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O’Neill Heads Back to TLC, For Good

After overseeing the June launch of eco-friendly network Planet Green, Discovery Communications veteran Eileen O’Neill recently shifted gears and will now serve as president and general manager of the 96 million-subscriber TLC service. O’Neill, a 17-year veteran of Discovery, previously ran TLC on an interim basis in 2007 while simultaneously overseeing Discovery Health Channel, before taking the helm of Planet Green. Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead talked to O’Neill about the transition from running a startup network to taking over an established but struggling TLC service as well as her departure from Planet Green.

MCN: This is somewhat of a homecoming for you since you oversaw TLC for a short time last year. How do you feel about leaving Planet Green and returning to TLC?

Eileen O’Neill: I’ve got mixed emotions from having just launched a network that I’m so proud of, but I’m getting an opportunity to push TLC even further. I’m really excited about this opportunity, as well as the chance to work with the TLC team and the talent again.

The network’s Monday-night lineup is in really great shape, with such shows as Little Big People, Big World and John and Kate Plus Eight. [What Not to Wear hosts] Stacey [London] and Clinton [Kelly] are certainly doing extremely well in their eighth season. Saturday night has some new shows in the lineup and other shows in the pipeline, so there are some good content brand areas that our audience will be very familiar with, as well as some opportunities for future hits.

MCN: TLC has struggled in the ratings department over the past year. What are your plans for building up the network’s ratings?

EO: It’s certainly my goal to increase the ratings, so I’ll be looking at our scheduling as well as our marketing. We have to look at everything that impacts the rating and communications. I’ve been a little focused on Planet Green, so I need to dig in here and look at everything that’s in place at TLC and go from there.

MCN: Do you think its easier building a 50 million-subscriber startup network from scratch in Planet Green or taking over a large, established but struggling network like TLC?

EO: The fact that TLC has as big a platform as it has is exciting to me. You’ve got an audience there that really cares for the programming, but certainly the bigger the network the more challenging the job becomes. Each brand, Planet Green and TLC, are their own special brand and have their unique audiences. I won’t be able to spend as much time thinking about hybrids in the short-term but, hopefully, we’ll see some green in TLC as well.

MCN: Are you satisfied with the way Planet Green developed under your tenure?

EO: I’m so proud of the way Planet Green has developed. We had a big launch and we’re in the throes of Emeril Lagasse’s new show that’s getting a really good response, as well as Battleground Earth, which incidentally enough is scheduled for both Planet Green and TLC, so that will be an interesting opportunity to see those worlds meet. But Planet Green in a very good position right now and I’m leaving a terrific team in very good hands with Clark Bunting.

MCN: A lot of TLC’s operations were relocated out to Los Angeles over the past year. Will some of those operations move back to Maryland?

EO: I don’t want to characterize it as most or a lot — I’m going to really take a look at it. We’re currently reviewing the opportunities for the structure for the network under me, but the short answer is there will be a robust presence in both places — the content for TLC demands it. There will be strong editorial in both places, but it’s too early to tell what departments will be where.