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Empty Spaces: TLC's Chief Quits as Discovery Cuts Staff

By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, January 28, 2005; Page C07

Paige Davis, dumped as host of TLC's signature series "Trading Spaces" this week, can take comfort in knowing that the network's general manager is going down with her.

Roger Marmet resigned yesterday as head of the ratings-challenged Discovery Communications channel, just three days after announcing that Davis, the network's reigning princess of can-do perkiness, had been asked to turn in her tiara. The show will become "host-less" in order to become "more spontaneous," TLC said earlier this week. Good luck on that.

Ratings that soared after Roger Marmet became general manager two years ago have tanked. (Richard Greenhouse -- Discovery Communications)

The same day Marmet resigned, Discovery Networks President Billy Campbell told staffers that about two dozen people were being laid off companywide, and that another dozen-ish vacant posts would not be filled. In total, about 40 jobs are being cut across the various Discovery networks, a Discovery rep confirmed. Among those leaving are Jim Hunn, vice president of marketing at Animal Planet, and Bill Allman, senior vice president and general manager of Discovery Interactive Media.

Marmet took over as general manager of TLC two years ago, though he'd spent the previous year as acting general manager, after several years in charge of marketing for the network.

During his tenure at the head of the network, TLC rose to the cable ratings' top 10, eclipsing the company's flagship Discovery Channel. Much of the credit is due to "Trading Spaces," a knockoff of BBC's popular "Changing Rooms" series. On some nights, "Trading Spaces" not only was cable's highest rated show, but it also beat major broadcast networks in key demographic groups -- sometimes even among viewers of all ages.

In its glory days, "Trading Spaces" averaged about 4 million viewers. But the show was a victim of its own success, as TLC cloned it and other networks jumped on the makeover bandwagon. In one season "Trading Spaces" fumbled about 40 percent of its peak audience. Since returning in October for its fifth season, "Trading Spaces" has been averaging about 1.5 million viewers.

After initial audience interest, many of the me-too series took similar dives. Down by double digits went TLC's "What Not to Wear" and "While You Were Out," and Bravo's "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"; the list goes on and on. Interestingly, ABC's Sunday "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," a sort of "Trading Spaces" meets "Queen for a Day" that stars hunky carpenter Ty Pennington of "Trading Spaces," jumped about 40 percent in the ratings this season and is averaging a weekly audience of 16 million.

Presumably the Pennington model is what TLC had in mind when it decided to dump Davis and focus more on people who do something functional on their makeover series. Davis's last new episode will run in March, though she'll be seen in reruns for who knows how long. Marmet, on the other hand, is gone, effective yesterday.

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