Nancy Daniels got her start in the production side of the business — as executive vice president of production & development at Discovery Channel she had a hand in such hits as American Chopper, Fast N Loud and Gold Rush, to name a few. As head of TLC since 2013, Daniels has continued that win streak — Q3 ratings were up 19% in primetime. She’s guided the channel into live programming (This Is Life Live was a ratings hit when it debuted over four nights in April) and next year, TLC is bringing back classic genre-defining home-improvement show Trading Spaces. “We are really lucky; we have a really strong brand,” Daniels said. “We have a brand that means something. And to me, it’s up to us to make sure that brand stays strong and relevant across all platforms.” Daniels recently spoke with B&C contributing editor Mike Farrell about the network and the changing programming climate. An edited transcript follows.
TLC has been a top 10 network for women for years. How do you maintain the momentum in today’s climate?
TLC had a really good year this year, which is saying a lot when it’s a very difficult environment out there now and it’s really difficult to break through; there are just so many choices. We’ve worked really hard to connect with our audience, trying to understand why they come to us, what they expect from us and just really deliver it to them on a silver platter.
You’ve had success this year with Unexpected, a show about teen moms, a genre that had previously been dominated by MTV. What drew you to that show?
We looked at that as a way in on that subject matter, [but] through the parents of the teen mom’s point of view, and understanding the phenomenon that this often can run in families. So you’re watching through the eyes of a 32-year-old mother, who’s watching her 15-or 16-year-old daughter repeat her own mistakes, and how you handle that. That to us was what was interesting about it. I loved the tagline we came up with for it, which was “When Your Baby Has a Baby, It’s a Family Affair.”
TLC has done several digital series on its TLC GO app to complement existing shows. Are we going to see more of that?
I think our digital offerings are vital to our future as a network. We [work on our brand strength] in the development process, pre-production, what could we be doing here, what should we be doing here. It has to feel organic, it has to feel connected, and it’s something that we’ll continue to do where it works, where it makes sense.
You’re bringing back Trading Spaces next year. What led you to do that?
There was nothing bigger than Trading Spaces on TLC back in the day. Everything I’ve seen so far — we’re right in the middle of production right now — it’s such a fun watch and it’s so joyful and I feel like that’s what we need right now on TV. There is a lot of heavy stuff going on right now in the world … this is the right time [for the show].
This Is Life Live was a top-five show when it aired in April and it’s coming back. How important is live programming to you?
We’re continuing to look at different ways to do live programming. I also think another way to look at it is to do more quick turns so you’re staying relevant to what is going on in the real world. In August, when Hurricanes Harvey and Irma hit, our family Bill and Jen Arnold of The Little Couple had just moved from Houston, where they still own a home, to Florida, and got double-whammied. You want to feel like the show is relevant and staying up to date and reflecting what’s going on in their lives, as it happens.