Women in Business Q&A: Toni Senecal

Antonia Francesca "Toni" Senecal is the producer and host of Toni On! television travel series which is broadcast on WLNY Saturdays at 7:30pm and Midnight as well as on WCBS-TV on Sundays at 5:30am. She won an Emmy in 2012 for Outstanding Writer of a program.

She first worked at the WB Networks and WPIX-TV New York's WB11 News at Ten for four years, until December 2005, then moved to Fox Networks Fox5 Channel 5 WNYW TV News at 10 and then moved to the CW Networks and CW11 News at 10. The WB Networks became the CW Networks while Toni was gone at Fox5. [1] She covers award ceremonies such as the Emmy Awards, Academy Awards, and the Tony Awards.

She has also made and has produced a series of one-hour specials with her husband, Tracy Shea, for WPIX called Toni On!

There were several filmed documentaries including (Toni On! New York) (Toni On! Antarctica) (Toni On! Costa Rica) (Toni On! Alaska), (Toni On! Libya), (Toni On! Baja). Senecal and Shea traveled around the world to highlight interesting regions and culture, people, animals, natural wonders, etc. Her latest adventure was a half hour documentary called Toni On Costa Rica which earned her a New York Emmy as Executive Producer for Educational Programming.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
When I was growing up I was heavily involved in the Boston Children's Theater. It is what I did every day after school and weekends from ages 5 to 15 appearing in countless productions. So, naturally that is what I thought I would pursue. I graduated high school as a junior and took off for Italy for a year and when it came time for college I attended NYU. My parents really encourage me to peruse a liberal arts degree. I fell in love with business classes and earned a BS from Stern School of Business. I fell into television when my best friend who was working for Joan Rivers and put me in her show as a fashion and lifestyle reporter. I pretty much owe my career to Barry Poznick who is now, well deservedly, a Hollywood heavy hitter with numerous shows on the air. But I think always having knowledge of business is what sets me apart from the pack especially when paired with an outgoing personality. I don't just host my show. I research every single story. I write all my scripts. Hosting is the easy part but the research especially historic research is the most fun. I log every minute of footage and thankfully won 2 New York Emmys, one for Executive Producer and the other for Writer. However, the most important part of my job is landing sponsors. The station always takes me along to pitches. I can proudly say we have 2 wonderful sponsors. Chevy Tri-State has been our title sponsor since 2012 and Victoria Fine Foods came on in 2015!

How has your previous employment experiences aided your position as a TV Host?
Well, in the 90s, I worked on pretty much every single national morning show launch that failed! And I did about 16 pilots also when I was in my 20s. But all that failure builds serious work ethic because you never know when the gig will come to an end. I met the hardest working talent and producers on those shows. It's a hustle, baby! Ha! So when I transitioned to live entertianment news at WPIX in my 30s I was serious! The then GM Betty Ellen Berlamino took a big chance on me (She is now my GM at WLNY, CBS sister station). I had never worked news before, live shots, turning stories in an hour, cutting packages in the truck and all the terminology was alien to me. I asked everyone to speak to me in layman terms and no time I was up and running. When I moved to Fox after almost five years, you had to turn an average of four stories daily and that served as productivity boot camp! By comparison running and hosting the show and our production company is somewhat relaxing!

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure as the host of "Toni On New York"?
The highlight is being able to create an amazing team. My photographer and producers always have my back as I have theirs. When it's your show you get to choose your crew. My requirements? You have to excel in your craft and you have to love to have fun! My first unit photographer Glenora Blackshire is not only a great shooter but she is wet your pants funny. Going to "work" never feels like work and for that I'm truly blessed. If it looks like we are having fun on the show it's because we really are!

Tell us about the new projects that you are working on.
We added a new feature this year. The Refridger-Raiders. People post pictures of the inside of their fridge and tag the show on social media. Then Chef David DiBari - who won best chef 2014 - and I bust into their house and he makes culinary magic out of whatever they have lying around. Last week we went to this 14 year old's house who won kids "Chopped" and David cooked venison rubbed with brown sugar, salt, juniper and coriander - then dipped it in caramel - then chocolate! At another viewer's house he crusted chicken nuggets in goldfish and made a sauce out of peanut butter, maple syrup cinnamon, ginger and whiskey! He is crazy good and it is so fun to meet some fans and do something special for them!

What advice can you offer women who are seeking to start their own business?
Be prepared to all the work and make sure it is work you love. If your comfort level is being in over your head then starting your own business is for you! Many former colleagues have asked me over the years how I got my own show. The answer is I do all the work and I found someone to
pay for it. But it really comes down to work ethic paired with passion.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Oh, it's constant chaos, which is right up my alley! I have two young boys but I have managed over the past 6 years to make them breakfast and dinner every single day. I can count on one hand the days that I haven't done that. Being that I host a food related show, nutrition is a big deal in our home and I say with unabashed pride that my kids will eat anything. Now, that took a lot if work!

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I don't really know because I've never had that kind of problem in the workplace. But I do know that you have to be forthright about how you expect to be treated. At a former job I recall the news director asking an on-air feature reporter to sleep overnight in a deck chair in order to save a spot by the courthouse for an investigative reporter. No one would think to ask me to do that. By the way, both reporters are men!

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
That would be Barry Poznick who gave me my first break along with the legendary Joan Rivers because once you work with Joan no one can throw you under the bus! That said, in regards to creating my own show the credit goes to my husband, Tracy Shea who is a very accomplished journalist. When we met he was traveling the globe producing wild life documentaries. The first incarnation of Toni On! was a series of travel specials that ran at WPIX when I was working there. I'd meet up on location with him shoot some extra stuff for me and put it together for the station. We did shows on Antarctica. Alaska, Baja, Lydia, Egypt, The British Isles and Costa Rica. Those were some fun days!!!! All that experience in long format lead to snagging a production deal along with my news responsibility at Fox where I produced quarterly specials through our production company. My agent was doubtful they would go for that but it certainly doesn't hurt to ask. I'm not afraid of "no".

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Obviously Oprah. I appeared on her show numerous times as a fashion presenter. Her production team is amazing and she rewards them accordingly. Brilliant woman, genius leader. I have never seen such dedicated team, which is a pure reflection of what that woman is made of!

What do you want to personally and professionally accomplish in the next year?
On a personal level I want to travel more with my family. Professionally, find another physical challenge to train for and put on the show. Last year we created a Toni On! Team of about 30 people and ran the Spartan together. I'm trying to convince my gym freak friends to do a mini triathlon but everyone is scared of swimming in the Hudson!