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NBC Universal's Lauren Zalaznick
Lauren Zalaznick

If you’ve ever wondered who makes America’s popular culture pop and sizzle and shake on cable TV, think Lauren Zalaznick.

She’s a hot-as-a-pistol rising media mogul. President of NBC Universal Women and Lifestyle Entertainment Networks. The boss at cable networks Bravo and Oxygen. The power behind “Top Chef,” “Real Housewives of New Jersey,” “Tori & Dean,” and the charmingly-named reality weight-loss show, “Dance Your Ass Off.”

Who comes up with this stuff? She does.

This hour, On Point: A conversation with pop culture mogul, Lauren Zalaznick.

You can join the conversation. Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

Guest:

Lauren Zalaznick is President of NBC Universal Women and Lifestyle Entertainment Networks, overseeing the cable networks Bravo, Oxygen and the women’s web site iVillage. She also heads up Women@NBCU, a sales and marketing initiative to target women viewers.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Chrissie

    Hi, Tom! Could you ASK YOUR GUEST THE FOLLOWING? Thanks!

    A friend and I are about 60. We’ve had huge numbers of losses and heartbreaks, and yet we’ve hung in there: we’ve been the “sandwich generation”; we’ve worked multiple jobs simultaneously, leaving no time to gain specialty education. We’ve learned our children had learning disabilities; that a child had been sexually molested; that we had cancer; that a sibling was going to die; that we’d been swindled without recourse. And yet, we’ve hung in there, still enjoying an hour on a bike, an afternoon at the beach, a fabulous lecture at the local library.

    HOW MANY FRIENDS AM I TALKING ABOUT?? Just ONE friend and me; and each of us has even MORE tales to tell, but they are NOT being told on television, or IF they are, it is only ONE challenge per heroine rather than this multitude of stresses that we deal with; one onslaught after another; one triumphant attempt to find happiness after another. But worse yet, we are LOSING FRIENDS and, try as we might, new ones are hard to make. LONELINESS is the straw that is going to break these “camels” backs!

    And yet, if we could just see our stories in dramatic form, there WOULD be catharsis because we would feel like our lives, our selves, had been RECOGNIZED! We are going thru all of this, and yet we feel INVISIBLE, and being invisible makes it hard for us to pass on our learning & guidance. Please present dramas with women who represent the Everywoman; who are not gorgeous and young-looking and ONLY 42. PLEASE give starring roles to the lives of women SIXTY AND OLDER. And, please don’t use actresses who have had plastic surgery and botox, etc. Please, let us be as REAL as older MALE characters get to be! Somehow, because of our visual society, it is hard to be taken into account POLITICALLY, if your story is not FIRST seen on television! So this IS important! Thank you!

  • Barbara

    Thanks Chrissie, for your well-expressed commentary and suggestion. You are not alone. There are MANY of us – I think of us as the “courageous” generation.

  • elizabeth shipley

    The housewives of …. is one of the worse series I have ever seen! Such a waste of time going into the lives of these completely fake women if this is a real series. How about a series on women in different walks of life trying to make do on little or nothing?
    I can take all of one minute of this garbage and then tune into something like watching an interview with Amy Goodman on Link TV.
    Soon the airwaves will be filled with tripe like this along with the super salespeople marketing their wares. Too bad when there is such important ideas that could be generated at this critical time in our history.
    elizabeth shipley

  • Joe B.

    If you must watch TV, at least watch something interesting and educational like Frontline or Nova. Programs that will make you better informed about the complex world we live in because those programs explore issues that the mainstream media doesn’t consider to be sufficiently “sexy” or “commercial” . Don’t waste your time watching the mindless, brain-rotting, sleazy, programming that Lauren Zalaznick offers up on her mickey mousey networks.

  • Margie

    I watch both Nova, Frontline, and the housewives of New York. All are great shows. I’m one of those people who will admit – I love to watch shows that take me out of my life – just like books. Frontline can be a downer. Now and Bill Moyers get me so upset about our world. The Housewives and matchmaker give me time to relax and have a good laugh.

    I’m a sandwich woman – children, sick parents, school, and work. My husband loses himself into sports, and I lose myself into “mindless, brain-rotting, sleazy, programming”

  • Expanded Consciousness

    Engaged 19 times???

    What?

    Every time she went on a date, a guy gave her a ring and she said yes … then later no.

    19 times: guess what my friends, I’m engaged!

    I can’t relate.

  • Danielle

    Could you please ask your guest this question: I can imagine critics saying that the kind of shows this guest produces contribute to the dumbing down of America and that media makes these kind of reality programs because they are cheap to produce rather than high in quality. How would she defend her work given these kind of critiques?

