Executive Interview: TLC's VP of Development, Rita Mullin - Broadcasting & Cable

Executive Interview: TLC's VP of Development, Rita Mullin

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Faculty Note: CableU is honored to present Rita Mullin, Vice President of Development at TLC. Rita is responsible for helping to set the creative direction for programming for the channel. She developed Jon & Kate Plus 8 and 18 Kids and Counting, two of the network’s highest rated shows.

Prior to joining TLC, Mullin was Vice President of Development for the Discovery Health Channel. She also was an interactive executive producer for discoveryhealth.com, where she created online content to complement Discovery Health Channel programming.

Mullin began her career at Discovery Communications in 1996 as managing editor of Discovery Channel Monthly. In 1997 she became editorial director of Discovery Channel Publishing, where she oversaw editorial content for three lines of books, adult, travel, children's. Prior to joining Discovery, she worked as a writer and editor for Time-Life Books. In her spare time she writes children’s books.

What is the key element that makes a program right for your network?

For a show to work on TLC it needs not only strong casting and story but it also needs heart. We often see one or the other, so finding both is a gift.

What programs and/or genres are you looking for in the next year?

We continue to look for programs in our current genres: families, lifestyle, weddings, medical, and home, but to those I would add family-owned businesses and programs that appeal to both men and women, what we’re calling slice of life programs that introduce us to extraordinary everyday people or behind the scenes of familiar places. If Discovery is about exploring the broader world, we’re about exploring the world we live in every day.

How important are other platforms like broadband and mobile applications in the initial pitch?

We appreciate producers considering how the program could translate to other media, but first it has to work as television. Multiplatform applications are the future of our business and we are always looking for innovative ways to extend the viewer experience. We wouldn’t greenlight something, though, simply because it had strong multiplatform applications.

What’s the best way for a producer to pitch you?

We try to make it easy. We have development staff on both coasts (Brent Zacky heads up the development team in LA), so you can pitch to either location. Even if you’re pitching in person, we’ll ask that you sign our release on the producers’ portal before pitching and will ask you to submit the treatment there, too, to get it into our system. One of the best tools for a successful pitch, though, is tape of the talent. Since our programs are so character based, we need proof that the characters are strong.

What do you look for in a first-time producer besides a great idea?

As you might imagine, we get many pitches that are very similar. A first-time producer will get greater attention if they have unique access to a story. We also like to see that you have some experience in the genre in which you’re pitching, but don’t let that stop you. If you have the access but not the experience, we might match you up with a production company with that experience.

What mistakes do producers make when pitching you?

The biggest mistake is not reviewing the kinds of shows we already have on air.

What can global programmers learn from the US cable network market and from your network in particular?

Our shows tend to have quicker pacing than those we see from some international production companies. I also think US audiences come to television for entertainment first, while in Europe I think they’re more open to education from television. We obviously hope that our viewers come away with a new insight or some new information, but they tune in initially to be entertained.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Trust your instincts about people. Any time I’ve ignored those instincts and talked myself into something, I’ve regretted it.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever given?

Don’t take a job only for the title or the money. If you don’t like the people you work with, the title and money won’t matter. If you do, the title and money are gravy.

Who in this industry do you most admire and why?

John Hendricks. When cable was in its infancy he saw an opportunity to create a channel that delivered the best nonfiction programming available, Discovery Channel. It was a labor of love. It’s probably the best example of someone doing well from doing good in television.

What’s the smartest programming decision you have ever made?

I hope it’s the next one. I’m proud, though, of many of the shows we developed at Discovery Health, including Jon & Kate, 17 Kids and Counting, Dr. G, and Mystery Diagnosis.

What’s the dumbest programming decision you have ever made?

Luckily, my colleagues have usually stopped me from getting those to air!

In all of television, which classic program should be revived?

Whatever happened to smart, entertaining talk show hosts like Dick Cavett?

Should NEVER be revived?

Too numerous to mention.

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