UPDATE SINCE ORIGINAL PUBLICATION: Carey is no longer with Travel. We keep this interview here as a part of our archives for your reference.
CableU is proud to present Carey Kyler, vice president of television programming and commission- ing for Travel Channel.
CU: What is the key element that makes a program right for your network?
CK: It's hard to narrow to just one element. "Travel" means something slightly different to everyone, so we've put a lot of thought around what works on our network. It may be surprising to some, but something we're not is straightforward travelogues. We don't want to compete in that space-people largely go to the internet when they want to research specifics about a travel destination, but they come to television to be entertained and inspired. Our network is looking for programs that are, first and foremost, entertaining. The host needs to have a strong personality and a credibility associated with the content of the program--and there needs to be a feeling of immersion that brings the viewer along.
CU: What programs and/or genres are you looking for in the next year?
CK: We have a formal and an informal process at the Travel Channel. While we accept pitches year round, 3-4 times a year we issue a commissioning document RFP, based on consumer need and potential opportunities we've identified in the schedule. These RFPs will often be tied to the scheduling strategy we have in place. We've organized our schedule to appeal to a variety of travel interests, and to evolve across the week. With that in mind, each night has a theme, and we continue to look for programming that fills the pipeline with shows that support the key anchor programming (e.g., No Reservations, Bizarre Foods, Man v. Food, and Ghost Adventures). Of note, we try to stay away from programming fronted by "real" people, which has a way of feeling like home vacation videos on our network!
CU: How important are other platforms like broadband and mobile applications in the initial pitch?
CK: We look at ourselves as a 360 business, so nearly every program being commissioned today has online and mobile extensions. While not critical in the initial pitch, it shows us applications of the content that could evolve from a strong programming idea-always a plus, but having that solid base programming idea is key.
CU: What's the best way for a producer to pitch to you?
CK: Tape is always welcome- many of our programs are host driven, and the viewer needs that visceral connection with them in order to co-experience the destination. Knowing who the production company has in mind to front the show, or how the program will play out really helps.
CU: What do you look for in a first-time producer besides a great idea?
CK: I like to know that they've watched and understand our network-and that they have the creativity to think beyond traditional approaches to travel programming.
CU: What mistakes do producers make when pitching you?
CK: I think the biggest mistakes made are pitching niche ideas or programming that can't compete in prime time. We often receive pitches featuring a professional or passionate traveler, who brings no additional expertise or personality to the screen. The episodes are destination focused, rather than host and story driven. We commission programming that viewers will want to come back to, week after week; a destination-based show with a nice, but unremarkable host creates a viewer experience tied to whether or not they are interested in the location--but if they love the host, they don't care where he or she is going....they just want to go along. Because our programming has changed, our viewers have come to expect more out of us--and they need more texture, payoff, and entertainment than a straightforward look at a destination can provide.
CU: What can global programmers learn from the US cable network market and from your network in particular?
CK: The top thing that comes to mind is pacing. Traditional travel programming can be deadly slow--and international travel programming can be even slower.
CU: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
CK: Watch peoples’ reactions in the room when they are looking at a potential new program- their reaction will be a great leading indicator as to whether or not the program could be a hit.
CU: What’s the best advice you’ve ever given?
CK: Manage people the way they want to be managed….not the way you want to be managed.
CU: Who in this industry do you most admire and why?
CK: There are so many- I've learned so much from people I’ve worked with while at Discovery and at the Travel Channel. If I start, you may have to “cue the music”, like at the Academy Awards!
CU: What’s the smartest programming decision you have ever made?
CK: Supporting Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, and insisting that the network not censor or curtail him. I've also pushed for some other programs on the network that I'm very proud of- Man v. Food, and Living with the Tribe.
CU: What’s the dumbest programming decision you have ever made?
CK: Luckily, I have a lot of smart and talented people around me to save me from doing anything too damaging!
CU: In all of television, which classic program should be revived?
CK: Monty Python….and Dark Shadows-especially given the success of Twilight.
CU: Should NEVER be revived?
CK: How much space do I have? Let’s start with The Ropers, James at 15, and Hello Larry. Apologies to McLean Stevenson fans.