  • Leslie

    I have to agree with the caller that the women on RHW are “terrible, terrible people”. They are extremely self centered and cady. It’s not a judgement about these women, I just don’t understand why there are so many of these women on TV. I do watch because it is mindless entertainment that takes you out of your life but I wonder why there isn’t a better mix of respectable women alond with the typical “reality trash”.

  • Unity Mitford

    Mummy says they are low brow and common:-)

  • pam mcgrath

    Housewives of New Jersey has hit a new low. Covering Rich female thugs act out on camera! Yuk! yes, I have turned the channel.

  • Mark S.

    IMHO, so-called “reality shows” suggest the Schrodinger’s cat quantum theorem that the very act of observation alters the outcome of the experiment. These silly programs only work if you accept the assumption that a percentage of the everyday population reacts with any degree of normality while followed around all day by a producer, a camera operator, sound engineer, lighting technician, gaffers, best boys, caterers, etc. I know that, in my case, being followed by a video crew would certainly affect my behavior in ways I cannot even anticipate, therefore it is not “reality.” I am also guessing I lack the necessary voyeur gene, because the lives of these people occupy the same level of interest I have in watching paint dry.

    I am continuously amused by how far television has traveled down the road suggested in the 1976 film “Network.”

    By the way, I’m guessing that I must have learned about Schrodinger’s cat on an episode of Nova, not The Osbornes or Wife Swap.

  • Keith

    People think that Limbaugh is, in the privacy of his home, a reader of Plato and Wittgenstein and Heidegger. The truth, of course, is that Rush is the bigot he appears to be, and a dolt. And the assumption that spawned this particular installment of On Point is that Ms. Zalaznick is a marketing genius, a media guru who has her finger on the pulse of the great unwashed, who perhaps has some deep philosophy about the merits of voyeurism and tacky entertainment. Well, I think it’s clear from the interview thus far that she is just a purveyor of dreck who knows nothing more than what sells.

    Calling this stuff “pop culture” doesn’t redeem it. It’s still dreck. Worse, it’s another brain-numbing opiate for a society that needs less diversion, not more.

  • robert

    She speaks the professional language of marketers couched in the power of a senior media executive and dishes out the shlock on par with the worst of Jerry Springer. I am entirely unimpressed at how she has decided to squander her many talents and education.

  • Barbara

    Tom,
    I think it needs to be said that Ms. Zalaznick has things backwards. She is not giving us what we as viewers want, she is hard selling us on what she thinks we SHOULD want.
    I’m sure I am not alone!

  • Henry Ferrini

    Dear Tom

    I think the philosophy of shows like your guest creates can be summed up with this old chestnut. “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” -
    — Henry Mencken

  • Amy

    I am one of those highly educated women who used to watch Bravo. I really enjoyed watching the “creativity under pressure” in shows like Project Runway and Top Chef. But Ms. Zalaznic has turned Bravo into the Soap Opera channel, and my friends and I all find it boring and no longer watch it. When you do your demographics a year from now, Ms. Zalaznic, you will find you have lost your Affluent Influencers, and have become instead the channel for the Least Common Denominator.

  • Stephen Hatcher

    Tom,

    I typcally enjoy your show. I guess I understand why you have to have a guest like this on from time to time, but it just seems so wrong to have her on any NPR program. All she does (and she does so successfully) is to come up with absolutely mindless trash programming. She is successful because there is obviously a market there, but I just don’t see how she could ever feel good about what she does. I would like to see you ask her that question. In my opinion, shows like the ones she generates are representative of everything wrong with this country. This just continues the dumbing down of America, and here you are giving her a forum on NPR. It just seems so wrong to me. Anyways that is just my opinion. I really do like your show Tom (except for today).

  • Jennie

    Tom,
    I think reality shows are pure junk and only appeared because of the cost and the writer’s strike. Once there are more well written shows, then maybe this voyeurism show will disappear. I can only hope so.

  • Matthew

    I think that these kind of shows are like watching a cultural and aesthetic train wreck. A kind of cultural pornography. Are we draw to these shows because the characters are sanitized of most human virtue, like humility, compassion, empathy etc. It’s like watching our culture shed its skin while we all stand by waiting to see what happens after the metamorphosis.

  • Jeannie

    Does your guest ever see herself promoting a show for woman that would challenge woman to think outside the masses rather than to just follow the trends? are there any shows that you have worked towards, but been rejected by the network?

  • http://onpoint Teddy Schultz

    This woman seems very intelligent, and she is interesting, but I find these shows totally uninteresting and unitelligent. I’ve watched a few of them a few times, they absolutely turned me off!! I am certainly not in her demographic, so she will not miss my viewership. However, I used to watch BRAVO a lot, for the movies, they are gone! I also reject the “sports for women” idea, I watch a lot more sports now than I ever did before, and I am 55 years old, female, and a stay-at-home mother, with a graduate degree.

