Nancy Dubuc: Bringing History to Life at The History Channel

By Lunch at Michael's Archives
Cover image for  article: Nancy Dubuc: Bringing History to Life at The History Channel

Originally Published: April 23, 2007

Naturally, the Executive Vice President and General Manager of The History Channel, Nancy Dubuc, has a love for history. "Story telling is my passion," she shared with me, "and history is full of unbelievable stories. You can't make these stories up!" Nancy, like Bonnie Hammer, president of USA and Sci Fi graduated from Boston University and both began their careers at WGBH Television in Boston working on This Old House. Both also worked in live news, Bonnie with ABC affiliate WCVB and Nancy for Christian Science Monitor Cable and with NBC News in the Washington bureau. "I realized you have to have a really intense passion for news to make it a career, and I learned my passion is for TV. I loved Saturday Night Live in its heyday but I had to keep the volume low and couldn't let my parents know I was watching. It felt so devious, it was great!" She also was a fan of ER "in the George Clooney days," West Wing during its first few seasons, and Sex and the City. She also has tremendous respect for the "commitment, planning and patience" that went into the production of Discovery's hugely successful and important Planet Earth specials. "It's good for all of us when a show like this can work with audiences."

Nancy recalls her first meeting with legendary NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw, when she was just a 19-year old intern. "I had to deliver something to Mr. Brokaw personally and he was in an animated conversation, which I realized was with his daughter. He waved me into his office as he hung up. He looked at me seeing someone who was about the same age as his daughter and he asked, rhetorically, 'are you all like this with your mothers?' Here I was all business and in the presence of an icon, but he was just really human and like my dad."

Nancy could identify with Tom's daughter, referring to herself as a "troublemaker" in her teen years although her mother always considered her "the perfect daughter." Nancy realizes today her mom's attitude "helped me realize I could do things my way and have my own opinions about things, even though they might cause some trouble, and still be loved and respected. "Her zest for learning is the biggest thing she instilled in me, along with a willingness to take risks," she says of her mother. For most of Nancy's childhood, her mom had been a nurse anesthetist, but when Nancy was in high school, her mom suddenly changed her career and became a caterer. Her mother now has the largest catering business in Rhode Island (Nancy grew up in Bristol) and catered the recent marriage of the daughter of Disney's Bob Iger. Nancy's dad is an attorney.

After her internship for NBC and work with Christian Science Monitor, Nancy worked with an independent company producing the Discover Magazine television series. Abbe Raven, who was heading programming for The History Channel at the time (and is now president and CEO of AETN) was looking for a producer for This Day in History and she tapped Nancy. Since then, Abbe has been a long-time career mentor.

Nancy joined The History Channel as Director of Historical Programming in the mid-1990s, later moving to sister network A&E to spearhead that network's development of reality series, including Growing Up Gotti, Airline, Dog the Bounty Hunter, Intervention, SWAT, Criss Angel Mindfreak, Gene Simmons Family Jewels, King of Cars, The First 48 and Driving Force. Before being named to head The History Channel several months ago, Nancy was Senior Vice President, Non-Fiction Programming and New Media Content for parent company A&E Television Networks, overseeing all programming development for A&E and The History Channel.

Nancy has the unique experience, for a TV programmer, of having started as an advertising sales person for the Boston University Daily Free Press, the third largest daily newspaper in Boston. "I've never told Mel Berning" (AETN's EVP Ad Sales) she laughs. She was also rowed crew both in high school and at BU, which, she says, "kept me focused given the inevitable indulgences in college." She's committed to "raising the bar" on History Channel programming "through action and great story telling." She recently announced an aggressive slate of new programming across a wide array of genres that she believes will drive appointment viewing. For example, this year marks the 30th anniversary of Star Wars, and The History Channel will air a two-hour special produced with George Lucas. She's also excited about this summer's series premiere, Ice Road Truckers.

While military content is now less than 20 percent of the network's programming, Nancy believes the time is right to position the military genre in a more emotional way, focused less on tactics and issues and more on the emotional connections Americans have with soldiers and veterans. Next month, The History Channel will announce a major new marketing and community initiative, Take a Vet to School Day that was inspired by former A&E Television Networks' CEO Nicholas Davatzes. "Nick went to school with his grandchild to share his experiences as a vet, and was very moved by the interest and enthusiasm of the children," Nancy told me during our lunch at Michael's. Abbe Raven, loved the idea and called on our outreach executive, Libby O'Connell who thought we could replicate it as a national program. THC has enlisted R. Lee Ermey (Sgt, Hartman in Full Metal Jacket) to visit schools personally and do short-form programming for the network. "The essence of the idea is cool enough that we hope it will thrive and grow beyond a local school event to a national call to action. We are working with our cable affiliates to develop the outreach to veterans and schools. It's an opportunity for Americans to agree on the importance of respecting and honoring those who fight, and to teach the next generation what it is these soldiers are doing and what those before them did."

"We have a powerful brand message. Our vision for History is clear. We reflect the human experience. History connects the dots for our viewers and provides them a sense of belonging and comprehension of the world around them. We take our responsibility seriously in recording history. We tell powerful emotional stories that forge a deep connection with our audience. In this ever changing fast paced world – sometimes it is important to ask questions like "What kind of world do you want?"

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