Deirdre O’Hearn to Head Programming at Food Network, Cooking Channel (Exclusive)

7:00 AM PST 04/04/2014 by Alex Ben Block
Courtesy of Food Network
Deirdre O'Hearn

The new senior vp tells THR she'll be on the hunt for new signature series as the culinary destination turns to the next generation.

Deirdre “Didi” O’Hearn has been appointed senor vp, programming and development for Food Network and Cooking Channel. That means she will have oversight of what goes on daytime and primetime, as well as managing outside relationships with producers.

What that really means, admits O’Hearn, is that she will be on the hunt for hits that can become signature shows on networks that already have a well defined brand, but need the next generation of content to attract viewers.

“In cable we’re all looking for hits,” O’Hearn tells The Hollywood Reporter. “You’ve got to be a destination. You’ve got to be on the map. You’ve got to be the place that viewers tune in to and a hit just puts you on the map. It also allows you to build out that night. I don’t think there is any cable programmer who isn’t worried about getting the hits. That’s part of the job.”

That is why she was hired, says Bob Tuschman, general manager and senior vp of Food Network: “Didi’s experience, leadership and creative sensibilities for developing hit programming are exactly what I was looking for in an executive. She has a reputation for not only creating hits but in leading others to do the same, making her an exciting addition to the network.”

O’Hearn most recently was vp, development and talent for WE TV. Before that that she was a vp with Darlow Smithson Productions, a non-fiction media producer; and prior to that spent 16 years at A & E, and produced for A & E, Biography and History channels.

The appeal of Food Network, says O’Hearn, is that when she, her husband and two teenage sons want to relax, they often watch Food Network. She is a big fan of the show Chopped, among many, and of personalities like Bobby Flay, Guy Fieri  and Rachel Ray.

Now she sees her job as shaping the future growth. “My mandate is ‘anything goes’” says O’Hearn. “There’s nothing we can’t look at as a possibility, even something like a docuseries, although they are harder for the Food Network. It would have to be the right one.”

She means they might, as an example, do an unscripted reality series following one family as it tries to make a go of a restaurant. She says, however, there are no plans to do any scripted series any time soon.

“One reason they are bringing me in for this job,” adds O’Hearn, “is I’ve been in the business for a lot of years and have a lot of really close and strong relationships with the production community. That’s where I think we can get extremely creative.”

What will she tell those producers? “We’re looking for hits,” she says. “That’s what we build off.”

What they are not getting is a chef. “Sadly I can confess to you that when I told my 90-year-old mother I was interviewing at the Food Network – she’s from Missouri and a very straight talker – she said ‘Oh my god, have you told them you don’t know how to cook?’”

O’Hearn laughed and added: “I told her ‘they’ve got chefs for that.’”

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