Smith to Head Animal Planet


Former ABC Family president Maureen Smith has joined the Discovery Networks U.S. family, being named executive vice president and general manager of Animal Planet, officials said Tuesday.

Smith will fill the slot left open when Michael Cascio exited the network the end of last year. She starts July 15 and will report to Clark Bunting, Discovery U.S. Networks Group executive VP.

Smith will relocate from Los Angeles and be based at Discovery’s Maryland headquarters.

Smith claimed that Animal Planet is her dream job, tapping into her passion for beasts and birds.

“I grew up glued to Jane Goodall specials, Jacques Cousteau and clearly remember sitting on my dad’s lap watching Mutual of Omaha all the time,” she added.
Smith -- who approached Discovery Networks president Billy Campbell about the Animal Planet post -- said, “We share the same vision that the channel needs a new infusion of energy and a more creative way of telling some of the stories that need to be told.”

Smith seemed very clear about her priorities at Animal Planet. The network must increase its audience of adults 25-49, and she said she can build that viewership “by giving them more compelling content with better storytelling and more humor, a lot more heart and higher quality: programming that really emphasizes the brand, which is not just animals, but the whole connection and relationship between people and animals.”

Smith said her father, who majored in forestry in college, helped to instill her love and attachment to animals.

Her background in family programming at ABC Family was also good preparation for Animal Planet, according to Smith. She pointed out that when then-Fox Family Channel would do focus groups of its core viewers, “nine times out of 10, when we asked them what they were currently watching, Animal Planet came up.”

It was clear that families were watching Animal Planet together, according to Smith.

She began her TV career in 1986 as one of Fox Broadcasting Co.’s first employees, moving up the ranks with jobs in research, marketing, station and cable relations and primetime programming. Ultimately, her promotions led to her being named president of both Fox Kids Network and Fox Family.

Smith left Fox Family not long after The Walt Disney Co. acquired it and renamed it ABC Family in March 2002. Since then, she has done work for several production companies, namely Taweel-Loos and Co. Entertainment and Ampersand Media.

Under her tenure, Animal Planet will also use more stars on its shows. Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston have already done work for the network, and there will be more of that, according to Smith.

“You’re going to start seeing a lot more celebrity presence on our network,” she added. These are people who really are passionate about the subject matter.”