A visual effect:  greenscreen

Discovery launches the first eco-tainment channel on Wednesday

Could "green" become a new watchword in TV programming?

While media companies have long been touting everything they're doing behind the scenes to become more environment-friendly, the message increasingly is seeping into their programming.

On Wednesday, Discovery Communications launches the first 24/7 eco-friendly network, Planet Green, which will take over the space occupied by Discovery Home Channel. That follows NBC Universal's second companywide "Green Week" in April — featuring 100 hours of green-themed content airing across 42 NBC Uni brands and 28 Web sites — with two more already planned for November and April.

Planet Green will launch with more than 250 hours of original programming, featuring a range of name talent in front of and behind the camera, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Adrian Grenier, Emeril Lagasse, Tommy Lee and Ludacris. It officially kicks off at 6 p.m. with the entertainment newsmagazine "Hollywood Green With Maria Menounos," followed by the Tom Bergeron-hosted "Supper Club."

Planet Green president and GM Eileen O'Neill said it's the perfect time to launch an eco-friendly channel.

"Now is a critical time in our planet's health," she said. "There is a rally cry out there, and now we're really going to bring it into viewers' own homes to be the inspiration for them to make changes around their household and lifestyle."

O'Neill brushed aside any concerns about the network's ability to reach those viewers who have yet to jump on the green bandwagon.

"Eco-tainment is a new genre, and we have a lot of great content that's very diverse," she said. "We're bringing green into the mainstream. We need to reach even more people so they see the entertainment value but also the green message. That's what we're all about."

NBC Universal already has reached out to viewers with two "Green Weeks" of programming across its networks, shows and Web sites. Lauren Zalaznick, president of NBC Universal Women and Lifestyle Entertainment Networks, who also oversees NBC Uni's Green Is Universal environmental initiative, said viewer and advertiser response has been good so far. As an example, she said "Today's" Web site got a big boost during its "Green Week" stunt called "Ends of the Earth" in November, while several new advertisers also came on board for NBC Uni's weeklong event in November and April.

NBC's "My Name Is Earl" took a cheeky approach in November that some speculated was a not-so-veiled jab at NBC Universal. When the prison warden (Craig T. Nelson) tells Earl (Jason Lee) to incorporate a green message into a "scared straight" program he's putting on with some fellow inmates, Earl says it doesn't really fit into the show and would seem forced. The warden responds, "What if I told you you had to do it because I'm your boss?"

But Zalaznick said the various brands aren't forced to participate. "No one doesn't want to," she said. "It's such a win."

She added that each program is given the freedom to decide how to incorporate the green message since "they know their brand better than anyone else."

At the end of the day, Zalaznick and O'Neill agree that the most important thing when it comes to green-themed programming is to entertain and educate — but not lecture — the viewer.

"We're focused on delivering great entertainment with great content," O'Neill said. "We're working with the leaders in the green movement, from Hollywood A-listers and rock stars to researchers and scientists. Hopefully, they represent to the audience that if they can get green, we all can get green." (partialdiff)