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The Danny DeVito of Cable Networks

Discovery Communications and Oprah Winfrey launched OWN on January 1 to the kind of great fanfare and high expectations that $189 million can buy.

We learned in an announcement on an otherwise quiet Martin Luther King Day, Discovery will give birth to another channel just 31 days later on February 1.  It will be smaller, have less muscle, and little sex appeal. If you remember the movie Twins, it will be the Danny DeVito of cable networks.

Discovery Fit & Health is being cobbled together from programming that OWN didn’t want when it took over Discovery Health’s channel position and the distribution of FitTV, a network for which Discovery didn’t think it was worth buying Nielsen ratings. In fact, Discovery Health programming has already been taking over large portions of the FitTV schedule, before the public announcement and name change.

Laura Michalchyshyn, who was in charge of putting down Discovery Health quietly so OWN could get off to a smooth start, says the company recently realized there was an opportunity to take advantage of its large library while at the same time building on Discovery’s strategy of  making better use of its distribution assets, in this case, FitTV’s 50 million subscribers.

“We realized over the last little while that there was an opportunity to take those programming assets and . . . bring those together along with early morning fitness and workout programming and create this brand on the Fit platform,” Michalchyshyn told B&C.

Don’t expect to see much promotion for Discovery Fit & Health on OWN. “We’re focusing OWN on OWN. We all continue to collaborate and support OWN in its launch. It is a priority and remains a priority within the company,” Michalchyshyn says.

She maintained that even viewers looking for the programming that had been on Discovery Health were becoming OWN fans.

“On our social media platforms was that people were saying we love OWN and we’re going to watch Oprah Winfrey’s Network [but] where is the health programming,” she said. “We’re going to transition loyal health audiences over to this new platform and grow them.”

But a quick check of Discovery Health’s message boards and Facebook page showed there were also some of those loyal viewers were fairly angry.

 ”I will not be watching OWN, which I find ridiculous 24/7 Oprah and her quacks. No thank you,” said one. “Replacing Discovery Health with the Oprah Winfrey Channel has to be the worst decision since [President Bush] decided to invade Iraq. Discovery Health was one of the best cable channels on TV and now it’s going to be crap,” said another.

Since Discovery Health started taking over FitTV, rage has been building in some viewers of that network.

“Whoever is in charge of FitTV needs to be relieved of their duties,” says one. “The point of fit tv was to be able to work out and boost fitness anytime of the day. Now all my favorite shows are gone. I’m so angry. I guess since Oprah bought discovery health we have to pay. . .Horrible decision and wrong to your many viewers. Well they just lost one. Cuz I guess I’m done. Exercise TV on Demand is it for me now,” said another.

The new network will air the workout programming that appeared on FitTV only from 6 a.m. till 9 a.m.

Michalchyshyn says the new network will be bringing back some favorite shows from Discovery Health, as well as some other shows from the library that haven’t aired in a while.

It will also be looking to add new shows, but its resources may be limited.  “We’ve just started to develop some new programming and new characters and bringing some new talent to the air, but it’s very early days, and the company’s priority still is very much OWN,” Michalchyshyn said.

She says the network expects soon to announce either new seasons for some shows or some new programming that will start rolling out end of Q1 through the end of the year into next year. At first most of those shows will be co-productions or acquisition for other English-speaking parts of the world.

The programming will be real-life drama that follows women’s lives from having children to parenting, with all the relationships in between. There were also be medical mystery shows.

Michalchyshyn thinks the niche is a unique in the current cable universe. “What I think we’re going to do is approach some of them with a little more intrigue and must-see storytelling,” she added.

FitTV began getting ratings this month. Michalchyshyn declined to say how many people were watching, but she confessed it had fewer viewers than DiscoveryHealth, which averaged 252,000 viewers in primetime, up 2% in 2010 despite the pernding O-pocalypse. “There’s nowhere to go but up.”

TV executives are naturally competitive and we asked Michalchyshyn if all goes right, can this channel be as successful as Oprah’s channel? At first Michalchyshyn declined to answer. Then, she said diplomatically, “We want success for all 13 channels in our portfolio. How’s that?”

Pretty good. And if you remember, Danny DeVito turned out pretty well in Twins too.