  • Christopher Davis

    There is only one reason Laura Zalaznick is so proud of her programs—Money! I am completely nauseated by this woman’s idea of what is great drama and comedy. She chooses not to create programs about the best of people in America and only the worst. Honestly, I will be grateful for the day when this woman is fired because Americans no longer have the stomach for vapid women (Real Housewives) and poor quality of reality tv, so these executives don’t have to pay real actors. I’m a huge fan of Tom Ashbrook’s On Poin, but I’m choosing to turn off the radio, just as I do with the ridiculous programs that Laura Zalaznick produces.

  • Glenn

    As a glib apologist for her foul TV shows, your guest is amazing. I think that the shows she produces are a sort of pornography, where you leer at the low IQs and damaged self esteem of people who should feel ashamed to put themselves on display. What do you do after “Dance Your Ass Off?” “Celebrity Bowel Movements?”

  • Rachel

    Tom and producers; You show real courage when you present topics such as this given the apparent petty jealousy and intellectual snobbery exhibited by many of the commenters. Thanks for rubbing PBS listener-patrons’ noses in it.

  • nora paley

    This woman is a businesswoman not an artist. She talks business talk.
    Everything you do is political. It is not neutral.

  • Elaine

    These shows have contributed to the notion that TV has become a Wasteland. What it has inspired in me is to turn off the TV and engage in activities that can provide the kind of entertainment that you purport your shows provide. Women with good brains should be using them to improve the culture rather than appealing to the basest instincts.

  • Jeremy Baker

    I like to watch paint dry, but I paint. Experimenting with the medium at various degrees of viscosity, during the drying period, can create effects, some of which are desirable and others do not work.

    Lauren, I think you have a difficuult job. I imagine that your job is to create an audience for your network, creating shows that appeal to a majority of viewers by juggling statistical data featuring social trends.

    Once the revenue is stable, perhaps the network will feel at liberty to experiment with quality of content, like a poetry contest, a painting contest, reading a book and taking a test, debating ethics of free speech or other topics of current world events…

    A friend of mine, from college, finally renewed his relationships with his family after nearly 18 years apart. His village in Sudan was run over by a militia looking to kill his family. Mom sent the kids in the four directions of the compass, as Atem described, to ensure that someone would survive… Dad disappeared… Atem survived in the wilderness during the war, burying himself in the mud to escape death by marauding soldiers… (may have been Atem’s friend, as a number of war survivors, all with horrible stories, have passed through my college). Amazingly, nearly everyone in the family survived and had a great reunion party a few years ago.
    He has since worked to help build a nonprofit here in VT to raise money to build schools, health clinics, and water wells back in his village… I call Vermont, New Africa…

    http://www.nesei.org/

    “Soon Americans invented the traveling circus, taking the show on the road in order to reach an audience spreading thinly over the continent. Americans introduced the circus parade, inventing elaborately decorated wagons and the steam calliope to make it spectacular… They adapted the circus to Puritan tradition by including a menageries, buying exotic animals from obliging sea captains, and making a point of their educational value rather than their entertainment value.” — Insert from CD Circus Spectacular The Band Music of K.L. King Matthew H. Phillips and his Circus Band c/o Vox Classics 1997.

  • Rosemary

    I love 90% of the topics you cover because they always make me think. Something that is completely lacking in trash TV supported by Ms. Zalaznick, as well as most TV executives. If one needs to escape their life, maybe they ought to make some changes. To all the ‘sandwich women’…. we are the invisible demographic. Although we have financial and political power, we are not young. Advertisers need to hook young people on their products to make them lifetime brand loyalists. Thats what commercial TV, and a great deal of our culture is all about.

  • LinP

    The juxtaposition of Toni Morrison first, and this guest leave me dumb founded. From the sublime to the ridiculous. By comparison, to say that Lauren is found lacking is the understatement of the day.

    You need a bit of the appreciation of paradox to watch the RHs. A small dose of those shows can teach you, or reinforce in you, how you DON’T want to be in life. It can link you to profound understanding of how material possesions do not lead to fulfillment, or how acquiring that much “stuff,” or driving those Escalades are so bad for the planet. It reinforces how children need to be taught the power of work, rather than being indulged and coddled leaving them untethered to any sense of self-awareness or deeper values. I could go on and on.

    I’m quite sure my reaction to the RHs is NOT what Lauren has in mind, but it’s made me realize ever more strongly how much of a reorientation of values and priorities we need in this society. By default, the RHs have gotten me connected more deeply how I want to live, and how I want to be in this world.

  • Mark S.

