News of the passing of veteran network executive Jana Bennett last week brought scores of tributes from the TV industry. Here, Abby Greensfelder, founder and CEO of Everywoman Studios and a former Discovery Channel executive prior to co-founding Half Yard Productions in 2006, shares her thoughts on what made Bennett “one of the most innovative leaders in our business.”
Jana was a real incisive mind. She had that bright sparkle in her eye and a quiet intensity. I first met her when she oversaw science production at the BBC — when I was working in development at Discovery under Mike Quattrone, we co-produced a lot of programming together. Her slate was the most innovative at the BBC, and she became known for producing landmark events and what we called “category killers” — the earliest notion of premium content.
When she eventually came to TLC to be GM, she was the one that turned that channel from Discovery’s little sister into a female-skewing lifestyle channel. Jana and her team coined the brilliant tagline “Life Unscripted,” which carried the network into its own clear brand space. She brought to TLC their first lifestyle hits, which were BBC/British formats — Trading Spaces, What Not to Wear, Junkyard Wars. Again, she was way ahead of her time in terms of importing UK formats into the U.S. market, and she set TLC up for decades of dominance with the female adult audience as opposed to competing head-on with Discovery.
She was a voracious reader, a lover of food, an outside-the-box thinker. With A+E’s FYI, she saw the potential for the group to have a lifestyle network in its portfolio that could balance out the male-skewing History and more scripted and older-skewing Lifetime. She built that brand from the ground up with a portfolio strategy in mind, much as she had done with the TLC rebrand at Discovery.
I think in the end the thing that made her such a unique force was she had “big-thinking” strategic chops as well as the creative skills to go narrow and granular. In our business it’s rare to find those minds that can zoom in and zoom out with equal comfort. That, and she was razor-sharp and generous. One of the most innovative leaders in our business, she will be missed by many.