Cable programmers move at lightning speed, starting projects, signing talent and adjusting lineups to catch cultural trends.
Are any moving as rapidly as the Discovery Networks, whose new president/CEO David Zaslav is nothing if not peripatetic? Not only is TLC leaving the mother ship in Silver Spring, Md., moving to Los Angeles Jan. 1, but Discovery Home is undergoing a complete change, relaunching as environmentally conscious Planet Green this spring. And those are only the most obvious changes.
Who best to helm the fast-moving Discovery nets? Women, of course, the ultimate multitaskers.
But these GMs, whose properties generate about two-thirds of Discovery’s $3 billion revenue, aren’t merely a journalist’s construct, wrapped up neatly for a picture and a story. "It’s by the far the most collaborative juncture I’ve had here among the GMs…there’s a bit of a sisterhood," says Planet Green chief Eileen O’Neill, a 17-year Discovery vet, who began at the network as an intern ("an unpaid intern," she adds laughingly). Says Animal Planet and Discovery Kids Enterprises president/GM Marjorie Kaplan: "I think you can see [the camaraderie] in the picture [above]. It was fun standing there together…joking how it’s girls on top at Discovery."
It’s not a gossip club. Says Discovery Health and FitTV head Carole Tomko, "There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t speak to at least two of the four other GMs" about professional matters. Adds Discovery Channel/Science Channel boss Jane Root: "It’s a recognition — a flash of recognition when someone talks about the latest toddler meltdown or pre-teen, adolescent moment. Those are the moments you realize you’re part of a unique, special shared experience." And the best part? "There’s absolutely no competition between any of us," Tomko adds. "We’ve known each other for years and it’s really that supportive. It’s a pleasure talking with them."
Certainly some of the GMs are closer than others. Tomko says O’Neill’s the closest to her. Tomko, a 23-year media vet, inherited Discovery Health from O’Neill, while O’Neill, earlier, inherited FitTV from Tomko; later O’Neill returned FitTV to Tomko to start Planet Green. Confused yet? "We laugh at all that," says Tomko, who quickly credits O’Neill for Health’s health. During the job switching O’Neill "returned files to me that I used at FitTV. At least I know she kept them," Tomko laughs, adding, "I’ll be sending her ideas for Planet Green."
And while the GMs collaborate outside their gender — Zaslav has urged all employees to share best practices — the women have "been relying on each other" during the early months of the Zaslav era, O’Neill adds. Besides, says Kaplan, "It’s fun sending a note [to a fellow GM] that says ‘Hey, girl, how’s it going?’"
An often-discussed topic, says Root, is the work-life balance, which sometimes can be elusive with Discovery’s grueling pace. [Your writer contacted all the GMs’ press people for this piece, well after 6 p.m. on a recent Monday. All answered on the first ring.] "I picture [the work-life balance] as a seesaw," Kaplan says. "Some kids balance by standing in the middle, others do it by running from one side to the other…that’s what my life feels like," Kaplan jokes. "It’s not easy, but it is exhilarating." Adds Tomko, "Discovery lets you manage your life. They trust you and give you the freedom to do your work wherever you are. But because they give you that freedom, we, the employees, give them back 150%." Indeed, Discovery is a perennial favorite on WICT’s best places for women to work.