    I enjoyed your post, Jeremy. Perhaps I should give drying paint the benefit of the doubt, something I will not, however, give to the dreck and cultural seepage this guest purveys.

    Small wonder that the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy included marketing executives among the professions most irrelevant to the continued survival of civilization, along with “telephone sanitizers.”

    Now, I must be off to catch the end of “The Howard Beale Show” before “Vox Populi” and “The Mao Tse Tung Hour” come on. Are we “mad as hell” yet?

  • http://yahoo John

    My wife and I attempted to watch the drivel…Housewives of New Jersey… for about 12-15 minutes. I suppose if we had dreamed up such shallow dreck and were rewarded with buckets of money, we could call ourselves leaders on the cutting edge. It was more of the media-babel that proves that Ms. Zalaznick is what she portrays…

  • Liam

    I think the posters here could use a lesson or two from the Real Housewives of NYC’s Alex. Are you so insecure that you need to loudly declare “I would never watch that…let me slip in what I do watch.” What listeners want is interesting, not self-centered. A true open mind would try to understand the tastes of others and NPR gave us that opportunity.

  • Kelli

    I feel like I’m sitting in a Bravo board room and being sold shows for the new season. Zalaznick definitely buys her own sales pitch (sounds like she’s said the same thing 1000 times). I love you to death Tom but we didn’t learn anything new today.

  • Bob

    These reality shows about outrageous people are not in anyway television art, or some form of legitimate “drama” – they are simply voyeurism – - Springer, Cops, etc., etc. They are cheaper to produce and watching people humiliate and embarrass themselves on broadcast TV gets ratings. You can make them slick and sophisticated but please do not pretend that they are some sort of interesting cultural phenomenon. They appeal to our lesser selves and if that is what you want to make a living doing so be it.

  • Maureen

    Funny Ms. Zalaznick says this is “programming for women” and later uses the analogy of it being like looking at a train wreck. Is this the best she thinks we deserve?

    Mostly, I think it irresponsible to suggest we live in this world of breast implants and botox and television can’t just ignore it, when visual images greatly inform the culture in which we exist.

    And I would like to say thank you to the gentlemen who called in and asked if she can call herself a feminist.

  • John

    Mark S.,

    Douglas Adams also wrote the following about our ancestors, the Golgafrinchans: “The human race is currently sitting around a rock on the other side of this hill making documentaries about themselves.”

  • David

    I’d like Laruen to address how “real” the Housewives of NY are — I believe that some of the “purchases” that appear to be done by the actors are in fact paid for by the producers or provided by designers or vendors in exchange for exposure on the show. So when Simon appears to be dropping “five figures” in a designer shop or renovating his kitchen with GE appliances…I think the show is fake.

  • Nora Lustig

    Mr. Ashbrook,

    You kept referring to Ms. Zalaznick as a “powerhouse”. That word conveys an image of someone whose hard work and skill creates and contributes something worthwhile to society. “Housewives” does not contribute anything positive. It is worse than mind candy. If you aren’t convinced, think about your 21 year-old caller who referred to the women on that show as “great role models”. She’s been manipulated by this awful media. How could you interview this guest and not confront her with that “reality”?

  • spikethedog

    All this indignation about Ms. Zeleznick producing socially useless dreck.
    Tsk, tsk.
    She’s only doing what TV execs have done for years: finding ways to put eyeballs in front of commercials.

    Frankly, I don’t find it any less demeaning than the grovelling done by NPR when it comes to pledge time.

  • Cher

    We cancelled our cable TV service over a year ago, it has been one of the most freeing feelings I’ve ever know.

  • ssa.bkwd

    The interview was fine until she started defending the programming choices as having quality and intelligence. It looks like someone’s started drinking their own cool-aide.

    So you’re good at creating programming that targets our baser instincts. I don’t call this genius, just opportunism. It’s not really genius unless you’re discovering and exploiting something new.

  • Samanta Stavar

    The reality shows mentioned on the air focus on one end of the spectrum of society. There are other groups that balance out the ‘reality’ that never get their moment on air such as Peace Corps, Habitat for humanity, Heifer fundation, Amnesty International, Not on our watch, etc. Lauren’s job is to put whatever costs the least to produce and will bring the most money for the network. Unfortunately it seems that the bar always evens down and the audience is not offered well-produced shows that may enrich our lives, hence the ‘silly box’ slogan.

  • Dana franchitto

    THis show serves as a prime specimen of nPR’s selling out to commercial, corporate interests at the expense of the public interest. Mr. Ashbrook has more integrity than say, Scott Simon, liaane Hansen or Neal Conan but with this show, he has stooped to their level.

  • Robert

    Why the long face Laura?

  • Lester

    The women in these shows are not role models. The shows drip with greed and excess and are without a doubt feeding off of the decline of human society and morals.

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