Margaret Loesch hopes she never grows up. The CEO of The Hub has been in the TV industry for 40 years, but never graduated from the kids business.
“Everybody in the business kept telling me, why don’t you get into primetime? Kids is nowhere,” says Loesch. In fact, kids TV is tough, challenging and competitive.
“I love the fact that you had to be really creative to capture kids’ imagination. Think about it: You can’t resort to inappropriate or controversial content. You have to really be clever and creative,” adds Loesch, who has won four Emmys and a Peabody. “You can’t fool them. They know when you’re feeding them pabulum, they know when the writing isn’t good, they know when it’s a tired concept and they know when it’s original.”
At this point, it’s Loesch who’s an original.
David Hill, chairman of the Fox Sports Group, remembers driving to an affiliate meeting with Loesch, who was describing a movie she wanted to make about fl ying unicorns, when she got a call from a well-known producer. “The quiet calm description of the flying unicorns gave way to a very harsh edge as they argued over deal points—until Margaret got her way,” Hill says. “Snapping the cell phone shut, Margaret didn’t miss a beat and she continued her description of the flying unicorn movie. That more than anything sums Margaret up. An incredible creative force, matched with a steel-trap mind that can crunch numbers and figure out deals.”
Surprisingly, while she was in graduate school at the Louisiana State University-New Orleans, (now the University of New Orleans), Loesch worked at a commodities brokerage for a year, then wanted to take a leave to tour Europe. The brokerage told her to make the leave permanent. “They said, ‘We think you ought to be in a more creative business,’” Loesch recalls. “And it turned out to be great advice and a great gift.”
She moved to California, searched for a job and was offered two. One was at another brokerage. The other was to be a clerk/typist at ABC. It offered less money. Loesch typed poorly. And she knew no one in TV. But she took it nonetheless. “What I brought to the table, if no skills, was great enthusiasm,” she says.
She worked her way up to head of production in the creative services division, then took a junior programming job at NBC. “My boss [at NBC] had a very interesting management philosophy—throw her into the ocean and see how well she swims,” Loesch says. At NBC she worked with some of the great cartoon-makers, Friz Freleng, Joe Barbera, Bill Hanna and Walter Lantz. One early assignment was to go through the entire Lantz library and find ways to work around the violence and political incorrectness in his cartoons. “What that showed me, as well as Walter and my boss, is that I had a creative flair, an instinct for producing and working with an editor,” she says. “That’s what I’ve spent my career focused on—creative ways to solve problems.”
Loesch moved from NBC to Hanna-Barbera, helping to prevent the extinction of animation in the U.S. Next came Marvel Productions, where she never considered herself totally successful because she failed to sell a Spider-Man cartoon to one of the networks.
She fixed that after founding Fox Kids Network, which shot to No. 1 on the strength of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. (Her son, now 22, used to show his friends work prints.)
After Fox, Loesch worked at Jim Henson Productions, then helped launch the Hallmark Channel, giving her experience in cable. After that she was a partner in Hatchery, an indie production company backed by Peter Guber.
When Discovery Communications and Hasbro needed someone to run their new kids channel, Loesch’s name floated to the top.
“Margaret really is the dean of children’s television,” says Brian Goldner, CEO of Hasbro, who knew Loesch from the Fox Kids days. “She knows everything about this business, and yet she’s constantly willing to challenge herself and her team to reinvent the business and reimagine what kids TV will be in the future.”
“When I go out and see her, most times she’s either in the edit room or she’s reading scripts, which is exactly what we want her to do,” says Discovery CEO David Zaslav, who says Loesch’s brand of creative leadership is needed to challenge the Nickelodeons and Disneys.
“I would not have taken this job if I did not believe we could be successful,” says Loesch, who doesn’t shy away from challenges. “It will take tenacity and it will take a real focus on continuing to deliver quality. That’s where we can’t fall down, because there’s no room for another network if it’s not going to be good.”
While the kids business has gotten harder, she still enjoys it. “Everything I’d ever done had prepared me for this job,” she says. In addition to creating original shows, “I’m going after older product that you’ve seen before, and it’s appealing to a whole new generation of kids. Plus it’s appealing to the people who loved them in the first place. And some of that old product we’re making new.”
She’s also created an advisory board of experts to keep The Hub up to date on the issues kids face today.
On top of all this, Loesch has another broadcast business. She and her brother own eight radio stations in North Carolina. They are reliant on local businesses for ad revenue and they struggled through the recession. “It’s been humbling,” she says.
She’s also been rebuilding her family home in Pass Christian, Miss., which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. “It’s a 150-year-old historical home. If that’s what I do for fun, I must be crazy,” she says.
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Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.