Discovery Health Lives On, Combining With FitTV

Discovery Health, thought to be defunct after it was replaced by OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network on New Year's Day, will live on as part of a joint network collaboration with Discovery's 50 million-subscriber, exercise-themed network FitTV.

The new service, dubbed Discovery Fit & Health, will launch Feb. 1 in FitTV's former channel berth and feature most of the old Discovery Health's most-popular shows, including Dr. G: Medical Examiner and I'm Pregnant and ..., as well as FitTV's exercise and fitness-themed shows, which will air mostly during an early-morning programming block on weekdays, Laura Michalchyshyn, president and general manager of the new network, told Multichannel News.

"It will feature the best of programming from Discovery Health and some of the exercise and popular characters in the fitness genre from FitTV," she said. "We're creating a brand-new channel that's really going to be based on dramatic, real-life storytelling and redemption."

Michalchyshyn said the decision to combine the two brands was made recently after the company realized that the Discovery Health brand and its programming was still popular with viewers, even as the network was winding down to make room for OWN.The network averaged 252,000 primetime viewers in 2010, up slightly from the 250,000 it averaged the year prior.

"We're really proud of OWN, but we realized that Discovery Health's programming was still resonating with the network's loyal audience even at the end of the year," Michalchyshyn said. "We realized there was an opportunity."

Most of the network's daytime and primetime lineup will feature existing Discovery Health shows such as 911: The Bronx, and Untold Stories of the ER. New original programming will be added to the network later in the month, she said.

Traditional FitTV programming, including Bodies In Motion, Gilad, Namaste Yoga and Shimmy, will air as part of a daily early-morning block from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. "It's early morning exercise to help you get out of bed and get on with your day."

Michalchyshyn said Discovery had not spent "a lot of time" on FitTV, which is not Nielsen-rated, but said the programming still resonates with viewers. "This is kind of appointment programming for people who want to exercise, but don't want to go to the gym or exit the building," she said. "It was a successful brand in this one category, but we're going to blow it out into a larger, more-robust channel."

Discovery Fit & Health will also acquire programming from both domestic and international outlets. The network's schedule will also feature popular Discovery Health franchises like "Baby Week," "Psych Week," "Adventures in Parenting" and "New Year, New You."

Michalchyshyn will oversee Discovery Fit and Health, as well as Planet Green. She'll report to Henry Schleiff , who last week was placed in charge of the Emerging Networks group - which also includes Investigation Discovery and Military Networks - as part of a Discovery Communications management restructuring effort.

Discovery also announced several big staff changes last week, naming former TLC president and general manager Eileen O'Neill as group president for Discovery and TLC. Clark Bunting will remain president and general manager for Discovery Channel, while TLC chief operating officer Edward Sabin will serve as acting general manger for TLC until a permanent GM is named. Both will report to O'Neill.

In other Discovery reorganizational news, Animal Planet chief Marjorie Kaplan now serves as president for Animal Planet and Science Channel, with Science Channel general manager Debbie Myers reporting to her, the network said.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.