Discovery finds a topper for TLC FtvS' Shapiro-Mathes steps in

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Fox TV Studios president Angela Shapiro-Mathes is returning to the cable world as the new president and GM of Discovery Communications Inc.'s TLC.

TLC has been without a chief since February, when David Zaslav — who became president and CEO of DCI at the beginning of the year — announced a major shake-up at the company that saw the departure of several senior executives, including Discovery Networks U.S. president Billy Campbell and TLC president and GM David Abraham.

A replacement for Shapiro-Mathes at FtvS is expected to be named shortly.

Beginning July 1, Shapiro-Mathes will oversee all aspects at TLC, including development, programming, production, new media, marketing, research and communications. She will report to Zaslav.

Zaslav noted the hiring of Shapiro-Mathes in his opening remarks at DCI's upfront presentation Tuesday at the Regent Beverly Wilshire.

"We've been looking for a couple of months now at who would be the most creative person who understands a woman's perspective and who knows how to take a brand and really drive it," Zaslav said. "She's the right person in the right place at the right time and will take TLC with all the momentum it has to the next (level)."

Shapiro-Mathes, who served as president of ABC Family before joining FtvS in 2004, will be based in Los Angeles, staying close to the creative community. She will run TLC as DCI's first bicoastal network with presence in both Hollywood and DCI world headquarters in Silver Spring, Md.

"Discovery Communications has amassed a group of some of the industry's most respected and established brands," Shapiro-Mathes said. "David Zaslav has an unquestionable passion for and commitment to this company, and together we share a vision for the future of TLC."

Keeping Shapiro-Mathes in Los Angeles could help DCI establish the foothold in West Coast production circles that has long eluded the company. Two years ago, DCI hired former E! Networks programming chief Mark Sonnenberg as head of West Coast entertainment to work with all the company's channels, but sources indicate that he departed this month.

TLC has been rebounding from a two-year ratings slide that saw a loss of nearly 40% of primetime viewers from first-quarter 2004 through the beginning of last year. That drop was spurred in part by the aging of "Trading Spaces" as well as multiple knockoffs that started airing on other networks. Although TLC saw its ad revenue wane last year, shows like "Little People, Big World" — which recently posted its highest viewership ever — have given the network a boost.

TLC has logged 13 consecutive months of year-on-year audience growth. In first-quarter 2007, the network averaged 910,000 total viewers in primetime (up 15% from first-quarter 2006). In the key adult demos, it averaged 508,000 adults 18-49 (up 15%) and 514,000 adults 25-54 (up 14%).

Since taking the helm at DCI, Zaslav has moved quickly to realign the company for the digital future, cutting hundreds of jobs but luring high-profile executive talent. Among new hires are Bruce Campbell, executive vp business development at NBC Universal, and former MTV Networks executive vp Gregory Ricca. Discovery still has key positions to fill, including the top job at Animal Planet.

Shapiro-Mathes took the reins of the News Corp.-owned company from founding president David Grant in May 2004. The 10-year-old company is considered rather atypical as it is comprised of five diverse divisions — alternative, scripted, international, Fox World and Regency TV — and there had been speculation that News Corp. might opt to shut it down, folding some of its units into other News Corp. production entities. But it is understood that FtvS will continue on under a new president, possibly to be named within a week, who is expected to bring a new focus to the company.

Before her stint as president of ABC Family, Shapiro-Mathes was president of ABC Daytime, where, among other things, she shepherded the ratings growth for "The View." In 2000, she added the title of president of Buena Vista Prods. to her duties as president of daytime and oversaw the development of the syndication version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."

Prior to joining ABC in 1995 as senior vp marketing and promotion, Shapiro-Mathes owned and operating businesses including Soap Opera Digest magazine and Soap Opera Update.

Andrew Wallenstein contributed to this report.
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