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Discovery Pitches Recovery Vehicles

Looking to boost its struggling portfolio of channels, Discovery Networks U.S. held its 2006 upfront presentation at New York's Lincoln Center Thursday. Major programming highlights from its networks included:

Pop Nation: America's Coolest Stuff. A new eight-episode series chronicling pop culture consumer products. The series will culminate in an online auction of memorabilia. I Shouldn't Be Alive. A series of hour episodes that chronicle the moral dilemmas and chance events involved in feats of survival, and Planet Earth, a special on the earth's wonders.

The network is hyping its June countdown series, Greatest American, and three-hour special, Supervolcano, on April 10.

The network, which still hasn't recovered from its Trading Spaces overdose, said it will change direction in 2005 by "reenergizing and revitalizing its offerings" under new EVP and GM David Abraham, who will join the network from the UK.

To that end, TLC rolled out a slew of new reality series including Going Hollywood, about a group of interns in L.A.; The Adam Carolla Project, a fall program in which the comedian and his family take on home renovation; Ballroom Boot Camp, a 10-episode series which enlists klutzy average joes for a six-week crash course in dancing; Wedding Chapel, a 10-episode reality show on wedding planning; Help! I'm a Terrible Planet, which takes an average family and lets the father rule for one week and the mothers for the next, then brings in a family therapist to assess their relative skills; and The Sit Down, a six-episode series in which mob bosses serve as judge and jury to average neighbors and small businessmen with "issues."

Travel Channel
Discovery puts the network at 80 million viewers going into the upfront season, and says it will focus on scoring a series hit this year with the third-quarter 2005 premieres of new series Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, about the food adventurer/celeb chef ; Stranded - With Cash Peters, in which the author and travel correspondent ends up with no money, food, home or clue where he is; and Travel Spies, in which "experts" go undercover to see if travel companies can deliver on their promises to vacationers.

Animal Planet
The network is coming off its most-watched program ever-- March 20's forensic-heavy special, Dragons: AFantasy Made Real, which drew more than 3 million total viewers. The channel is hyping Sunday night block Whoa!, Sunday, which are specials hosted by comedian Mo Rocca, and Wild Wednesdays, which launches June 15 with insect show Buggin' with Ruud and animal adventure show Corwin's Quest to create a second night of destination programming.

This summer, the network will launch weekday programming block Simple Pleasures, featuring the dog yoga show (yes, that's what we said), Doga.

BBC America
The network says it will nearly double its programming and marketing spending this upfront, increasing its commitment to scripted shows and originals.

To that end, it raised the curtain on modern adaptations of four Shakespeare plays--A Midsummer Night's Dream, Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing, and The Taming of the Shrew--and new contemporary drama NY-LON, a romance set in London and New York, and original dramedy Love Soup, about a London account manager/comedy writer couple who are perfect for each other, but haven't yet met.

Discovery Health
One of the few bright spots in Discovery's portfolio (ratings in prime were up 25% in prime in 2004), the network projects it will hit 60 million homes by the end of upfront season. With new general manager Eileen O'Neill, named in October 2004, the network will now renew obesity-examining series National Body Challenge and 10-hour birthing special Birth Day Live! for the 2005-6 season.

It will also aim to ramp up a focus on series to create appointment viewing, recently announcing a summer series Strictly Sex With Dr. Drew featuring media-happy doctor Drew Pinsky. Also joining is Dr. Know, a 20-episode half-hour series featuring humorous doc Paul Trotman, who sorts out medical myths from reality.

The network, which launched last year under Discovery veteran Carole Tomko's as GM, said it expects to be in 42 million homes by year end (it's currently in 38 million), and highlighted new series The Gym, which will track the drama between trainers and gym rats in between workouts.

Discovery Home
The network, which rebranded from Discovery Home & Leisure to Discovery Home Channel in spring 2004, pitched four new series, including Flip That House, on the practice of buying a house and quickly selling it, and Inner Chef, advice from chef Markus Samuelsson for the wannabe cook.

Military Channel
After launching Jan. 10, 2005, the network is currently in 35 million homes, says Discovery. Programming news from the upfront focused on specials including InsideNORAD, about the North American Aerospace Defense Command, and The Richie Boys, about a unit of  German expatriates who helped the Allies on D-Day.

Discovery Times
The channel is promoting two new original series at the upfront: Finding America, in which Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times writer Charlie LeDuff travels the country, focusing on individual subcultures, and Off to War, which focuses on 57 members of the 39th Infantry Brigade from Arkansas - their time at war and their assimilation back home.

The Science Channel
New programming for the network focused on specials Neanderthal: The Rebirth, a trip back to prehistoric times, and Cracking The Ocean Code, about an oceanographic expedition in which genomist J. Craig Venter analyzes sea samples from around the globe.

Discovery HD Theater
Discovery says its HD networkhas inked deals with all major cable providers and DirecTV and Dish network. This year, it will provide 500 hours of HD programming, including the first installment of original series, Atlas, a two-hour special on the history and people of China, and specials The Equator, a six-part series about a journey around the earth's middle, and Greenland, an hour film about the forests and Inuit natives in Greenland.