Debbie Adler Myers got a D in high school biology, which isn’t exceedingly unusual on its face. Many a high school sophomore has been felled by the perplexing formulas, the stench of formaldehyde- soaked pigs or the esoteric architecture of eukaryotic cells.
But Myers is the general manager and executive VP of programming of Discovery’s Science Channel. Her failure to master biology has actually given her a blueprint for how to succeed at Science Channel.
“It wasn’t presented in a way that captured my imagination,” Myers says. “It was like, where am I going to use biology? I don’t get it. Why am I memorizing these formulas? And I liked the pig!”
So at Science Channel, Myers’ goal is to translate the sciences—including engineering, math, technology, medicine and yes, biology—into compelling television.
“When I came to [Science Channel] two years ago, there was only one personality on the network,” she says, referring to architect Danny Forster. “Everything was voice-of-God narration. And what we’ve done is create a programming filter: Our job is to provoke you to think and look at that world in a different way.”
That has included recruiting proven storytellers such as space enthusiast Morgan Freeman, who hosts the exploration series Through the Wormhole, which bows June 9. It was Myers who lured Steven Spielberg to Discovery Communications for The Rising, an upcoming documentary on the rebuilding of Ground Zero, which will air on the fl agship Discovery Channel as well as Science Channel.
“That was all Deb,” says Clark Bunting, president and general manager of Discovery Channel and president of Science Channel. “She cultivated that relationship. She said, ‘Look, this is something that we think is definitional for the network.’ She invested the time and got someone with the storytelling skill set and the throw-weight of a Steven Spielberg. That’s impressive.”
Myers is also recruiting and training a new generation of scientists via a training program called Talent School. It’s a “boot camp” for turning science nerds, who often have difficulty communicating with the lay public, into effective TV personalities. “From my standpoint, that is the essence of strategic planning,” Bunting says.
Myers joined Discovery Communications in 2005 as VP of production for TLC, where she oversaw the launch of series including L.A. Ink, Say Yes to the Dress and Baby Story. She has done stints at OWN and Investigation Discovery, helping to get programming for both networks off the ground. Before Discovery, she spent eight years at E!, managing that channel from its creation as Movietime to its current profitable incarnation today.
But Science Channel has been her favorite perch at Discovery. “Someone at Talent School said to me, ‘I get you, you just love being surrounded by the nerds.’ And I do. I love their stories. I love being their champion because there’s such passion in them. We want to be that place that champions their stories, their innovation and their creativity.”
Myers is most proud of Science Channel’s STEM initiative, curriculum-based programming designed to keep young people, especially girls, interested in science. (STEM, an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, is a broad-ranging public policy initiative to promote education and employment in science and math.)
Kids, according to Myers, “are always asking questions. At some point, school sucks out of them that wonderful endless questioning of the world.”
In September, Science Channel will launch a programming block called Head Rush, aimed at middle-school children; it will air weekdays from 4-5 p.m. and weekends from 7-9 a.m. “We are putting the STEM curriculum from the school into a storytelling device,” she says.
It’s an initiative that Myers herself could have benefited from, growing up in the San Fernando Valley with a stayat- home mom and a systems engineer father who was part of the fi rst generation of computer programmers. “I remember as a little girl walking through IBM with the monster mainframe computers and collecting the punch cards because I thought they were cool,” she says.
Her dad, she recalls, instilled in her a love of learning. And despite the D in biology, she says, “I never lost that.”
E-mail comments to mguthrie@ nbmedia.com and follow her on Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie
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