New York -- Discovery Networks U.S. unveiled lots of new
programming for Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel and four other cable networks
during its 1999-2000 upfront press briefing here last week.
The offerings ranged from at least 27 new specials on
Discovery to a combined 18 new series and 17 specials or miniseries on TLC, Travel Channel
and Animal Planet.
Discovery Channel plans four more "Expedition
America" primetime specials in the coming season, including In Search of Liberty
Bell 7, due in the fourth quarter, and Raising the Mammoth, due in the opening
quarter of 2000, senior vice president and general manager Mike Quattrone said.
Raising theMammoth -- featuring an expedition
that uncovered a prehistoric wooly mammoth in the Siberian Arctic -- is slated as its
second same-day "Watch with the World" global event. The recent Cleopatra's
Palace was the first such stunt, pulling an estimated 30 million viewers worldwide,
according to Discovery.
Liberty Bell 7 -- the Mercury space capsule that sank
near the Bahamas, nearly drowning astronaut Gus Grissom -- is now 3.5 miles underwater.
It's "about the size of a Volkswagen 'Bug'" and buried one mile
deeper than the Titanic, Quattrone said, illustrating the difficulty of that
Quattrone also singled out Walking with Dinosaurs, a
three-hour miniseries due in the second quarter of 2000, as "the most expensive
documentary series ever." Two years in the making, this fact-based project features
computer-generated dinosaurs, a la Jurassic Park.
Quattrone said the network's first-quarter-1999
schedule moves -- stripping On the Inside at 8 p.m. and bumping Wild Discovery
to 7 p.m. -- have paid off with higher Nielsen Media Research ratings for both time slots.
Discovery also plans four more quarterly Ultimate Guide
specials, which, for the first time, will include nonanimal topics (such as the human
body, planes and the weather); another Eco-Challenge event, this time in Argentina during
the second quarter of 2000; and Mega Sharks 3-D, a film due as part of its next
"Shark Week" programming.
Discovery's and TLC's coming schedules -- which
will be nearly 100 percent and 85 percent original, respectively -- should help those core
networks to maintain their Nos. 1 and 3 TV-brand rankings (National Geographic Television
is No. 2) Quattrone said, citing the latest EquiTrend report on "The Top TV and Top
Media Brands in Overall Quality."
Bill McGowan, senior vice president of ad sales at
Discovery Networks, added that Discovery Kids tied Disney Channel at No. 5 in the new
EquiTrend report, following The History Channel (No. 4), while Animal Planet ranked No.
TLC "almost doubled its primetime audience in the past
two years," and it attracted more adults 25 to 54 than A&E Network did in the
fourth quarter of 1998, Discovery Networks president Johnathan Rodgers said, attributing
the bulk of that growth to the action-themed "Adrenaline Rush Hour" nightly
Two new series -- The Thrill of
World of -- will be added to the "Adrenaline" mix, Rodgers said. From
9 p.m. to 11 p.m., TLC will vertically strip themed series for better continuity on each
For instance, he said, Trauma: Life in the ER, which
airs on Tuesdays, will be combined with other science-themed fare for the rest of the
Upcoming TLC specials will include Countdown 100,
showcasing the top 100 achievements of the 20th century (including television
and the microchip), due in the fourth quarter; and Commander-in-Chief, about
decisive moments in past U.S. presidencies. In addition, TLC announced 38 returning
As for DCI's newer or recently acquired networks:
Animal Planet -- which skews to 18-to-49 adults and,
thus, is younger than Discovery's more established networks -- plans four new series,
all slated for the fourth quarter.
They are Call of the Wild, a fictional dramatic
series; Dr. Dean, its first sitcom; and two reality-based adventure series, O'Shea's
Big Adventure and Vets in the Wild.
Now approaching 50 million homes, the three-year-old Animal
Planet, which will be 70 percent original, is "the single most successful
cable-network launch" to date, senior vice president and general manager Clark
Animal Planet also announced nine specials and four
returning series, including a 100-episode order for Judge Wapner's Animal Court.
Travel Channel has been making inroads in
distribution -- now approaching 30 million homes -- and in ratings, notably with such
"destination series" as Lonely Planet, network senior vice president and
general manager Jay Feldman said.
He hopes that the forthcoming Amazing Destinations
(in association with Conde Nast Traveler) -- one of one-dozen new series unveiled
-- will continue that ratings momentum.
In 1999-2000, Travel will offer 400 hours of original fare,
including eight specials. The latter will include Sailing Away with Geraldo Rivera,
following the CNBC personality and family on a trip from India to Thailand (in the fourth
quarter); and its "Beach Week" specials -- a ratings hit for Travel that's
due for its second year in March 2000 -- he added.
BBC America, which is now in 9 million homes, will
offer a slate that's 60 percent new to the U.S. market, according to the
network's creative-services vice president, Nigel Cole.
New product will include four more Mrs. Bradley
Mysteries, again starring Diana Rigg; the four-part Wives & Daughters; Airport,
a series centered on Heathrow Airport; and oldies like Fawlty Towers.
Daytime programming was also announced, but it was not
featured during Discovery Networks' press briefing:
Discovery Channel has scheduled a new decorating
series, The Christopher LowellShow, for that daypart, in addition to six
series renewals, such as Lynette Jennings, Design and Gimme Shelter.
TLC said two newcomers will join its daytime roster
-- A Dating Story and House Calls -- and seven shows will return; the latter
group includes A Wedding Story and Bob Vila's Home Again.
At Travel, three new series are headed for daytime: Good
to Go, a game show; Great Vacation Homes; and Destination Style.