Why Discovery's Nancy Daniels Relishes Her Fast-Moving Role as Chief Brand Officer

By Warner Bros. Discovery InSites Archives
Cover image for  article: Why Discovery's Nancy Daniels Relishes Her Fast-Moving Role as Chief Brand Officer

As most people climb the corporate ladder, they inevitably become more circumspect.  The politic response is often no response, said with a tight smile and a bit of a spin.  Then there’s Nancy Daniels, Chief Brand Officer, Discovery and Factual, Discovery Channel and Science Channel in the U.S., who does not bother with posturing or being overly guarded.  In an exclusive interview with MediaVillage, she reflected on her job of overseeing creative and brand strategy, development, production, multiplatform, communications, marketing and day-to-day operations of one of TV’s most trusted sources.

She acknowledged no grand career plan and laughed easily as she chatted about topics from The Cake Boss to her devotion to working out.  We spoke shortly before Coronavirus lockdowns took effect.  Since then she issued this statement: “Every day brings new challenges and tough decisions that seemed unthinkable even a week ago.  Discovery has implemented a work from home strategy for everyone that can.  We have all been learning how to stay connected via Zoom and FaceTime.  We have been focusing on the state of our pipeline and what is going to be delayed and how we can keep our best content on the air.  For our viewers, we know we can give them an escape from everything going on around them.”

Comfort TV marathons will help.  Discovery has Gold Rush: Parker Before the Trailset forFriday, March 27 from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.;Best of the MythBusters on Saturday, March 28 from 9 a.m. to 4 a.m., and Serengeti on Sunday, March 29, from noon to 6 p.m.  The weekend of April 4-5 condenses last year’s Shark Week into a weekend filled with specials.  The next Saturday brings Deadliest Catch: The Legacy of Phil Harris – 10 Yearsstarting at 9 a.m.  Meanwhile, Science Channel has a How It’s Mademarathon beginning Friday, March 27 at 6 a.m.  Animal Planet will replay the most recent Puppy Bowl beginning Monday, March 30, at 6 a.m.

This range of marathons, quickly assembled, provides terrific insight into Daniels.  They're smart, fun and refreshingly normal.

A voracious reader -- a helpful habit when deciding about non-fiction programming – Daniels at the time of this interview was deep into Hymn of the Republic: The Story of the Final Year of the American Civil War.  A history buff, she grew up in Gales Ferry and a few other small towns in Connecticut.

“I worked all through high school,” she recalled.  “I babysat, and as soon as I could get a work permit, I was a grocery store cashier and bagger.  I did retail at the mall all through high school and waitressed all through college.  The best job I had right before I moved out to L.A., as college ended, was I worked at a winery in the Finger Lakes.”

After college, she drove to Los Angeles, with the notion of working in television.  A cousin in the business called friends, looking to find her a job.  She started in 1994, answering phones for VH1 and earning $400 a week.

She was, officially, in show business.

“I knew I loved TV,” Daniels said.  “I used to watch a lot of television and thought it was really fun to be behind the scenes.  I didn’t think I would end up in a corporate job running a network.  I knew I loved this industry and the business and wanted to see where it took me.”

Over the years, Daniels held various jobs.  She freelanced for nine years on shows on MTV and HGTV.  While on Big Brother, a boss recommended her for a network job at CBS.

“I remember going for my interview at Television City,” Daniels recalled.  “You walk in the door, and you can't even believe you are there.  The pictures in the hallway are Carol Burnett and Bob Barker.”

Walking those hallowed hallways, Daniels remembered thinking:  “How did I end up here?  Even after I got the job, I felt that way every single day walking in there; that I couldn’t believe [where I was].  I knew what history had been there.”

Of the scores of shows Daniels has worked on, she remains proudest of programs “that have lasted and been long-time successes and changed the trajectory and face of the [company],” she said.  “[At TLC] we lit up a little show called Cake Boss.”  Star Buddy Valastro became a “phenomenal success, and his life changed in a good way," yet Daniels appreciated that he remained the unaffected baker from Hoboken.  And the same unaffected attitude can be said about her.

As president of TLC, she oversaw90 Day Fiancé, My 600-Pound Life and the return of Trading Spaces.  At Discovery, Daniels kept its signature summer celebration of aquatic predators.  “Because we have done Shark Week for so long, it has propelled the study of sharks further than it would have gone, funding shark experts,” she said.  “When [people] find out what I do, if they are true Shark Week fans, they will start naming shows, and I don't know what they are talking about.  God bless them.”

Everyone at Discovery is well aware of what the brand signifies, including the importance of nature documentaries.  It had been a few years since the network featured one, and it came roaring back with the exquisite Serengeti.  A sequel is in the works.

While she admitted feeling as if she was putting herself out there just to go on Instagram, Daniels extended a special thanks to the people who do Naked and Afraid and other shows where cameras are everywhere.  “The cable schedule is unrelenting,” she said.  “I always joke that at Discovery and TLC we don’t have a shelf; they don’t sit on a shelf.  They go right on air.  We keep working to fill that pipeline.  It is insatiable, and we have to have something to quickly back it up.”

As fast-paced and constant as the pressure is, Daniels relishes it.

“I feel the weight of responsibility of Discovery as a brand,” she said.  “I still can’t believe I have this job.  I take it very seriously, and I want to set it up for the future in the best possible way.  It is nerve-wracking and scary when everything is changing so fast.  At the same time, it is so cool to be in the room where it is all happening.”

Photo credit:  Mark Daniels

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