David Lyle, Pioneering Reality TV Executive, Dies at 67

David Lyle

He headed Fremantle USA when it brought 'American Idol' to the States and took NatGeo into scripted.

David Lyle, the admired television executive who headed FremantleMedia North America and NatGeo and was known for his uncommon expertise in the world of unscripted entertainment, died Friday. He was 67.

Lyle died at his home in Los Angeles after a long battle with cancer, a publicist announced.

The Sydney native had more than three decades of international experience in TV production as both a program buyer and seller.

Lyle was the first leader of Fremantle USA and was at the head of the company when American Idol came to the States in 2002.

After being named CEO of National Geographic Channels in 2011, he put NatGeo on the map, helping to bring such hits as Wicked Tuna, Life Below Zero and the Emmy-nominated Brain Games to the screen.

Lyle also took the channel into the scripted arena with Bill O'Reilly's Killing series, beginning with 2013's Killing Lincoln, starring Tom Hanks. That resulted in the company's first three scripted Emmy noms.

In 2015, Lyle helped lead a merger of Pact US, where he served as chairman, with the Non-Fiction Producers Association, uniting the two major trade organizations that serve producers of nonfiction entertainment content. He fought for indie producers and was a champion for creative producers globally.

“David Lyle was a rare breed, in our industry and in the world," NPACT general manager John Ford said in a statement. "A true bon vivant, he brought light and life into every room along with a passion for the creatives of this business."

Lyle was an exploration geologist and high school chemistry teacher before entering the TV business as a writer and segment producer for the TEN and Australian Broadcasting Networks in his home country.

He landed at Nine Network in 1988 as a program creator and executive producer and eventually rose to head development. Under his leadership, Nine created local versions of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and Changing Rooms, the basis for TLC's Trading Spaces in the States.

Then, as worldwide head of acquisition and development for Pearson Television in London, Lyle helped to coordinate productions across more than two dozen international territories and acquired top U.S. and international unscripted programming formats.

Lyle came to Los Angeles in 2001 and served as president of both Fox LOOK, a unit specializing in the international licensing and production of reality formats, and the Fox Reality Channel, a national cable outlet dedicated to unscripted programming. He launched the latter in 2005 and grew its subscriber base to 35 million within just two years.

In August 2011, Lyle assumed responsibility for global programming when he was named the Washington-based CEO of National Geographic Channels US, the cable and satellite programming venture of Fox Cable Networks and the National Geographic Society.

"Heading up the National Geographic Channels is a dream job," he said at the time.

Under Lyle's three-year reign, net operating profit grew from $72 million in fiscal year 2011 to $133 million in fiscal year 2014, while its net advertising revenue jumped from $100 million to $148 million during the same period.

In a statement, Phil Gurin of IM Global Television called Lyle "a champion for the underdog creators, a passionate advocate for formats and a true believer who inspired countless producers, format creators and channels the world over.

"He was a dear friend, confidante, raconteur and legend. He shall be missed here, there and everywhere … especially at the bar at the Carlton Hotel with a dram in his hand, a smile on his face and a story in his heart."  

Survivors include his wife Janne and children Sam, Polly and Joanna.