Marjorie Kaplan Is Juggling 2 Discovery Networks Through the Upfront and Beyond

Her plans for TLC and Animal Planet


Who Marjorie Kaplan

New gig Group president, TLC and Animal Planet

Old gig Group president, Animal Planet, Science Channel and Velocity

Age 52

So TLC is a huge business. What’s it like handling that network and Animal Planet?

I’m like a crazy person now. We’re heading into the upfront, so I’m doing two upfronts, and I’m really trying to put a stamp on what we’re doing on TLC with no time to spare. One of the things that recharges your creative cells is exposure to new things and new people. I was describing it to somebody as like being in love: You have that unbelievable amount of energy, and you suddenly don’t need any sleep.

Is it possible to sustain that for long?

Well, I’ve got to make sure my husband still knows he’s married to me. I don’t think it’s appropriate to expect to maintain this level of engagement on both businesses, but you do have to dive into the deep end at first. I’ve been on Animal Planet a long time, and I can trust that team to move the ball forward.

What do you want to accomplish at TLC?

We need to remind the TLC audience of who we are. What we see happening right now with The Little Couple is a great moment for TLC. It gives us everything everyone loves about the brand. [Jen Arnold’s battle with cancer] has a happy ending—we’re not raking the audience over the coals with the experience. It’s about seeing the love and the humor. These are not painful emotional experiences, they’re life-affirming, playful shows.

How is that different from the rest of the cable landscape?

Honey Boo Boo is a really entertaining show, but at its core it’s about a really loving family. There are plenty of viewing choices in the television landscape. People are going to continue to watch Bravo, but they’re never going to say, “I want those people to be my friends.”

TLC is a big flagship brand for Discovery abroad. How do you work with the international unit?

One of the different things about the Discovery International business is that we’re not straitjacketed. In some markets, it’s significantly closer [to the domestic lineup] than others. In the U.S., we don’t run the global brand, but we all talk to each other. We share ideas, of course we share content, often we share promos. Buddy [Valastro] of [the series] Cake Boss is core to the U.S. business and also core to the global business.

Mother Jones published a story not long ago about negligence by the production company on Animal Planet’s Call of the Wildman. What happened there?

Not everything in that story is accurate, but there were issues that were raised in the production a year ago and we changed those things then. What’s really frustrating is that it’s being talked about as though it’s current and as though it’s us [instead of a third party]. We absolutely abhor animal cruelty, period, end of story, and that’s the fundamental ethos of that show.

What’s hard about making unscripted television work for the audience?

Reality is messy. With the rise of scripted, where we hear regularly that characters in scripted are somehow more real than characters in reality TV, it puts even more pressure on real TV to be real. There will always be a place for manufactured reality. But we don’t want to feel like “reality.” We want to feel like real. How do we handle content that is really respectful and real? On TLC, it’s about pulling back on the quick shots; on Animal Planet, it’s about the physical reality of the world. How do we make people feel like their hands are cold on a show about Alaska?

Photo: Alfred Maskeroni

Publish date: April 20, 2014 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT