THR's Women in Entertainment 2011: Power 100
O'Neill has a suggestion for where she should rank on The Hollywood Reporter's Power 100 list: the same line as Nancy Dubuc, president of History and Lifetime Networks. "Could you make us tied? I like Nancy. I think she's an unbelievable programmer. But I think that would be funny," says O'Neill. "She and I are a bit of mirrors to each other. Nancy built History and now has Lifetime to figure out. And I built TLC and now have to figure out Discovery."
After four years at the helm of TLC, where she ushered in Sarah Palin's Alaska and Sister Wives and spearheaded the search for Muslim families featured in the network's latest series, All-American Muslim, O'Neill added flagship network Discovery to her purview in January. In August, emerging network Discovery Fit Health also became part of her portfolio.
It's been a good year for Discovery: Gold Rush, Deadliest Catch, American Chopper and Sons of Guns all have been No. 1 in cable in their time slots this year. Meanwhile, TLC continues to resonate, landing in the top 10 in primetime six out of seven nights of the week among women 18–49. Open and down-to-earth, O'Neill is described by colleagues as gracious, humble and decisive.
Asked to respond to criticism that TLC's Toddlers & Tiaras is a voyeuristic train wreck, O'Neill jokes: "No one's ever said that to me." And she defends the series as an unvarnished look at a $5 billion industry, insisting that the network is very cautious about how it portrays the children. "I appreciate the question because it's something we certainly wrestle with. We're not going to shy away from reality, but at the same time we're respectful of the fact that these kids have to go to school the next day," she says.
"A lot of us are parents, which helps us decide how far a storyline can go." O'Neill, 45, who lives in suburban Maryland with her partner and their 11-year-old son, likes to start her day with a 5 a.m. jog. She also enjoys escaping to the Delaware shore, though she admits she has trouble leaving work behind. "You can see me on the boardwalk, head down, BlackBerry in hand."
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