On Thursday night, June 25, Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav joined more than 600 people at the New York City premiere of two shows he described as “really core to who we are.”
They aren’t destined for Discovery Channel, TLC or Science Channel, though. They’re staying put in Manhattan, at the new Discovery Times Square Exposition.
One is a display of artifacts from R.M.S. Titanic; the other is an exhibit based on the 3.18 million-year-old fossil remains of an erect-walking human ancestor from Ethiopia, known as “Lucy.”
The exposition — Discovery TSX, for short — was created in the former printing press area in The New York Times’s former headquarters just off Times Square on West 44th Street. The Titanic and Lucy exhibitions are its first installations.
Developed in partnership with an exhibition developer called Running Subway Productions, it’s a big space (60,000 square feet), intended to house blockbuster shows that for whatever reason aren’t right for New York’s major museums.
“As we look at our future this is a very important step for Discovery,” Zaslav told the opening-night crowd, after three very loud blasts from a ship’s horn quieted them down.
He cited Discovery founder John Hendricks’ aim to make knowledge fun. “We’re not just a cable company,” Zaslav said. “We’re a company that’s about satisfying curiosity on air, online, and this is a big step for us, for you to be able to touch and learn.”
The Titanic exhibition, in particular, uses the space to great effect. Amid the amazing recovered objects — intact dinner china, partially filled Champagne bottles, the door to a safe — are recreations of first-, and third-class cabins; a passageway; the famous grand staircase and an “ice wall” that visitors are invited to touch.
Given its location, and the fact that Times memorabilia will be sold in the exposition’s retail area, The Wire wondered whether the project was conceived when Discovery and the Times Co. were partners in what used to be called the Discovery Times Channel (now Investigation Discovery). “Totally coincidental,” a Discovery rep said.
OK, then. Bon voyage, Discovery TSX.
Planet Green Chief Seeks 'Great Narratives’ To Air
One of Zaslav’s New York-based lieutenants, Laura Michalchyshyn, says she’s tasked her Planet Green colleagues to come up with that Discovery-owned network’s own version of signature hits like Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch or Animal Planet’s River Monsters.
“The focus that was missing was personality and character,” the former Sundance Channel general manger said of the year-old channel that she took over, as president and GM, in March after Eileen O’Neill shifted to TLC.
“The channel has to be about great narratives,” she said.
She estimates 65% of the shows on Planet Green, which was created from the former Discovery Home, are in the “how-to” vein, giving viewers information about how to be more environmentally correct. Most of that programming belongs on the channel’s Web sites, Planetgreen.com and Treehugger.com, she said. “It’s a big challenge.”
The Planet has been evolving, though: she said maybe 40% of the programming is different now from the channel’s June 2008 launch.
A slate of pilots is going to be announced later this month at the Television Critics Association gathering in Hollywood, with shows from them picked by fall to join the originals’ lineup in 2010. Changes she’s made so far include getting Emeril Lagasse out of his show’s Whole Foods Market base to do four specials. The first two aired June 29: Emeril went to Fort Lee in Richmond, Va., to meet service men and women training to be military cooks. The channel has also acquired the Food Network Canada show 100 Mile Challenge, in which six families agree to only eat food produced within 100 miles of their homes. A Saturday night documentary block is coming in September.
Michalchyshyn also attended the Discovery TSX opening and said she wants to find some way to use the space in a tie-in with next April’s 40th anniversary of Earth Day.
Tweet! Your Comment Made a Nat Geo Promo!
A little bird told us National Geographic Channel is using “tweets” about the channel in some clever 10-second channel IDs. They’re based on comments about the channel made on Twitter and authorized by the people who tweeted them. Their Twitter usernames appear in the promos; it’s clear to the viewer these are viewer comments.
“Tweet. Hippos kill more people in Africa than crocodiles,” one promo begins as a Twitter-like birdie hops on the words. Then there’s a quick cut to four hippos, similar looking to the Hungry Hungry Hippos game, munching on marbles. “Just another Monday at National Geographic.”
Another starts: “So I’m watching this show about a whale that exploded in Taiwan. It’s on Nat Geo so it’s got to be legit.” The graphics show a lit fuse diving below the surface of an ocean into a whale on the ocean floor. (It doesn’t actually explode.)
NGC’s marketing department created them, and staffers even provided the voiceovers.
Dawn Rodney, senior VP of strategic marketing and creative, said NGC gets cited in nearly 1,000 tweets per month, “which is pretty incredible.” Now that the Twitterers whose posts are in the promos (like snapdrgn and dckatastrophe) are tweeting about how cool they came out, the traffic’s likely to spike.
They certainly fit the budget, too, Rodney said. “We did them internally — they didn’t cost us a thing to do — so we are definitely planning on adding to the collection.”