John Severino, Former President of ABC and Prime Ticket, Dies at 85

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John Severino, a top ABC executive in Los Angeles and New York who also headed the CBS station group and served as president of the Prime Ticket regional sports network, has died. He was 85.

Severino died Wednesday at his home in Los Angeles, his family announced.

In between his four-year stint atop ABC in New York, Severino was general manager of L.A. owned-and-operated KABC-TV from 1974-81 and 1986-88. (He hired anchorman Jerry Dunphy during his first stay at the station, which then made it to No. 1 in the ratings.)

In local news circles, Severino was known for creating the “Eyewitness News” format, which he kicked off as vice president and GM of WLS-TV in Chicago. Critics called it too sensational, but it proved popular with viewers.

Prime Ticket, which carried Los Angeles Lakers basketball and L.A. Kings hockey games, was launched in October 1985 by cable pioneer Bill Daniels and Lakers owner Jerry Buss. Severino worked out of offices in Century City from 1988 until he announced his retirement in August 1992. (The channel became Fox Sports West and is now Bally Sports West.)

“It’s been a terrific four-year run,” he told the Los Angeles Times when he left. “For 3 1/2 years, I found this job challenging and exciting. But then it started getting a little repetitive and not as challenging.”

Later, he served as CEO of Central European Media, which introduced Western-style TV programming to former Eastern bloc countries, and president of CBS’ TV stations division, overseeing all 16 of its O&Os, starting in 1999. 

He also was GM at KCBS-TV as part of that job, which lasted a couple of years. 

A native of New Haven, Connecticut, Severino graduated from the University of Connecticut, where he played football and was a part of four consecutive Yankee Conference Championships from 1954-58.

He began his industry career in 1965 as a sales exec and lived in Los Angeles since 1974.

Survivors include his wife of 61 years, Sally; sons Mark and David; eight grandchildren; and brother Larry.