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Scripting a New Direction

12/05/2004 7:00 PM Eastern

New York— Looking to return to basic cable’s top 10 in primetime, Discovery Channel has a number of new programs in the hopper, including a pair of docudramas and an interactive show meant to determine the greatest American in history.

The network has also renewed a number of its top series.

The new shows are the first for Discovery executive vice president and general manager Jane Root, who hopes to create more impactful, awe-inspiring, clever programming for the network, which turns 20 next year — and to foster more viewer participation.

In January, Discovery will bow Pompeii: The Last Day, a special effects-laden, scripted special that aspires to depict what the final tension-filled hours before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius might have wrought before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. It will be followed in June by Super Volcano, which projects the effects of a volcano under Yellowstone National Park, according to Root.

At a press luncheon last Monday, Root — the former BBC executive who took over the reins of Discovery last June — said that while the specials feature professional actors and resemble dramatic films, the storylines are all based on scientific fact.

“They look like dramas and we use actors, but they’re steeped in [science],” she noted. “It’s science fiction rather than science fiction.”

The move toward scripting its shows is necessary, said Root, because the documentary domain in which Discovery was once the sole player has become increasingly competitive.

“We’re trying to make programs of quality stand out in a crowded environment,” she said.

Next May, Discovery will bow Greatest American, an ambitious, four-part primetime project in which viewers can nominate candidates for the title via online and telephone voting, as well as text messaging, Root said. The show is based on a similar concept launched in several other countries, including England.

The special will kick off May 15 with video profiles of the top 100 nominees, according to the network. After learning more about the candidates, viewers can make their voices heard through the aforementioned vehicles, narrowing down the list on each pass until only one candidate remains.

Root said Discovery would bow several new reality shows, including World’s Deadliest Season, a 10-part series focusing on the often-treacherous life of crab fishermen, and To Catch a Thief, in which homeowners watch professional robbers break into their abodes.

Also on order are new episodes of the highly rated series Monster House, Monster Garage, American Chopper and Mythbusters.

Discovery hopes the new programming will help increase primetime ratings, which fell 10% in the third quarter to a 0.9 average, compared with the prior-year period.

Along with increasing primetime viewership, Root said Discovery also wants to draw more viewers to its daytime fare. To that end, the network will debut two shows in December.

Party Planner With David Tutera is a one-hour show featuring the famed event planner and his ideas on how to plan elaborate parties on a budget. Also new on the daytime docket is B. Smith Style, in which the restaurateur, model and lifestyle expert will dole out tips on cooking, healthy living, fashion, design, home decorating, community involvement and entertaining.

September