer, Executive

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Joan Lauren
 
Loreen Arbus is a trailblazer: she is the first woman in the United States to head programming for a national network, which she has done for both Showtime and Cable Health Network/Lifetime Television. Arbus has an extensive history in the entertainment industry, having been a writer and producer, a consultant to various networks, and an executive in network television, cable, syndication, and print media. Arbus trained at ABC, where she advanced from story analyst to executive producer of primetime specials. She left to become vice president of original programming for the then-obscure cable movie channel, Showtime. She later became head of programming for Cable Health Network, the twenty-four-hour network that evolved into Lifetime Television. Having helped to establish two cornerstones of cable television, Arbus went out on her own and launched Loreen Arbus Productions, Inc., an independent television production company with an emphasis on nonfiction programming. The author of six books; a celebrated tango teacher, performer and choreographer; a composer and artist, she thrives on setting new goals for herself. “I love challenges,” she explains. “I love charting new territories.”

Loreen Arbus is the daughter of Leonard H. Goldenson, founder and former chairman of ABC. He transformed five television stations on the verge of collapse into a worldwide broadcast giant known for its technological innovations and groundbreaking programming. Goldenson helped shape modern mass communications and transformed ABC into one of the world’s mightiest media empires.

Early on, Arbus decided to drop her well-known surname in favor of her grandmother’s maiden name, mostly because she “didn’t want to ride on [her] father’s accomplishments.” From the age of 14, she interned summers at various magazines. Working for Cosmopolitan magazine’s editor-in-chief Helen Gurley Brown was a “formative experience.” Arbus explains, “She had a hierarchy, but she gave everyone’s ideas and contributions attention. She taught me how much better anyone of us can be if we listen, never knowing from where a significant idea can come.”

Arbus joined ABC as a story analyst, at the time a traditional entry-level position for women seeking an executive career in the entertainment industry. “Women at the networks and studios were found in story development,” Arbus says. “We put our opinions on paper and that was a kind of inoffensive way for people to deal with women because they didn’t have to be in a room and listen to us.” Through hard work and solidarity with her female colleagues (with whom she regularly shared and compared salary information “as a baseline for subsequent negotiations”), Arbus quickly moved her way up the network ladder from program coordinator to program executive to executive producer—all the while keeping her family pedigree under wraps. “As women in a man’s world,” she told Mollie Gregory in Women Who Run the Show: How a Brilliant and Creative New Generation of Women Stormed Hollywood, “we wanted desperately to prove ourselves—we worked through lunch, came in earlier, left later, and were often the most reliable resources in the work force.”

It was around this time that legal pressures stemming from the Equal Employment Opportunity Act compelled ABC’s human resources department to begin posting job openings on a bulletin board. “This made it possible for us to at least see what was open—before it was closed,” says Arbus, who campaigned heavily for a position in the late-night television department. After she was formally offered the job, Arbus went to see Wally Weltman, to whom she would be reporting, and informed him that she was the daughter of the chairman of the board. Weltman, a longtime veteran of ABC, was taken aback, telling Arbus, “I can’t say it doesn’t make a difference. I’ll have to think about your working for me…and let you know in a few days.” “If I had been Leonard Goldenson’s son,” Arbus speculates, “I think everyone would have assumed I was there to take over! To me, going up the ladder at ABC was neither my birthright nor my destiny; it was an opportunity to train in the entertainment business.” After deliberating, Weltman relented (on the condition that “what we talk about is between you and me”), and Arbus became the supervisor of late-night programming for ABC. “He was a remarkable man and true mentor,” she recalls of Weltman. “I learned how important it is to always be prepared with contingency plans and to deal honestly and openly, even in those things you fear most.”

