Giving The Planet Star Billing


All green, all the time. The very idea may have seemed far-fetched just a few years ago when the concept of environmentally themed programming sounded too heavy or didactic for mainstream audiences. But times have changed, and on June 4, Discovery Communications will flip the switch at 6 p.m. and launch Planet Green, a 24/7 green network, with a new series called Renovation Nation.

The network had made noise last year about launching in the first quarter of this year. That didn’t happen, so Planet Green used alternative platforms instead: Starting April 17, the network provided premiere episodes of assorted series on demand and will continue to do so on its sister networks in May, and it will also debut new material on

“It took time to put the slate together — we were in the thick of development and we felt the best opportunity would be in early June,” rather than rushing for April or getting overwhelmed by the increased competition in May sweeps, said Eileen O’Neill, president and general manager.

“It really has evolved since last year,” O’Neill said. She explained that the network has shifted to a broader approach, with big name talent and entertainment value balancing the green message.

“We are a lifestyle and entertainment network that’s green,” added senior vice president of marketing Tom Carr, drawing a distinction between that and a green network that tries to provide lifestyle and entertainment fare. “We want to be broad and mainstream and very inclusive.”

Without diluting that identity, O’Neill said, nothing is set in stone. “We are creating a new television genre, we have a lot of license and opportunity,” she said. “We are keeping an open mind.”

Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav said the timing — last year to this year, first to second quarter — wasn’t particularly important in terms of capturing the cultural zeitgeist because the company “has been green for 20 years and will be for the next 20 years.”

But he does emphasize that the green movement’s momentum has been a huge help attracting celebrities and top behind-the-scenes talent, saying the commitment he has seen took him by surprise.

“There are droves of people who feel very passionately about green and want to work in this area because they feel deeply about it,” Zaslav said. “We have fantastic talent — programming people who had opportunity elsewhere [and] big names working for a lot less money than they could be making. They said, 'We’d like to come on this journey with you.’”

This influx of talent has enabled the network to launch with a full schedule of ambitious shows and a roster of experts and celebrities that O’Neill believes will bring instant credibility and drive ratings:

The series Greensburg tells the story of the Kansas town devastated by tornadoes last year that decided to rebuild itself as a model green community. Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company, Appian Way, is producing the series.

Entourage star Adrian Grenier teams with assorted experts to show how audiences can live The Green Life.

Hollywood Green with Maria Menounos will be like Entertainment Tonight, but with the focus on the intersection of celebrities and environmental issues or news.

Supper Club with Tom Bergeron will be a variation of IFC’s celebrity eat-and-chat series Dinner for Five, with guests including activists, writers and entrepreneurs and the conversation staying green.

Star chef Emeril Lagasse will focus on cooking in a sustainable manner on Emeril Green.

In the third quarter comes Battleground Earth, which pits musicians Ludacris and Tommy Lee in an effort to keep their shows environmentally friendly.

Tom Brokaw will host a series of news specials.

In the fourth quarter is a green game show, hosted by the appropriately named comedian Tom Green.

Also in the lineup are daily news magazine G Word and home-improvement shows like Renovation Nation, World’s Greenest Homes and reality show Wa$ted, in which competing households get three weeks to reduce consumption.

O’Neill wants to showcase science and technology more down the road but is waiting to find the right talent. “When you look around cable you find that it is original and authentic talent that ends up creating tent-pole shows for networks,” she said. “Green technology is a new field so it has been a struggle to find the right personalities. But we are willing to be patient.”

While the broader entertainment brush will hopefully draw in the lighter green viewers, Carr hopes that the network will earn credibility from darker greens with its various partnerships — last year the network bought the well-respected environmental site, giving it an outlet for deeper reporting on green issues, and it has partnerships with various experts and organizations.

Among its campaigns is a partnership with The Nature Conservancy on its “Plant a Billion Trees” campaign that aims to restore Brazil’s Atlantic Forest — 93% of it has been cleared but the remaining land is home to 1,180 vertebrate species, more than 800 of which are unique to the forest. Planet Green is creating a PSA for the campaign.

And while the network will, of course, draw on its relationships with Discovery, Animal Planet, TLC and Discovery Science, Carr also felt it had to create its own identity. So after spending a lot of time and energy developing the green globe logo last year, the network pushed it aside in favor of a bright solid green dot.

“It’s fun and fresh and visually simply,” Carr explained. “It wasn’t that the other logo was not working but this provides a lot of flexibility and is more distinctive.”

For more stories on environmentally friendly endeavors, read the April 21 edition of Multichannel News.