Stating "it's time" in a letter to staffers this morning, Clark Bunting, long-term employee and current president and general manager of Discovery Channel, announced that he will retire from the programmer next year.
One of Discovery Communications first employees, Bunting has served in a number of executive positions across its vast array of properties over a career that will stretch almost 26 years. Working in his current capacity for the past 18 months, Bunting will retire from the company at the end of March 2012.
The transition period will afford Discovery Communications plenty of time to find a successor. Eileen O'Neill continues to serve as group president for both Discovery Channel and the programmer's other flagship, TLC.
Joining the company just a month after the launch of Discovery Channel, Bunting was instrumental in launching "Shark Week" as cable's first-themed programming stunt and involved in the launch of TLC. He became the first general manager of Animal Planet in 1996 and over the course has been a driving force in the launch and growth of Discovery Science, Investigation Discovery, Military Channel, Discovery Health, FitTV, HD Theater, Discovery Home, Travel Channel and Discovery Studios.
Bunting's missive to employees, signed Clark, is as follows:
When I came to Discovery as the 19th employee nearly 26 years ago, I could not have imagined what kind of amazing journey was ahead. From the early days, I had the great fortune to follow along with John Hendricks' vision of what the company needed to be and work to realize that dream. More recently I was privileged to work with David Zaslav. There are so many amazing people I have worked with over the years and so many things I was fortunate to have been able to achieve in my years at Discovery.
Now I have come to the place where I feel I have accomplished what I wanted to do and I'm ready to direct my energies to the next chapter in my life. I want to take all that great experience and use it to give back; possibly in education or the non-profit sector. Or somewhere else that simply feels right.
With the help of the Discovery Channel team, ratings, revenue and brand are stronger than they have been in years. I try to live by the principle of leaving things better than the way you found them. I feel that is what we are doing today. So, with that in mind, and in order to help transition my successor, I'm announcing I will be leaving Discovery at the end of March, 2012.
I promise to keep you posted on Chapter Two. In the meantime I am looking forward to spending our remaining time together doing the voodoo we do so well together."
For their part, Discovery Communications president and CEO David Zaslav and company founder and chairman John Hendricks sent their own message to employees:
"With heavy hearts, tremendous gratitude and great pride in what he has meant to our company since its inception, we are announcing today that Clark Bunting -- one of Discovery's longest-tenured employees -- has decided to retire from the company. While certainly not retiring from public life, after an amazing 27-year career with Discovery, Clark will be "hanging up his shark fin" in March 2012.
It is impossible to summarize everything Clark has contributed to Discovery over the years, and thankfully we have nearly nine months to do it!
But just a few words today on the indelible impact Clark has had on this great company.
Literally, there never has been a Discovery Communications without Clark Bunting. He came to the company in 1985 when it was still known as Cable Educational Network. Since that time, he has witnessed every stage of our growth from a single network to a global leader, touched nearly every part of the company, and been instrumental in so many of our milestone moments.
Joining the company just a month after the launch of Discovery Channel, Clark steered SHARK WEEK through its debut as cable's first themed week of programming and helped bring TLC into the family. He was here in the early years when a young New York lawyer joined the company for a short time and the three of us traveled the country together negotiating distribution deals. Clark put that experience to work and was instrumental in the launches of our international, home video and program sales businesses, and much more. Hits and misses, highs and lows, Clark has seen it all.
In 1996, Clark was the first GM of Animal Planet, launching Discovery's third channel and making it, during its first five years on the air, one of the fastest growing networks in the history of cable. In the ensuing decade, he has been charged with overseeing and growing almost every one of our US networks (even a few that he outlasted): Discovery Channel, Science, Investigation Discovery, Military Channel, Discovery Health, FitTV, HD Theater, Discovery Home, Travel Channel and Discovery Studios.
During that time, Clark has overseen the development of hundreds, probably thousands, of hours of iconic Discovery programming, including MYTHBUSTERS, ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD, THE CROCODILE HUNTER, NEFERTITI RESURRECTED, WALKING WITH CAVEMEN and others too countless to name.
More than the above, however, his contributions to Discovery are best measured by what he has given us as a person. An incredible leader, creative mind, colleague, partner and friend, Clark is always ready to step up, contribute, counsel and help in any and every way needed.
Congratulations, Clark, on a truly outstanding career! We can't thank you enough for all you have done to make Discovery the strong, successful and dynamic company we are today.
Rather than dwelling on your departure, we look forward to celebrating with you, in the months ahead, all of your unmatched accomplishments and the great times we have shared. You are a ‘Discovery Original,' here since the beginning, and you embody everything that is Discovery at its best. If there was a Discovery Hall of Fame, you would be a first ballot inductee!
You may be leaving us, but wherever the next chapter in your journey takes you, never forget that you will always remain part of the Discovery family. We couldn't have done it without you! "