Skip to main content

Food, Travel Nets Hire New GMs

With an eye toward building on current programming successes, two niche services last week enlisted new general managers.

Food Network cooked up a surprise dish, hiring former A&E Network general manager Brooke Bailey Johnson, while Travel Channel reached across the globe to tap Discovery Networks International executive Rick Rodriguez.

As senior vice president and general manager of Travel Channel, Rodriguez will oversee all programming, production, development and operations for the 70.6 million subscriber network.

Rodriguez, formerly executive vice president of content at Discovery Networks International, replaces Steve Cheskin, who resigned as general manager last month. He will report to Discovery Networks U.S. president Billy Campbell.

"During his tenure with Discovery's international brands, and through his more than 20 years of experience as a television executive, Rick has demonstrated a keen ability to understand and manage all sides of this business," Campbell said in a statement. "His demonstrated abilities make him a great fit as general manager for the Travel Channel, and I look forward to working with him as he further builds the brand, and expands the network to its full potential."

Rodriguez takes over following a month in which Travel averaged a 0.3 rating in primetime, even with the May 2002 period, according to an ABC Cable Networks Group analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.

Johnson — who left A&E in 2000, as senior vice president and general manager — is responsible for overseeing Food Network's day-to day operations.

She will report to Food president Judy Girard, who will concentrate more on the network's new business development opportunities, as well as manage the network's relationships with sister Scripps services DIY, Fine Living and HGTV.

Johnson inherits a network that has evolved from a heavy emphasis on instructional cooking shows to one that now offers more food-as-lifestyle programming. In May, the network averaged a 0.6 household rating, up 20% versus 2002.

"I've known the Scripps people for a long time, and I think they're a wonderful organization and I think they're well-positioned for the future," Johnson said. "I'll focus a lot on programming, which is my expertise, and helping them do what they do better."

While Johnson said it's too early to discuss any specific new programming ideas for the 79 million subscriber network, she said Food's current lineup has engendered brand loyalty.

"It's a well-known brand that people feel really close to, and my challenge is to spread the word on that and to get more people to discover the experience." Johnson said.

To accomplish that, Johnson hasn't ruled out potentially repurposing Food's programming on broadcast networks, if the right deals come about.

"I think anything is on the table — I think the people here have been very innovative in the past and will continue to be," Johnson said. "We'll continue to look at everything [including repurposing.]"

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.