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Discovery Probes Varied Lineup

Jun 2, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Flush with success from rising ratings, increased distribution and an aggressive development slate, Discovery Heath Channel Executive VP and general manager Bob Reed is out to prove the cable channel isn’t all about the babies.

The cable channel is preparing a number of specials dealing with the darker side of health as DHC expands its brand while continuing to nurture the popular batch of infant-focused series, which includes Babies: Special Delivery, Amazing Baby Videos, Birth Day and the upcoming Make Room for Baby.

“One of the things that became clear early on is that even though health matters to everyone, when it comes to television they want to be entertained,” Mr. Reed said. “They don’t want their spinach, they want their desserts, and I feel that we’ve prepared some good stuff that’s both informative and entertaining.”

The growing cable outlet will soon add the death-themed Dr. G: Medical Examiner, the topical SARS: The True Story and War Medics. On the lighter side, DHC has ordered three more outings of the … For Dummies specials and 10 more episodes of Plastic Surgery Before and After.

Dr. G will premiere July 27 with an eye to expanding to a full series if the debut is successful. The series will go inside a medical examiner’s office to follow the activities of Dr. Jan Garavaglia, one of the country’s top medical examiners. From suicides to murders to accidents and overdoses, the series will explore the search for clues to determine the cause of death.

“The show is a departure for us because we have to make sure viewers see that we are treating the dead with respect and being mindful of the family,” Mr. Reed said. “If we can air it in a manner that’s appropriate for our audiences, it will be something that really stands out for us.”

On June 6, the tentatively titled War Medics will air, stepping onto the front lines of the Iraq war with a behind-the-scenes look at the USS Comfort. According to Mr. Reed, the special continues an examination that follows in the footsteps of 9/11 and the DC sniper shootings.

“What better way for us at the Health Channel to look at the war and reexamine it from the point of view of the men and women who are there to save lives,” he said. “This is the technology of the 21st century brought to bear with one of the most destructive ancient forces that exists, which is war. A lot of dramatic stories came out of that and we are proud to share some of those.”

Keeping with the topical theme, on June 11, the channel will air the BBC special SARS The True Story, which examines the global panic brought on by the disease.

In September, the cable outlet will air three more For Dummies specials, with a look at dating on Sept. 15, parenting on Sept. 16 and marriage on the 18.

With female viewers normally encompassing roughly 70 percent of the DHC audience, the channel earlier in the year announced a number of series designed to build on that core audience. Among the new shows are two original series in the Discovery Health Body Challenge franchise; Buff Brides, based on the book of the same title that follows brides-to-be as they get in shape for the big day; as well as specials and series such as Toddler Tales, The Best of Adoption Stories, and Make Room for Baby, in which designers prepare a nursery to surprise a couple in labor at the hospital.

Anchored by a Sunday-night line-up that continues to excel, Discovery Health Channel ranked third among all ad-supported cable nets in the fourth quarter of 2002 in VPVH among W18-49; in Total Day (9 a.m. to 3 a.m.), DHC ranked second among all ad-supported cable nets in VPVH among W18-49, and in prime, the network ranked second among all ad-supported cable nets in VPVH among W18-49.

“Most people would think that health series would appeal only to viewers 55-plus,” said Mr. Reed. “But they end up being surprised at how young are viewers can be as well as how popular some of our shows are with men. Advertisers are responding to that.”

With Johnson & Johnson making the most out of sponsorship of DHC’s baby shows, from commercials to product placement, Buff Brides already has snagged interest from makeup and travel advertisers and other shows are following suit.

“We work closely with advertisers to incorporate brand integration, but we make sure to do that without losing the integrity of the programming,” Mr. Reed said. “You’ll find that Make Room for Baby lends itself to brand integration because you obviously have to stock those supplies that the baby needs. We’re very careful to make sure the partnership fits.”