Campbell: TLC Will Broaden Scope


Under a new general manager, TLC will broaden its programming scope to move beyond home improvement to areas ranging from self-help to forensics, the chief of Discovery Networks U.S. said Tuesday.

President Billy Campbell said he’s looking for new TLC chief David Abraham to take programming risks and step away from the network’s dependence on décor fix-it shows such as Trading Spaces, ratings for which have plummeted.

“There was an overreliance on the home-makeover area,” Campbell said. “People say, ‘You overran Trading Spaces.’Whatever criticism people want to levy, I’ll accept that and I’ll take responsibility for it. But that’s not what really hurt [TLC]. What really ended up hurting was the combination of five shows in that genre. So almost anywhere you turned, it was a little bit of sameness … By doing that, we didn’t have enough in the pipeline in our R&D [research and development] to come and say, ‘What are the new genres?’”

Last week, Campbell named Abraham -- who has been serving as GM of Discovery’s nine British channels -- to replace Roger Marmet at TLC. Marmet left the channel last month over differences in terms of what direction ratings-beleaguered TLC should take.

During Abraham’s tenure at the services in Great Britain, their audience share doubled and they have become one of Discovery’s biggest profit centers outside of the United States.

Abraham, who wasn’t available for comment, was an ad executive before joining Discovery.

“He comes with a great background for what this job’s meant to be,” Campbell said of Abraham. “He loves lifestyle programming. He’s willing to take risks. I think one of the things that we have to do on the channel that we probably were remiss in not doing was to make sure that we take a lot more risks, try things, push the envelope and not rely so much on the home-makeover area. We’ll continue to do great shows in that area and we’ll innovate there, like we’ve done with … Town Haul.”

TLC has to try other genres, according to Campbell, including health, travel and science.

“We’ve got some things that we’re developing that we think are going to be fun in the legal world, the justice world,” he added. “We’ve got some things we’re very excited about in terms of quirky lifestyles that people have around the country. We also think there’s a really fertile area in terms of self-help. ”

Campbell pointed out that every week, The New York Times’best-seller list is chock full of books on personal improvement, from health to relationships.

“We need to find ways to take that from the written page and demonstrate it visually,” Campbell said. “The neat thing about this channel is that it’s wide open. Let’s get back to the basics, which are: This is The Learning Channel. And what does that mean? All that learning is wide open. It’s completely a sort of open-ended field, and we’re going to do things that tie into our motto or mantra, which is, ‘Life Unscripted.’”

TLC’s primetime ratings last year dropped 27%, to a 0.8 from a 1.1, according to Nielsen Media Research data supplied by Disney-ABC Cable Networks Group. As a result of the channel’s underdelivery, TLC advertisers are getting make-goods, Campbell confirmed.

“The ratings projections on TLC were higher than the delivery,” Campbell said. So TLC is giving advertisers make-goods, which are “not solely tied to Trading Spaces,” he added.

With Abraham coming over and Sean Gallagher moving from Discovery Channel to head up TLC’s development, Campbell said he has “a real powerhouse” team at the channel now.