Discovery Bets on Wholesome Fare
By Allison Romano -- Broadcasting & Cable, 3/28/2004 7:00:00 PM
Could the times be better for Discovery to trumpet its family-friendly fare? With politicians and policy makers incensed over racy media, Discovery is boasting that "quality matters" on TV. No flashers or four-letter words on its 14 networks.
"There remains a strong market for high-quality television presented in an entertaining and cutting-edge way," says John Hendricks, Discovery chairman, CEO, and founder, who is giving up his CEO title in June to President Judith McHale. "That is what Discovery does best."
The network heads into the upfront market on solid footing, aided by the political climate and its corporate vision. Discovery Networks U.S. President Billy Campbell's mission to make the networks more entertaining is making strides on screen.
Consider Discovery Channel's biggest hit, American Chopper, a reality show about a family-run motorcycle shop. "I don't watch a cheetah just running on the savanna anymore. I've seen it a thousand times," says Campbell. "We're trying to find new personalities and do new things."
That's the marching order at all his networks. Flanking Campbell's efforts is ad sales chief Joe Abruzzese, formerly CBS's top pitchman, now working his second Discovery upfront. His team is trying to ratchet up its product-integration deals.
For the coming season, the key analog Discovery channels—flagship Discovery, TLC, Animal Planet, and Travel Channel—are adding shows that play to Campbell's edict. On Discovery, the latest reality addition is No Opportunity Wasted, hosted by Amazing Race star Phil Keoghan, where dreamers get three days and $3,000 to live out a fantasy (which includes a 50-year-old man who wants to play goalie for a pro hockey team). MasterCard, Circuit City, and Chrysler have signed up for product integration.
But Discovery isn't giving up on big events. Produced under its Quest series, upcoming specials will include Alien Planet, exploring life on other planets, and a live deep-sea dive to the Titanic.
TLC is sprucing up its lineup with stunts. That has helped keep Trading Spaces hot. Remember the $100,000 episode? A formidable 8.2 million viewers tuned in. The latest Trading Spaces specials will redo a Scottish castle and homes of Broadway stars.
Makeover show What Not To Wear will send one fashion disaster on a $50,000 shopping spree and redo fashion-challenged couples. And TLC will marry What Not To Wear with couples' home-makeover show While You Were Out for two-hour special Double Crossed. Half the couple gets a style makeover, while the other gets a surprise redecorating job.
Two new shows will join the TLC mix later this year. Plastic Surgery goes deep inside a cosmetic-surgery practice, and The Designers tags along with two in-demand home decorators.
Even animals are getting makeovers in the Discovery family. Animal Planet's upcoming Animal House will redo pet owners' homes into an ultimate pet palace. On reality show Who Gets the Dog?, three families will vie to adopt the same pooch.
On the Travel Channel, poker still rules. The World Poker Tour is heading into its third season with a dose of special episodes, including another round of celeb-filled Hollywood Home Game. Two new series, however, are more in the travel genre: Road Trip takes viewers along for the ride, and Travel Gear tests out the latest gadgets and toys.
After all, given World Poker Tour's success, Campbell knows a hit can come from anywhere. "Who would think World Poker Tour would sweep the globe?" he marvels. "We've got to keep trying to open doors so we find great people, we market it the right way, and keep pushing the envelope."
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