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With her relaxed, collegial style, Laybourne, 49, did more than just develop good children's programs. She showed the cable industry during its formative years that a channel with a strong mission and a well-targeted audience could be a financial success. Nickelodeon, now seen in 66 million homes, is the highest-rated basic-cable network, and it has spun off lines of imaginative toys as well as another cable channel, TV Land (ne Nick at Nite), aimed at baby-boomer parents. Nickelodeon has also provided a role model for reformers seeking to upgrade network fare for children. Says Kathryn Montgomery, president of the Washington-based Center for Media Education: "Nickelodeon shows that you can create more quality programming for kids in the commercial market."
Laybourne moved on to a bigger commercial market last February, when she was hired by the new Disney/abc media combine to oversee cable operations. One big project, a 24-hour news channel, has just been shelved, but Laybourne will have ample opportunity to test another of her pet ideas: that doing good and making money are not incompatible concepts. "I'm an idealist," she says, "and I don't make any apologies for that."