David Lyle outlines Nat Geo vision (part two)

In the concluding part of realscreen's exclusive interview with David Lyle (pictured), the newly appointed CEO of National Geographic Channels U.S. unveils and explains its new four-team development structure, while also outlining his plans for Nat Geo's international pipeline.
August 9, 2011

In the concluding part of realscreen‘s exclusive interview with David Lyle (pictured), the newly appointed CEO of National Geographic Channels U.S. unveils and explains its new four-team development structure, while also outlining his plans for Nat Geo’s international pipeline.

To see part one of this feature, which published yesterday, click here.

David Lyle’s promotion from an interim role heading National Geographic Channels U.S.’s West Coast development office to CEO comes in the context of a broader restructure taking place there, with a shift in the way NGC U.S. handles its development.

Throughout June and July, the network had been weighing moving toward a structure under which development would be handled by four ‘vertical’ teams divided by genre, such as ‘specials,’ ‘series,’ and ‘character-led,’ working across both NGC and Nat Geo Wild.

However, this approach has been scrapped in favor of a more general four-team approach. “For a few weeks we were thinking of doing it that way, but we changed our minds,” Lyle tells realscreen. “We thought it too constricting. You’d be sitting around wasting time going, ‘Well, is this really a special?’

“Instead, there are going to be four teams, one of which is going to be devoted to Nat Geo Wild. The other three – call them A, B and C – for NGC will not be specialized by sub-genre or that sort of thing. It will just be spread equally around so that the different teams all do different sorts of shows.”

The four teams will report to senior VP of content Michael Cascio, who will work closely with senior VP of global development and production Bridget Whalen Hunnicutt, Lyle says.

“They will each be headed by a team leader – [VP of development and production] Kevin Mohs, [VP of global development] Charlie Parsons and [VP of development and production] Kim Woodard – and for Nat Geo Wild it will be [senior VP of development] Janet Han Vissering and [senior VP] Geoff Daniels,” he adds.

“What we want to do is marry development to production. There has been a disconnect; there were groups that were in development, and then once the thing got greenlit, another set of people who were in production. We want the team as a group to see this thing through all the way – right up to delivering on air.

“I want one holistic approach; no cracks in which things fall through,” Lyle explains. “We want to reach out to a much broader group of producers than previously, and as part of that we want to offer a really great producer experience.”

With Lyle’s promotion to CEO, an obvious question remains over who will now handle West Coast development for the network. While some speculation had emerged that Whalen Hunnicutt will move to head this, Lyle says nothing has been decided yet.

What he is sure about, however, is that NGC “certainly needs, at a minimum, at least one development person” on the West Coast.

“It could be someone internally from Washington going over there, or it could be a West Coast denizen,” he reflects. “Like any of these things there are pluses and minuses – someone who knows the channel well can be a great outreach in LA, but then someone who knows LA well could be a great outreach and funnel different people through to Washington. It’s something we need to think about.”

Beyond both coasts of the U.S., Lyle’s new role also sees him thinking about the roll-out of Nat Geo’s American-made programming on the network’s international channels.

While he is keen to point out that the international business still remains under the supervision of National Geographic Channels International (NGCI) president and CEO Hernan Lopez, Lyle explains: “About three quarters of the programming, or sometimes even more, that is commissioned or greenlit in the United States flows through to the rest of the world.

“So by being hands-on involved here, I am effectively hands-on involved in the program content as it goes through to the rest of the world. On top of that though, I want to really make sure – the same way that we want these development teams to have a holistic approach – that as this material passes to the rest of the world, it is what the rest of the world can use.

“Sometimes that’s simply a matter of knowing what a program’s really about months out,” he adds, “so that they can get it out to advertisers, market it, do territory deals… So I want to make our flow of material to the international National Geographics smoother, and then I want to get feedback from them about what they’re looking for as well.”

Finally, amid the shake-up and restructuring, it has also emerged that long-serving exec Sydney Suissa – who stepped down as NGCI’s exec VP of content in September last year after six years – is back working with NGCI again as executive VP of local production.

“Sydney Suissa’s role now is working with the regions, in terms of the programming they’re producing locally,” Lyle reveals. “They have a mix of things that come from HQ and things that are developed specifically for their regional purposes, and Sydney’s working with them on those efforts.”

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