Peggy Allen works best when growing something from the ground up, whether positioning Lifetime as an entertainment channel for women in its early days, building up the distribution framework for Live Well Network or, most recently, fulfilling a long-held dream of starting her own sheep farm.
When Allen, the VP of programming at ABC’s Live Well, and her boss, Rebecca Campbell, sat down for a strategy session after network founder Emily Barr departed for a new job, Campbell suggested Allen move to ABC HQ in Burbank, Calif.
But Allen, with family back East, had another thought. “I said, we always wanted to own sheep—we’re thinking of moving to Vermont to start a sheep farm,” Allen says. “Rebecca came right back and said, ‘You know what— all the work you do, you do virtually anyway. Go to Vermont, do what you want to do.’”
These days, Allen, her husband, Todd, and their 11 sheep are braving the sub-zero Vermont temperatures and living the dream on 32 acres of what she calls an “exquisite bucolic setting.” With a phone line, Internet and willingness to hop on a plane, she says she could work from just about anywhere.
Allen was raised in Greenwich, Conn., where her mother taught school and her father is a town lawyer. Her first job out of college involved producing programming for the Catholic Television Network; she next landed at WMAQ Chicago. When Todd’s educational pursuits sent him to Boston, she landed at Hearst’s WCVB, producing the iconic morning variety show Good Day! that is widely believed to be the prototype for Good Morning America.
Allen saw firsthand the role a station could play in its community. “WMAQ was fabulous, but as an O&O [it was] more reluctant to preempt primetime,” she says. “WCVB—with [ground-breaking newsmagazine] Chronicle starting out and that morning show—was an unbelievable station to work at.”
Allen spent a decade at Hearst, at WCVB and then at corporate, before shifting to cable in 1993. She was VP of original programming at Lifetime and played a significant part in the network “coming out of the closet,” as she puts it, as “Television for Women.” Her fondest memories there include a Carly Simon performance special on the famed Grand Central Terminal concourse in New York.
Doug McCormick, president and CEO of Lifetime at the time, credits Allen for the critical shaping of Lifetime’s brand and for cultivating fresh talent. “Peggy was always good at bringing in quality shows on time and on budget. You can’t ask for much more than that,” says McCormick, now at a venture capital firm. “I associate her with a lot of our success at the time.”
Allen then spent a decade as a partner at Allen/Nee Productions, working on brand extension and productions for clients ranging from Time Inc.’s magazines to Food Network.
Live Well launched in 2009, a female-targeted multicast network airing on the then 10 ABCowned stations. Focusing on topics such as health, cooking and design, the six initial series were produced by the owned stations.
While other digital networks show decadesold reruns, Live Well is growing its stable of homegrown originals. Notably, other prominent groups, starting with Belo late in 2010, cleared Live Well for some of their stations’ subchannels. The network was run as something of a side job by ABC station personnel, but its rapid growth sparked the need for fulltime dedication. Toward that end, Allen came on board in October 2010.
Campbell, ABC Owned Television Stations president, says it was Allen’s mix of standout broadcast and cable experience that made her the right fit. After all, the network’s niche " avor owes a debt to cable, while its affiliate partners are broadcasters. “I like to call her the air traffic controller,” Campbell says. “I used to call Live Well the ‘Little Engine That Could,’ but it’s no longer a little engine. We never would’ve gotten to 70% of the country if we didn’t have many Peggys at our stations, but [Allen] is the one who brings it all together.”
Barr left to run the Post-Newsweek station group last year. But she continues to watch Live Well’s—and Allen’s— progress. “There aren’t enough accolades to give her,” Barr says. “She’s been absolutely critical to the whole development and growth of Live Well Network.” (The sheep farm, notes Barr, is “so vintage Peggy and Todd.”)
Allen says she misses working alongside Barr, but believes Live Well has a signi! cant champion in Campbell. “It’s pretty great to have the president of the division out there talking about the network in absolutely every meeting she goes to,” Allen says.
The Live Well principals are hiring a senior VP/general manager and continue to add new shows to the mix. A five-night programming stunt, “Miss America: Secrets Revealed,” ran in early January (“It’s our Shark Week,” Allen quips), and Sweet Retreats, a travel series hosted by former CBS Early Show cohost Rene Syler, debuts Jan. 20.
They’re also kicking around a program concept about people who have pulled off a complete 180-degree turnaround in their lives. Campbell jokes that Allen and her four-legged, wooly friends would be perfect for it. But Allen seems quite content in her day job.
“It’s definitely very mixed every day—it’s like what it used to be in the old days of cable,” Allen says. “There aren’t a lot of layers. If you want to try something, you go try it.”
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