Carole Tomko is right at home at Discovery Networks. In her 16 years there, she has contributed to every channel in its cable stable. She even met her husband, VP of Business Affairs Rex Recka, over the copy machine. “I just love the brands we have here,” she says. “Every single one of these networks just resonates with me personally and professionally. I'm sort of a Discovery geek.”
Now executive VP of production for Discovery Networks U.S., Tomko is working to unify and organize by genre production for the company's 16 American networks—including Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel and Animal Planet—as well as its theatrical division. It's part of an effort to streamline the use of content on Discovery's various networks and emerging platforms.
Tomko had no plans to work in TV when she majored in Spanish and government at Connecticut College. But when a job teaching English in Portugal fell through after graduation, she moved to Boston in 1985 and found temp work at WBZ, then an NBC affiliate.
Starting as a production coordinator, Tomko quickly worked her way up to manager, producing everything from telethons to evening newsmagazines.
She moved on to be a production manager for Editel's Digital Images, where she produced graphics for Discovery shows. After a year at Orion Pictures' nationally syndicated Crimewatch Tonight, she landed a job at Discovery supervising a group that repackaged acquired films and documentaries.
A natural-history buff, Tomko became an executive producer at Discovery Channel and later The Learning Channel, producing series and specials and serving as series and science editor on programs like Science Frontiers.
After a brief stint running development and programming for Time-Life Video & Television in 1996, Tomko was back at Discovery the next year, where she rose from executive producer to VP of production and development at Animal Planet. Helping the network grow from 14 million to 85 million subscribers, she launched and managed its movie and scripted-programming division, and developed shows, including breakout hits Crocodile Hunter, with the late Steve Irwin, and The Jeff Corwin Experience.
In October 2003, Tomko became general manager/senior VP of FitTV, and relaunched it with a new schedule just eight weeks later. An avid biker and Ashtanga yoga devotee who gets her best ideas while running, Tomko gave Fit a total- body makeover, trimming its acquired exercise programming and adding originals on nutrition, wellness and adventure.
Since assuming her current role a year ago, Tomko has been getting Discovery's centralized production unit into shape.
“It has really changed so much of our thinking in a positive way,” she says. “It's not thinking about just a TV show; it's thinking about content and all the platforms we have to deliver on.”
Besides meeting with the networks' general managers, the genre VPs and various development teams, Tomko maintains the company's relationships with the outside production community, which produced about 90% of the some 3,000 hours of Discovery content last year.
“Very few people have the unique mix of production experience and interpersonal skills Carole brings to her job each day,” says Clark Bunting, president of production for Discovery Networks U.S. and a longtime colleague.
An active mentor to Discovery's young staffers, Tomko also makes time to garden, bake, and spend time with her son and daughter, 11 and 9. And she welcomes each opportunity to become even more of a Discovery geek.
“Throw a big challenge on my plate, and I love it,” she says. “I love new initiatives, startups and all of those things other people would dread.”