Wonder Women of New York 2023: Kathleen Finch

Kathleen Finch
Kathleen Finch (Image credit: Warner Bros. Discovery)

When talk of Discovery and WarnerMedia coming together first started going down, Kathleen Finch said she was “hugely excited” about the prospect. Besides the potential merger of two content behemoths, Finch noted how Discovery Networks, including HGTV, Food Network and TLC, skewed female, while Warner Bros. leaned slightly male. 

A combined Warner Bros. and Discovery would give the group the opportunity to serve up content to just about everybody. 

“It felt like such a great complementary set of incredible assets,” Finch said. 

The merger creating Warner Bros. Discovery happened last April, and Finch got her new title, overseeing two dozen networks including Discovery Channel, TBS, TNT and Cartoon Network. Back when Discovery acquired Scripps Networks in 2018, Finch, as chief lifestyle brands officer, oversaw a dozen. 

A Big Portfolio

She takes the expanded workload in stride. “I don’t think anybody goes into
this business thinking it’s 9 to 5,” she said, “because it’s not.”

Finch is excited by the clout the joint portfolio yields. She mentioned how, on any given night, the group controls 30% of what people are watching on cable. When Discovery needed a host for “Shark Week,” there were talks with Warner Bros. Pictures, and it came up that Dwayne Johnson had an upcoming movie and might be game for a dip in the Discovery water. He was named Shark Week master of ceremonies, the first one to hold that title.

Warner Bros. Discovery has entertainment, sports and news. “We have a big presence in every single place you can be,” said Finch.

David Zaslav, Warner Bros. Discovery president and CEO, said the company has the right person calling the programming shots. “Kathleen has a long track record of building strong brands that really stand for something and act as beacons of curation for content that people love,” he said. “She has an innate ability to spot the kinds of stories, formats and characters that people want to spend time with. Over the years, she has taken a chance on a long list of new shows that became hits, and she has always encouraged the same imaginative thinking from her teams.” 

I don’t think anybody goes into this business thinking it’s 9 to 5, because it’s not.”

— Kathleen Finch

Finch grew up in New York City’s Greenwich Village and graduated from Stanford. Her first full-time job was with Apple Computer, producing videos about why people should consider getting a home computer. Finch recalled Steve Jobs walking around the office. “If I had only known,” she quipped. 

After shifting to television, she was president of HGTV, DIY Network and Great American Country, then became chief programming, content and brand officer at Discovery, then chief lifestyle brands officer after the Scripps Networks acquisition

Finch described herself as “queen of the TV junkies.” She mentioned what it’s like watching TV at home. “I do make my poor husband crazy, literally jumping to three or four networks at once,” she said. 

With the merger approaching its one-year anniversary, Finch said the execs are looking to take advantage of the audience overlap, rather than seeing the various networks compete with each other. With Animal Planet airing the Puppy Bowl on Super Bowl Sunday, the event was simulcast on Discovery, Discovery Plus, TBS and HBO Max. TruTV’s Impractical Jokers also airs on TBS for season 10. 

“We’re excited about all the experimenting,” she said, “to see where we can really double down.”

Cultural Connection

The marriage of corporate cultures, never an easy maneuver to pull off, has gone smoothly, Finch said. She credits Zaslav for stressing to employees that it’s not my culture or your culture — it’s our culture. “We didn’t have time to sit and overthink culture,” she said. “We focused on how to build a new culture that’s supportive and inclusive of what everybody is working on.”

Warner Bros. Discovery is “100% there,” she added. “It happened remarkably fast.”

Finch credits Judy Girard, former HGTV president, as a mentor, and actively looks to mentor young people seeking to grow in television. Speaking at a New York University media class recently, she gave out her email, and urged the students to stay in contact. Finch remembered senior executives helping her out when she was young and hungry for a break.

“When I’m lecturing young people, I tell them, I’m spending my time helping you,” Finch said. “And I expect that when you’re in my position, you’ll do the same for others.” ■

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.