Women to Watch 2010

Women to Watch: Eileen O'Neill

President-General Manager, Discovery Communications' TLC

By Published on .

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Now that Jon and Kate Gosselin have gone their separate ways, can the cable outlet that made them famous hitch its fortunes to someone else?

That's been the challenge at Discovery Communications' TLC -- and for Eileen O' Neill, the cable outlet's president-general manager -- ever since it was revealed Mr. and Mr. . Gosselin were breaking up. The pair was interesting to watch as they tried to raise eight kids and fascinating as their marriage fell apart. On their own, however, the two (or at least one of them) could have slightly less charisma.

The couple's fracture leaves TLC looking for another big hit to give it an edge in the competitive world of nonfiction TV, jammed with unvarnished stories of average Joes and Janes grappling with oddball jobs, strange circumstances or contrived contests. TLC's strategy is to have plenty of program choices waiting in the wings, along with some content for Gosselin-family fans. TLC never wanted to hitch its star to just one concept, said Ms. O' Neill. "The success of 'Jon & Kate Plus 8' certainly propelled our ratings , but we were ready with other shows we could push to from that success. We're very mindful of not becoming a one-hit wonder."

Ms. O' Neill and her team have launched other nonfiction series, including "Cake Boss," "Toddlers & Tiaras" and "Hoarding: Buried Alive." On the horizon is a potential new-eyeball-getter: A miniseries featuring former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin taking viewers on a tour of Alaska that is expected to launch toward the end of the fourth quarter. While it's likely to draw attention, Ms. O' Neill also sees it as a tool to help gain notice for other properties. "If we're doing our job right, we'll get a strong rating on that series and we'll be able" to launch or support recurring series.

Ms. O' Neill knows what works within Discovery's portfolio. She has been with the company since she started as an unpaid intern while earning a graduate degree in popular culture from Bowling Green State University in Ohio. She was hired by the company's networks operation department after graduation. Prior to leading TLC in 2008, Ms. O' Neill served as president of Planet Green, launching the first 24-hour TV network dedicated solely to green- lifestyle programming. She also served as exec VP-general manager of Discovery Health Channel and FitTV, overseeing the development and execution of programming and production strategies for both networks.

She still hopes to bask in "Jon & Kate's" afterglow. TLC is launching a limited series of programs showing Ms. Gosselin traveling with her large family as well as a series called "Twist of Kate," which will show Ms. Gosselin trying to learn about -- and maybe even inspire -- women from other walks of life.

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