As a pioneering female media executive, Oxygen Channel founder Gerry Laybourne has served as a voice for audiences others habitually neglected.
"A lot of these programming ideas that I’ve developed have come from simple outrage," Laybourne said. "I hate anybody that puts my audience in a box and assumes they are going to like one particular show or behave one specific way."
Laybourne, whose irreverent attitude helped her establish an influential career as a media power broker despite the skewed gender politics of TV, visited San Francisco recently to discuss one of her projects, Mentor’s Walk. Laybourne hopes to bring the networking event for women to San Francisco but has not set a date.
"There were no women in the industry when I first started working in the late ’70s," Laybourne said. "It was pretty homogenous throughout."
After graduating with a master’s degree in elementary education from Penn State University, Laybourne created the Media Center for Children in 1974, an interactive study of the potential learning benefits media could bring to young adults.
Through this experience Laybourne was led to Nickelodeon. After beginning as a program manager, Laybourne worked her way up the corporate ladder, eventually becoming president of Nickelodeon, while making the network one of TV’s most watched cable stations.
"I was able to make Nickelodeon work for two main reasons," said Laybourne, who helped create sensations "Ren and Stimpy," and "Rugrats." "I actively sought out the advice of children, and I constantly had new ideas for programs."
After bringing Nickelodeon to the height of its powers in the early ’90s, Laybourne moved on to become president of Disney/ABC in 1996 before launching the Oxygen Channel in 2000 — TV’s first network to be owned and operated by women.
With the same earnest attitude she instilled in Nickelodeon, Laybourne created a network aimed at, but not simply relegated to, women.
"We’ve proved that women aren’t easily categorized," Laybourne said. "We don’t all want to see blondes in size two dresses, or break down and cry at romance stories. We’re obviously much more than that."