Arbus soon parlayed that fearlessness and tenacity into television history by becoming the first woman to head programming for a network. “When I was ready to leave ABC, I spent a good year looking and then two offers came along. One was to head the Group W stations [Westinghouse] and one was to open up a West Coast office and take Showtime into original programming. To me, Group W was an established, older, white man’s world that needed fixing in some areas, but working there would have nothing to do with pioneering. At the time, Showtime was basically a movie-buying service and largely unknown. It was most exciting to realize that I had an offer to help brand a new network—and that I could make a difference. “Against my lawyer’s advice—he’d never even heard of Showtime!—I took a job with half the amount of money, no perks and a lesser title than if I had gone to Group W.” Working with Jeffrey Reiss and Jules Haimovitz, the founders of the network, Arbus, as vice president of original programming, initiated cable’s first made-for-television movie-pilot, Falcon’s Gold; its first scripted (comedy) series, Bizarre; and cable’s groundbreaking reality series What’s Up America, while at the same time spearheading the successful campaign to gain Emmy recognition of cable programming by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (ATAS). “It was quite a big step forward,” she said. “At the time, the networks thought cable was the enemy.”

Impressed by and rewarding her success, network parent Viacom moved Arbus from Showtime to help launch Cable Health Network, which eventually evolved into Lifetime Television. As senior vice president, she oversaw all program development, production, acquisition, scheduling, and on-air promotion for the fledgling cabler. Within her first three months, she made production commitments and negotiated all deals for 1,671 half-hours of programming (424 acquisitions and seventeen original series). She brought Regis Philbin to cable and introduced Dr. Ruth nationally. Subsequently, she supervised program development and production for Viacom’s network and first-run syndication divisions.

A high-profile professional and pioneer in her field, Arbus is a sought-after speaker at national and international media conferences and is passionate about encouraging and mentoring women in television, film, and communications.

For over two decades she has cohosted a monthly luncheon for prominent, high-level women in communications. To date, over 15,000 women who represent various facets of the entertainment industry—including but not limited to television, film, print, public relations, music, new media, as well as philanthropy—participate in highly stimulating conversations, which evolve into open and provocative discussions about culture, industry projects and issues that impact the daily lives of women in the industry and more.

Arbus is a tireless advocate for a variety of media-related and nonprofit causes.

She serves on the boards of: The Museum of Television & Radio; International Documentary Association; The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation; W.O.M.E.N., Inc.; United Cerebral Palsy Association; United Cerebral Palsy Research & Educational Foundation; Harvard Medical School Committee for Campaign Resources; John F. Kennedy School of Government Women’s Leadership Board at Harvard; Harvard School of Public Health; Harvard Medical School Advisory Committee for Neurobiology; Israel Cancer Research Fund; The Weizmann Institute of Science; and Town Hall Los Angeles.

Arbus has served as a two-term governor for the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences; on the boards of the Producers Guild, The Caucus For Producers, Writers and Directors, Women In Film, Women in Cable and Telecommunications; and as chair of Women In Film International.

She was cofounder and for seven years cochair of the Lucy Awards for Women In Film. She is founder and cochair of an annual luncheon, “Women Who Care” for UCP/NYC, and she was among the core group of founders of the Los Angeles Donor Circle of The Women’s Foundation of California. She is a cofounder of The California Governor’s Media Office for Employment of the Disabled.

She has been recognized by numerous organizations for her humanitarian and professional accomplishments. A partial list of awards/achievements include: The Heart of Giving Award presented by President Bill Clinton in 2001;Genii Award for Lifetime Achievement presented by American Women in Radio & Television; the Power 100 Women In Entertainment presented by the Hollywood Reporter; the National Association of Women Business Owners Hall of Fame Award; the 21 Leaders for the 21st Century Award presented by Women’s eNews; the Distinguished Service Award presented by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences; the Headliner Award presented by Women In Communications, Inc. She was chosen as one (of forty) of the Leading Women Entrepreneurs of the World 2002 and has also been honored with the Disability Awareness Award presented by The California Governor’s Committee for Employment of Disabled Persons, the Women of Action Award presented by the Israel Cancer Research Fund, the Woman of Achievement Award presented by the Friends of Sheba Medical Center, and the Project Angel Food Award 2002.

Arbus is also a renowned professional Argentine tango dancer and choreographer, having costarred in and coproduced the first theatrical Argentine tango stage show to originate in the United States with which she has toured four continents.

Arbus is a member of the Writers Guild, Authors Guild, SAG, and AFTRA.

 

 


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