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Discovery Plans 'Awesome' Push

7/27/2009 2:00 AM Eastern

Discovery Channel will move its high-profile specials and documentary series to Sunday nights beginning in August as part of a new branding and marketing effort to create appointment viewing for its most popular projects.

The new programming destination, dubbed “Awesome Sundays” will launch Aug. 9 with the return of its limited series Raging Planet, Discovery Channel president and general manager John Ford told Multichannel News.

“We're developing an on-air package that will showcase the breadth and depth of genres that Discovery covers, as well as showcase our high production values,” Ford said. “It's a weekly two- to three-hour reminder of the big, high-quality productions that Discovery can do better than anyone else.”

The initiative, which the network is expected to announce during its Television Critics Association tour presentation in Pasadena this week, will feature big-budget series and specials similar to previous hit shows like Planet Earth and Blue Planet.

The block will debut with new episodes of the network's sophomore documentary show Raging Planet, a special-effects-driven limited series that focuses on unique weather phenomenon around the world.

In September, the network on Sundays will also debut Megabeasts, a computer animation-based series about monster-esque creatures that roamed the earth several million years ago, according to Ford.

“These are big-budget shows that we believe will fit perfectly with the Sunday-night brand,” said Ford. Other projects in development for the block include Life, a multipart documentary, similar in vein to Planet Earth, profiling the planet's various animal species. Life will debut in March 2010, according to the network.

Life enables us to focus more on the majestic animals that live on the planet, as opposed to the habitats,” Ford said. “It will be a groundbreaking series and the worthy successor to Planet Earth that we've been looking for.”

Ford said he chose Sundays to launch the block because it's the most-watched night of the week for television, as well as one of Discovery's highest-rated nights. The network averages 1.4 million primetime viewers on Sundays, with specials and repeats of its top series. Ford expects that figure will grow with the launch of its high-profile programming.

“Sunday is already a strong night for us, but we expect it to be even stronger because we're going to aim more on-air promotion, more marketing money to drive more eyeballs there.”

He also said that the network's Sunday big-events programming block will complement the network's weeknight lineup of reality series, such as Dirty Jobs, Deadliest Catch and Mythbusters.

“Sunday is still the night for television to showcase your biggest and best shows,” he said. “We think there is an opportunity to bring the high gloss back to Sunday for Discovery.”

Along with the Sunday linear destination, Discovery will also launch a companion Web site, www.awesomesundays.com, also launching Aug. 1.

“We can do Q&A offerings on air that tie in to the Web site, as well as offer curiosity-based content and show-specific factoids,” Ford said, adding that the network will not run full-length episodes from its Sunday series on the Web site.

WHAT'S ON TAP AT TCA
Cable programmers kick off the annual Television Critics Association presentations in Pasadena, Calif., on Tuesday (July 28) and hold center stage until July 31; after that come broadcast networks. Here's some of what's scheduled:

— R. Thomas Umstead
TBS: George Lopez will look to tickle funny bones July 28 while promoting his upcoming late-night talk show.
AMC: Brandishing 23 Emmy nominations, the net brings talent from Mad Men, Breaking Bad (including Bryan Cranston, top l.) and upcoming miniseries The Prisoner to a July 28 cocktail party.
TV Land: Joan Rivers yuks it up on stage with network chief Larry Jones July 29, dishing about new reality series How'd You Get So Rich?
History: A-list celebrities Matt Damon and Marisa Tomei on July 29 talk up documentary The People Speak.
Lifetime: Models of the Runway stars (r.) provide a wake-up call at a July 30 breakfast.
BET: Actress Mo'Nique and R&B singer Monica on July 30 promote their respective eponymous fall shows.
HBO: Robin Williams (bottom l.) improvises answers July 30, supporting his stand-up comedy special.
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