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Discovery Nets Unveil Scores of Shows

New York-At their upfront press briefing last week, Discovery Networks U.S. executives concentrated on a few high-profile primetime programs due in the coming season. However, they were just the tip of the iceberg in terms of actual new or returning series and specials slated for 2000-2001.

All told, Discovery Channel and Travel Channel have each scheduled about 30 series or specials in the months to come, with The Learning Channel closer to 25 and Animal Planet a dozen.

Among Discovery Channel' s forthcoming big events, according to executive vice president and general manager Mike Quattrone, will be Inside the Space Station, due Dec. 10 as its next "Watch with the World" global special; and The Mammoth Revealed, a first-quarter-2001 sequel to Raising the Mammoth, which was the highest-rated basic-cable program in the first quarter.

Inside the Space Station, which will be produced in high-definition format, will also include complementary enhanced-television/broadband-interactive elements, he said. On, for instance, viewers will get a 3-D tour inside the space station.

That special will actually be part of a quarterly package, dubbed "2001: A Discovery Space Journey."

Yet another special in Discovery Channel' s originals arsenal will be The Neanderthal' s World, which Quattrone said will also offer broadband elements.

Besides such returning specials as its quarterly Ultimate Guide and its annual "Shark Week" block, Discovery is working on Desert Mummies of Peru, In Search of the Sabre-Tooth and Inside the Gulf War.

The latest "Expedition Adventure" specials will be Valley of the T. Rex, Ancient Earthquake, Sunken City and The Hunt for the Hunley-the latter about the recovery of the Civil War submarine featured in last year' s Turner Network Television movie, The Hunley.

Convergence will play a bigger role than ever, said Discovery Networks president Johnathan Rodgers, with interactive elements linked to Shark Week and other key programs and planned for "every available media platform."

He added that Discovery recently did a test with Microsoft Corp.'s WebTV Networks unit and observed, "We're ready [for more interactive fare] when the platforms are ready."

TLC senior vice president and general manager Jana Bennett highlighted the network' s three-part Unwrapped: The Mysterious World of Mummies (due in the fourth quarter), as well as the four-part John Cleese' s Language of Looks (first-quarter 2001) and the two-hour The' 70s: Bell-Bottoms and Boogie Shoes (third-quarter 2001).

Bennett said TLC is projected to reach 77 million households by spring 2001.

Unwrapped will go beyond the Egyptians to report on the mummified remains of Eva Peron and Lenin. Other TLC product will include two Destination Future specials, plus the quarterly Extreme Machines and Ultimate Ten (as in Ultimate Ten Grand Hotels).

Animal Planet executive vice president and general manager Clark Bunting-who said the "fastest-growing channel of the' 90s" should hit 60 million households in September-touted its move into original series and movies.

The network, which aired its Call of the Wild movie last week, is adding more titles, including The Adventures of Ben Brown and Rain, the latter based on the U.S. Army' s use of dogs in the Vietnam War.

Among its three newest original series will be Shark Gordon, due to join Crocodile Hunter this fall on the network' s Sunday adventure block, promoted as "TV with teeth."

Travel executive vice president and general manager Jay Feldman cited the network' s strong ratings growth among adults 25 to 54 in households earning $75,000 and up, as well as its carriage, which is projected to reach 47 million homes by spring 2001.

He said Travel plans "Expedition Nights" specials about climbing the Andes and visiting the Panamanian rain forest, for example, and more theme weeks, spurred by its "Beach Week" ratings success. One of the thematic stunts will target Mardi Gras in New Orleans and others will focus on California and Las Vegas.

Discovery Health Media Inc. president John Ford singled out The FITeam Power Hour as an original series featuring various athletes, starting in the third quarter with women' s soccer stars Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy. There will be an online component, too, he noted.

BBC America, which now reaches 12 million homes, "cherry-picks the best" of the British Broadcasting Corp.' s schedule, which is fueled by a $6 billion annual programming budget in the United Kingdom, BBC America chief operating officer Paul Lee said.

That was the only program budget figure cited by the Discovery Networks executives, who declined to divulge any other specifics.