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Discovery: We’re Pushing Envelope

4/10/2005 8:00 PM Eastern

New York— Discovery Networks U.S. is hoping to reverse a ratings slide at its two leading channels through a bevy of new reality and “observational documentary” programming.

Speaking at a press conference following an upfront presentation to advertisers here last Thursday, Discovery Networks president Billy Campbell said the company’s 16 owned-and-operated services will, for the most part, push the creative envelope during the 2005-06 programming season through the development of new and original programming meant to “extend the brands” and reach a broader swath of viewers without alienating core fans.

TRY NEW THINGS

“I think the fact that we are willing to push the brands and try new things is a benefit,” he said. “I don’t think you ever get into trouble by pushing the envelope if you have as your spine quality programming.”

The Silver Spring, Md.-based programmer hopes such development will help resurrect ratings for Discovery Channel and TLC. The latter has fallen on hard times since the decline of its once-franchise, residence-transformation series Trading Spaces. In the first quarter, TLC averaged a 0.7 household primetime rating, a 30% decrease from the same period in 2004, according to a Disney ABC Cable Networks Group analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.

Campbell accepted part of the blame for TLC’s sagging ratings, citing an “overreliance” on the reality makeover genre. Instead, the network will bow several new original series that he says embody the network’s mandate to provide quality lifestyle and reality programming.

“What you’ll see going forward is a much broader array of 'life unscripted’ and lifestyle programming,” Campbell said. “We believe that home and personal-makeover shows are incredibly important, but we’ll be very judicious in the way we tell those stories in the future.”

Among the new observational documentary shows slated for TLC’s lineup are: Operation Homecoming, a five-part special series premiering Memorial Day that portrays the personal stories of American troops and their reunions with families and communities; Going Hollywood, showcasing interns as they learn the trade from high-profile celebrity mentors; Million Dollar Agents, profiling the luxury and excesses of the rich and famous; and The Adam Carolla Project, featuring the former The Man Show co-host and his band of cohorts remaking several homes.

Also on the docket is Wedding Chapel, which goes behind the scenes at a Las Vegas nuptials house; Ballroom Boot Camp, a makeover show for ballroom dancers with two left feet; Supernatural, about a group of “ghostbusters” who solve paranormal mysteries; Help! I’m a Terrible Parent; in which moms and dads are pitted against each other to see who is the better homemaker; and The Sit Down, in which mob bosses determine the outcome of court cases.

At Discovery Channel, which saw its first-quarter primetime ratings fall 27% to a 0.8 rating compared to the same period last year, more docu-reality programming is on the way.

Among the additions: Firehouse USA: Boston, which chronicles the lives of firefighters in Beantown; Deadliest Catch, which follows the exploits of Alaskan crab-wranglers; and Go Ahead, Make My Dinner, which pits two of the country’s finest culinary masters against each other in a cook-off.

They join returning series American Chopper, Monster Garage, Mythbusters and Monster House.

Other shows and specials slated for the network include Planet Earth, a multi-episode special, featuring never before filmed areas of our planet; Dirty Jobs, a documentary that looks at the nastiest of occupations; I Shouldn’t Be Alive, which portrays the true experiences of people facing difficult obstacles in their lives; and Pop Nation: America’s Coolest Stuff, profiling the country’s infatuation with pop culture goods from the 1950’s to today.

'GREATEST’ COUNTDOWN

Other previously announced specials include On The Road, SuperVolcano, which premiered this past weekend, and the ambitious #1 Greatest American event, counting down this nation’s most important people and slated for a June debut.

Discovery Networks president of advertising sales Joe Abruzzese said that despite the slippage from its leading services, advertisers haven’t abandoned the programmer and its family-targeted fare.

He added the company will make approximately 50% of its inventory available in the upfront market.

Overall, Abruzzese believes that $500 million to $600 million of upfront revenue could shift to cable from broadcast this year.

September