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JUL
26
1 years

TCA: Discovery Communications' Presentations Reveal Fractured Identity (Analysis)

The various channels under the Discovery Communications brand are a mismatched bunch, a vivid example of the networks' shotgun approach to grabbing eyeballs.

North America Discovery Channel Episodic - H 2013
Discovery Channel
"North America" is the better side of Discovery, while some of the reality stuff is disappointing

Almost more than what each individual channel had to tout here at TCA, the overall effect was to illustrate how Discovery wants its fingers in every possible pie, which isn't necessarily a good thing.

Overview: The cable giant brought out TLC, Velocity, Investigation Discovery, Science Channel, OWN and Discovery Channel (which should probably be rebranded as "Discovery Channel Itself").

TCA Panels: Secret Princes comes back for a second season on TLC and you could feel a bit of hostility in the room for a show that seems like Joe Millionaire with family titles. But compared with the other shows TLC puts on the air, the offensiveness level of this one is in the bottom third.

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Velocity, the wheels channel, brought Patrick Dempsey: Racing LeMans and ended up creating news and chatter about Dempsey's seeming disinterest in acting and, especially, acting on Grey's Anatomy. (Doesn't feel inspired, but keeps doing it to help fund his very real racing passion.) What's unfortunate about that little detour is that this could be a very good series because of the fact that Dempsey, like Paul Newman and a few others before him, is very dedicated to racing. For starters, you don't get into a grueling race like LeMans without talent. Dempsey's racing team participated in 2009 and he finished ninth. In his next stab at it -- documented in this series -- they finished a very respectable fourth. While Velocity probably won't pull in viewers who aren't already gear heads, viewers would be well-served to know that you can't just walk off the street and drive a car like Dempsey does. Most people probably would stall it out in the pit. So if Dempsey and his dedication can bring people to the channel, maybe that's a good thing.

Investigation Discovery had Surviving Evil With Charisma Carpenter, another in a long line of ID series that seem, to me at least, particularly exploitative, even though they can be spun into tales of survival (and in this instance, Carpenter herself and two friends were victims of a heinous crime but were able to thwart it and send the perpetrator to prison, where he remains). That doesn't seem to justify what is ID's lust for graphic re-enactments that seem to hide under the cover of victim approval in the process.

While the Science Channel harkens back to the more informative age of Discovery (and TLC, if you can believe that) and has been one of my favorite niche channels, there was a little push-back about the series The Unexplained Files, which seemed to fly in the face of, you know, science. Given what has happened to many of the brands under the Discovery umbrella, I'd say slippage in the area of the core message will always be a justified worry.

At OWN, Oprah Winfrey's push toward more African-American-centric programming continued with Raising Whitley, about actress and comedian Kym Whitley's challenge of raising her young son, which seemed soapy and silly and dragging the kid on stage at the end with his pacifier in his mouth seemed like prop-aganda. And, you know, manipulative.

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At least the flagship channel, Discovery, had two interesting things going for it. One was its first scripted series, Klondike, from Ridley Scott. The extended clips and onscreen actor interviews did well to drum up interest (Discovery will officially panel it at the winter TCAs), and it will air sometime in the first quarter of 2014. Getting into scripted -- in what appears to be a big statement leap -- will be worth monitoring. Lastly, Discover had a fascinating but all-too short panel for Man, Cheetah, Wild about wildlife filmmaker Kim Wolhuter. I thought it was the most intriguing panel of the day for Discovery, along with Patrick Dempsey: Racing LeMans, but something tells me both will be more obscure on-channel events, not massively promoted and, at least on Thursday, relegated to forgotten status after all of the dreck they were mixed in with.

Worries: That even with the brand de-evolution and dubious content, it won't really affect viewership in the Honey Boo Boo culture. Also that the Science Channel won't be able to stem the tide of encroaching on the wonk with some wince. Lastly, that nobody will watch Wolhuter run around with cheetahs.

No Worries: For Discovery itself, since this initial push toward scripted with Klondike is interesting and it comes out on the high side of the drama comparisons, it can only help bolster the brand.

E-mail: Tim.Goodman@THR.com
Twitter: @BastardMachine