hillmonroeGary E. Knell, President and CEO of the National Geographic Society, and Peter Rice, Chairman and CEO of Fox Networks Group, today completed the sweeping changes at the top of the National Geographic Channels that started yesterday with the announcement that the channels’ president Howard Owens will be leaving in June. “Today, the worst kept secret is over — I am taking my leave as CEO of National Geographic Channels,” David Lyle, who had served as National Geographic Channels CEO since 2011, wrote in an internal memo (read it in full below the post.). “I am exhilarated but somewhat saddened also.” Lyle will be replaced by a marketing executive, Courteney Monroe, who has served as Chief Marketing Officer for National Geographic Channels’ domestic networks since 2012 and is now beingnatgeo upped to CEO. She will report to the Board of Directors of the National Geographic Channels. Additionally, David Hill, Senior EVP of 21st Century Fox and a member of the National Geographic Channels Board of Directors, will now add the title of Chairman of National Geographic Channels U.S. His role is described as “providing counsel to the executive and programming leadership team.” Coming from marketing, Monroe has no production experience. Hill, who had an oversight of NGC prior to Lyle’s 2011 hire, will remain a member of the NGC Board and also continue to oversee production of American Idol.

The moves continue to expand the domain of Hill, who is one of Rupert Murdoch’s trusted lieutenants. In 2012, the long-time chairman and CEO of Fox Sports was elevated to senior EVP for News Corp. Then last summer, following the departure of Fox alternative chief Mike Darnell, he was put in charge of the network’s The X Factor and American Idol. Since then, X Factor has been cancelled while American Idol is finishing up its lowest-rated season. Meanwhile, the National Geographic Channels have done very well under Lyle and Owens. “I’m exhilarated that NGC and NG WILD are in rude health with EBITDAs (profits) at all-time highs, and with programming featuring the most watched specials, series and year in the channels’ history,” Lyle wrote in his memo. That makes the executive housecleaning puzzling. It follows speculation about a discord between Hill and NGC’s leadership team of Lyle and Owens who turned the network around in the past three years. When Hill gave up direct oversight of NGC in 2011, the move was explained with a clash of cultures between him and the team at National Geographic.

As CEO, Monroe will be responsible for all operations of the domestic National Geographic Channels, which are owned by a partnership between Fox Networks Group and the National Geographic Society. The U.S. channels include National Geographic Channel, Nat Geo WILD and Nat Geo MUNDO. “Courteney is a truly remarkable executive, with a proven track record of energizing programming brands — both here at National Geographic Channels and during her time at HBO,” Rice and Knell said in a joint statement. “She is also a proven leader, who has a clear vision of the television landscape, and we are very lucky to have her overseeing our domestic channels.”

During Lyle’s three years as CEO, the network launched such franchise series as the Emmy-nominated Brain Games as well as Wicked Tuna, Inside Combat Rescue, and Life Below Zero. Additionally, he oversaw NGC’s first foray into scripted programming with SEAL Team Six, the highly rated Killing Lincoln and Killing Kennedy; as well as Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, which NGC co-produces with Fox. “David Lyle led National Geographic Channels U.S. through a period of tremendous commercial and creative growth, including the highest-rated period in the channel’s history,” said Rice and Knell. “We will be forever grateful to David for his efforts and we join the entire National Geographic family in wishing him the best in his future endeavors.” Lyle has a long association with Fox. He created the Fox Reality Channel and FOX Look and, as president of Entertainment for FremantleMedia, he was a key leader of the team that launched Fox’s American Idol. “On behalf of my colleagues at Fox, I would like to personally thank David for all his contributions to our company over the years,” Rice said.

Here is Lyle’s farewell to staff:

Dear Colleagues:

Today, the worst kept secret is over – I am taking my leave as CEO of National Geographic Channels. I am exhilarated but somewhat saddened also.

I’m exhilarated that NGC and NG WILD are in rude health with EBITDAs (profits) at all-time highs, and with programming featuring the most watched specials, series and year in the channels’ history. And I’m extra pleased that these successes have transferred to National Geographic Channels internationally.

But business and programming successes aside, I am thrilled that as a team we took the risks and introduced new genres of shows like drama, and even had a go at comedy. Over the last three years we have changed the face of the Channel by introducing contemporary entertainment to the proud 125 year tradition of authenticity.

On a personal level, I am also delighted to be returning to sunny LA. I will farewell the snowdome of Washington and the bubble inside the bubble. (There will be a giveaway of my hats, scarves, boots and gloves).

But I am saddened to say farewell to a great group of colleagues – people who toiled passionately to bring great shows to air. On the Christmas cards I thanked everybody personally…. and meant it. But I can’t do that here. But as they say on Idol… for those who remember Idol… it has been a journey, and of course the journey continues.

So good luck to us all, and to all a goodnight.

David Lyle