Explaining TLC’s New, And Winning, Direction

by | June 2, 2009 at 7:45 PM | Watch This Way

While she’s committed to doing 40 episodes of “Jon & Kate Plus 8” this season, even TLC president Eileen O’Neill admits she’s as uncertain as anyone as to how those installments will ultimately look.

Indeed, if it’s not relentless phone calls from outlets like “Us Weekly,” it’s the mere uncertainty revolving around the Gosselin marriage that’s wearing thin these days in the Los Angeles office of Discovery Communications-owned TLC, where execs eagerly awaited ratings from this new season’s second episode of “Jon & Kate.”

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As it turned out, the show averaged 5.7 million viewers for its two half-hour installments Monday, down from its record-breaking season premiere of 9.7 million viewers. Despite the drop-off, the latest episode was once again the top choice on TV for women of all ages, underscoring why O’Neill and her underlings are bullish about the summer… and, well, about marriage in general.

At about this time last year, TLC was struggling badly in post-“Trading Spaces” malaise, and O’Neill – a longtime Discovery exec who had herself discovered Jon and Kate Gosselin for TLC several years ago – was sent to L.A. to fix things.

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She’s quickly turned the channel around with new shows focusing on the relationship- and wedding-themed topics the girlie audience loves.

See the TLC lineup.

“It was about doing things better and really shifting the network to more remarkable, relatable lives,” says O’Neill, who in recent weeks has overseen the launch of “Cake Boss,” a reality show centered around the bakings of colorful Hoboken bridal magazine stallwart Buddy Valastro, and “The Little Couple, which follows the lives of especially diminutive newlyweds Bill Klein and Jen Arnold.

Watch ‘Cake Boss.’

Coming up, the channel plans to treat its “Say Yes to the Dress” audience to a preview episode of “Wedded to Perfection,” which focuses on Fete, New York’s high-end, husband-and-wife-run wedding-event planner.

Also set for a sneak peak later in the summer is the post-nuptials-focused “Masters of the Reception” featuring Kelly Ripa, as well as a cake-themed reality-competition series.

“It really felt like the TLC audience wanted real characters with strong expertise,” O’Neill says. “And the wedding genre has gotten a lot of strong interest.”

Of course, when launching new shows, it helps when older ones like “Jon & Kate” are drawing attention them by doing phenomenal numbers.

“Certainly, the extensive viewership has turbocharged our plans,” concedes O’Neill, who was introduced to the Gosselins when the Hayes Family – which now stars on TLC’s “Table for 12” – initially demurred at being on TV and offered up their friends as an alternative. “But it’s also about strong personalities put in remarkable circumstances that viewers want to get to know better.”