Jana Bennett, Former Director of BBC Television, Dies at 66

The British Broadcasting Corporation's program-maker, who helped redefine the presentation of science on television, died in January. She was 66 years old.

Her husband said that she had an aggressive brain cancer.

Ms. Bennett began her career at the BBC in 1979 as a news intern and went on to become the director of television. She was one of the first generation of women to break into the corporation's inner sanctum of creative leadership and took responsibility for its domestic and international television networks.

Her tenure saw the introduction of several new formats and programs.

Richard Sambrook, a British journalist and former director of news at the BBC, said in an email that she nurtured a highly creative period in the BBC's history across drama, entertainment, comedy and factual.

He said that she understood audiences and the need for innovation and combined a strategic vision with personable talent management and team management.

She reinvented science programming in the late 1980s and 90s before she became a top executive. She became head of the PBS program in 1994 after being the executive producer of the network's science documentary series.

The Human Body and Walking with Dinosaurs won the most awards for their series. Both used computer generated imagery. She was a member of the Order of the British Empire in 2000 for her services to science broadcasting.

Mark Thompson, a former director general of the BBC and former chief executive officer of The New York Times, said that she raised the stakes everywhere.

In 2006 she was put in charge of the newly created BBC Vision, which the company said was the largest multimedia, commissioning and broadcast group of its kind in the world.

The move cements her position as the most powerful woman in the television industry, according to The Guardian.

Ms. Bennett was once seen as a candidate for the top job. Her stock fell after she was criticized for showing a lack of curiosity in getting to the bottom of the Crowngate kerfuffle. High-level resignations occurred after the BBC apologized to Buckingham Palace.

Ms. Bennett was able to stay on. She moved to New York in 2012 to take the helm of the Biography Channel and Lifetime Movie Network, both of which were renamed to the FYI network. She was named president and general manager of A&E Networks in 2015. She stepped down from her position.

Image“Walking with Dinosaurs” and “The Human Body” were award-winning shows that used extensive C.G.I.
“Walking with Dinosaurs” and “The Human Body” were award-winning shows that used extensive C.G.I.Credit...Peter Giorgi/BBC

Gordon Bennett was a university professor. Her mother was a college admissions officer.

Mr. Bennett was a teacher and earned a doctorate. After the family moved to England, they spent time in Kansas, Minnesota and New Hampshire before moving to East Sussex.

She graduated from Oxford University with a degree in philosophy, politics and economics. She was recruited to join a band by another Oxford student and a future prime minister. She received her master's degree in international relations from the London School of Economics in 1978. She was a news intern at the time.

The Disappeared: Voices from a Secret War was a news documentary about the repressive military regime in Argentina. She and John Simpson wrote a book, "The Disappeared and the Mothers of the Plaza", which included firsthand accounts by mothers to find the thousands of children whom the Argentine regime had killed.

Ms. Bennett worked on the Newsnight program at the BBC. They were married in 1995.

She is survived by her husband, son, daughter, sisters, and her brother.

She was the head of Discovery in Washington, D.C., when she introduced reality dramas and interior design programs based on popular British formats.

She was named director of television at the time.

Ms. Bennett initially told few people of her illness because she wanted to avoid an extended wake.

She worked on the boards of the British Library and the Headlong Theater Company. She went public with her illness in December, when she joined OurBrainBank, an app that allows people with glioblastoma to consult doctors around the world and promote research into the disease.