TCA: DiCaprio series at Discovery

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Discovery Communications has partnered up with Leonardo DiCaprio on an environment-focused series that will help launch the company's new Planet Green channel.

The 13-part series, "Eco-Town," will chronicle the rebuilding of the small town of Greensburg, Kan., which was devastated by a tornado May 4. The town, which has more than 1,500 residents, will be rebuilt as a "sustainable model of eco-living and one that will save it from future environmental catastrophe."

The project was brought to Discovery by DiCaprio, a noted environmentalist, and Craig Piligiann of Pilgrim Films & Television. DiCaprio will exec produce through his company, Appian Way, along with Piligian and Discovery Studios. DiCaprio also will serve on the board of advisers for Planet Green, which is launching in first-quarter 2008 (The company's Discovery Home Channel is being rebranded as the eco-friendly network.)

Discovery Communications president and CEO David Zaslav made the announcement Friday during the company's portion of the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour at the Beverly Hilton.

"The centerpiece of the launch of Planet Green is going to be our effort to help the governor of Kansas and the town of Greensburg, Kan., to rebuild that town green," he said, adding that putting a focus on the environment has been a focus of Discovery since its inception. "It's not just about entertainment; we're going to put our resources into Greensburg and Planet Green and try to make a difference."

Zaslav added that he also intends to put more money on producing higher-quality programming for all Discovery networks. In particular, he said, more money and effort will be put into the Science Channel, which he said could be a top 10 cable network as well as a successful channel globally.

"We're going to be spending a lot of time and resources to make that happen," including promoting the channel across all platforms, he said.

Science Channel has a new series titled "It's Not Rocket Science" launching in the fall.

Zaslav added that all Discovery networks will continue to focus very closely on their respective brands, saying that since he came aboard six months ago, ratings have grown as a result of eliminating all programming that didn't fit into a particular channel's brand.

He also talked about the reasoning behind Angela Shapiro-Mathes' being based in Los Angeles in her new role as head of TLC rather than at Discovery's headquarters in Silver Spring, Md., saying that much of the network's programming that really resonates with women originates in L.A.

"We're going to be changing the way we're doing business," he added.

Also during the session, Discovery Channel spotlighted new programming including "Storm Chasers," debuting Oct. 16, and "Ocean of Fear: The Worst Shark Attack Ever," premiering July 29 to kick off the 20th anniversary of "Shark Week."

In addition, network star Bear Grylls, whose "Man vs. Wild" returns for a new season in November, made a dramatic entrance into the Beverly Hilton, rappelling down the side of the hotel's parking garage before addressing the critics.

Earlier in the day, Garth Ancier made his first TCA appearance since being named president of BBC Worldwide America in February, joking that he's had to get used to British terminology since taking the job.

He also spotlighted BBC America's decision to launch a U.S. newscast.

"The BBC has this huge asset; it's the largest news organization in the world, but it wasn't being particularly well used in BBC America," he said, adding that the hourlong newcast will launch "very soon."
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