Unscripted veteran David Lyle passes away

David Lyle, an unscripted television veteran whose experience in the industry stretched across three decades, has died at the age of 67 following a long battle with cancer. Lyle passed away ...
September 22, 2017

David Lyle, an unscripted television veteran whose experience in the industry stretched across three decades, has died at the age of 67 following a long battle with cancer.

Lyle passed away at his home in Los Angeles on Thursday, September 21.

Most recently, Lyle was president emeritus for NPACT, having served as the president of PactUS, the American outpost for the production company trade organization established originally in the UK — since 2015. PactUS merged with the U.S. based Nonfiction Producers Association this past June.

“Dad was never happier than when helping someone else reach their potential,” said daughter Joanna Kerr via a statement. “He will be a tough act to follow.”

Before joining PactUS, he served as CEO of National Geographic Channels from 2011 to 2014. Under Lyle, the flagship Nat Geo Channel broadened its programming remit and ushered in several well-rated series and specials — among them, the scripted events Killing Lincoln and Killing Kennedy, based on the books by Bill O’Reilly, and non-fiction series such as Wicked Tuna and Life Below Zero.

The Nat Geo position was part of a long relationship with Fox Networks Group that also encompassed stints with its international format production and licensing unit Fox Look (as president) and as president of the Fox Reality Channel, which he launched in 2005.

Prior to his career with Fox, Lyle served as president of entertainment for FremantleMedia North America from 2001-2004, where he helped launch American Idol. Before FMNA, he held the position of head of worldwide development and acquisitions at Fremantle-predecessor Pearson Television, and also was part of the executive team for Nine Network in his home country of Australia, as head of development.

Outside of his network and production company roles, Lyle was a founding member of the Format Recognition and Protection Association (FRAPA) and served as its chairman from 2000-2006.

Prior to embarking on a television career, Lyle was an exploration geologist and a high school chemistry teacher.

John Ford, general manager for NPACT, said, on behalf of the organization and its members: “David Lyle was a rare breed, in our industry and in the world. A true bon vivant, he brought light and life into every room, along with a passion for the creatives of this business. Among his many contributions to entertainment, network and television production was his role in bringing together Pact US and the NPA earlier this year as one unified organization, dedicated to harnessing the entrepreneurial and creative spirit of producers in a new age.

“We will all miss David’s maverick mettle, along with his vitality, brilliant insights and humor, and offer our deepest condolences to his wife Janne, his children Sam, Polly and Joanna, and his many friends and colleagues.”

Propagate Content founder and co-CEO Howard T. Owens, a longtime friend of Lyle’s and president of National Geographic Channels under Lyle, said: “David was a brilliant mentor and friend. His vision spanned the globe at Fremantle, National Geographic Channels and beyond. He believed in creativity, took risks, and always had your back. We will all miss him dearly.”

Via Twitter, documentary director and Warrior Poets co-founder Morgan Spurlock wrote: “David was one of the good ones. Will miss you, my friend.”

Julie Bristow, founder of Bristow Global Media, said: “David was one of a kind. A true mentor. Generous with his time, ideas and contacts. He put ideas and people together in endlessly interesting ways. When I left a network job to launch a production company David extended his considerable reach to support my new company.

“I asked him if he would be part of an advisory board for BGM,” she added. “He told me he would advise me only as long as I paid him in whiskey.

“I’m raising a glass tonight.”

On a more personal note, David Lyle was a longtime friend of the Realscreen brand, taking part in many of its events in Washington and Santa Monica over the course of his career as a panelist, an adviser, and in one particularly memorable session, as part of an armchair conversation with Pilgrim Media Group founder and CEO Craig Piligian, which featured candid conversation and more than one whiskey toast.

david lyle and craig piligian at the 2012 realscreen summit. photo: rahoul ghose

“TV should be fun,” offered Lyle during the session. “I think fun is underrated especially in this country, which has a very puritan streak which equates fun with sloppiness, slackness and laziness and all sorts of moral turpitude.”

David Lyle is survived by his wife Janne, and his children Sam, Polly and Joanna. Details on memorial arrangements are pending.



About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.