Fifth Estater

A Quiet Executive, Historically Speaking

History Channel senior VP makes hits, not waves 7/12/2010 12:01:00 AM Eastern

David McKillop

Title:
Senior VP of Development and Programming, History Channel

Education:
B.A., Connecticut College, 1981

Employment:
WETA/Smithsonian World, production assistant, 1982-1984
National Geographic TV: production coordinator, production manager, coordinating producer, senior producer, 1984-1990
Big Rock Productions, president, 1990-2002
Discovery Channel: executive producer, senior executive producer, VP of production/VP of factual programming, 2004-2007
Current position since April 2007

Personal:
b. July 14, 1958; two sons, Gregory, 20, Jess, 17

David McKillop, the senior VP of development and programming
at History Channel, is the quiet executive.
He has been instrumental in some of the biggest hits at Discovery (Deadliest Catch, Dirty Jobs)
and History (Ice Road Truckers, Pawn Stars),
so one might expect McKillop’s name to
be more often rendered in boldface. But
it is a testament to his collaborative style
that he has stayed in the shadows.

“Good management often doesn’t get
the credit for success. A show does or the
talent does,” says Nancy Dubuc, president
and general manager of History,
who brought McKillop to the network
from Discovery. “One of the unspoken
successes of the brand, and one that isn’t
trumpeted enough, is David’s masterful
building of the team and the way we all
work together to challenge ourselves.”

McKillop was right alongside Deadliest
Catch
creator Thom Beers when Discovery
was developing the series about the
perils of crab fishing in the Bering Sea.
“It was one of those crazy endeavors,”
recalls Jane Root, former president of
Discovery Networks. “The two of them
were in Alaska just figuring it out.”

“I think given the career he has, he undoubtedly
could be a lot better known
outside the networks he’s worked for,”
she adds. “It’s not that he’s self-effacing,
he’s just quietly confident.”

In a few years, History has gone from
a stolid channel populated by war documentaries to a character-based juggernaut
that boasts some of the most widely
watched programs on cable. Pawn Stars,
which is averaging 5 million viewers this
season, is the No. 1 series on ad-supported
cable in the 25-54 demographic.
The premiere in April of the network’s
six-part special America: The Story of Us,
produced by Root’s Nutopia, drew nearly
6 million viewers and now stands as the
most-watched series in the network’s history.
Last week, History rolled out its first
competition series, Top Shot. And the network
is in production on its first scripted
project, a miniseries about the Kennedy
family from 24 creator Joel Surnow.

“There is nothing tougher than re-inventing
a brand, and they’ve really done a
remarkable job. And David’s a huge part
of that,” says former broadcast executive
Lloyd Braun. His production company,
BermanBraun, has multiple shows in development
at History, with the upcoming
Decoded set to bow this fall.

McKillop’s talent for team leadership
isn’t surprising given his background.
His late father was a diplomat in the Foreign
Service, and David was the youngest
boy in a family of five siblings.

McKillop’s family lived in Tunisia and
Brussels until David was 6, and then moved to Washington, D.C. “My first
memory of America was coming into
New York harbor on the USS America and
my father getting us all up to go on deck
to look at the Statue of Liberty,” he says.

McKillop studied human ecology and
history at Connecticut College. After graduation,
he worked in the physics department
at the Smithsonian National Museum
of American History, where he helped
design an exhibit on atomic clocks. That
led to an opportunity to work with Martin
Carr, who was producing Smithsonian
World
for WETA. (It was narrated by thenunknown
author David McCullough.)

He has worked in production and development
ever since. He spent nearly a
decade at National Geographic, where he
helped launch the Explorer series. He left
Nat Geo to start his own company, producing
a science magazine for Discovery,
which led to a staff job in Discovery’s
programming and development group.

“David is really a producer’s producer,”
Dubuc says. “He truly understands how
complicated it is to get these shows done.
He also has amazing editorial instincts.”

A voracious reader, McKillop has a
knack for keeping his finger on the pulse
of the Zeitgeist. “I’m naturally curious,
and I think that’s key to being a programmer,”
he says. “I love information. I love
science. History is my real passion.”

But, as usual, McKillop is quick to deflect the credit. “I think our secret weapon
is our corporate culture,” he points
out. “What I’ve learned is that if you give
people the space to make their own decisions,
to feel safe to take risks, and if
you’re transparent in all of your dealings
with them, you’ll get the performance
we’re getting from the History programming
team. I guess I’m part diplomat,
part cheerleader and part father.”

E-mail comments to mguthrie@nbmedia.com and follow her on
Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie

David McKillop

Title:
Senior VP of Development and Programming, History Channel

Education:
B.A., Connecticut College, 1981

Employment:
WETA/Smithsonian World, production assistant, 1982-1984
National Geographic TV: production coordinator, production manager, coordinating producer, senior producer, 1984-1990
Big Rock Productions, president, 1990-2002
Discovery Channel: executive producer, senior executive producer, VP of production/VP of factual programming, 2004-2007
Current position since April 2007

Personal:
b. July 14, 1958; two sons, Gregory, 20, Jess, 17

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