Acknowledging that the company’s TLC network had suffered through a tough year, Discovery Networks U.S. President Billy Campbell was quick to address new programming for the network during the company’s upfront presentation to advertisers last week.
“Nowhere will change be more apparent than at TLC,” said Mr. Campbell, who told ad buyers that new programming would go on-air “right now, in the second quarter.” New TLC shows include “Sheer Dallas,” a six-episode series premiering April 15; “Operation Homecoming,” a five-part special series; and “Million Dollar Agents,” with six episodes launching the summer.
Taking responsibility for TLC’s performance this season-ratings are down more than 30 percent in March as its hit “Trading Spaces” wilted in the face of widespread imitation-Mr. Campbell said the channel would feature “a broader array of Life Unscripted” programming.
Other new TLC shows include “The Adam Carolla Project” (working title), in which the comedian/carpenter and his friends renovate a dilapidated house; “Going Hollywood,” in which showbiz hopefuls take jobs as interns; the self-explanatory “Help! I’m a Terrible Parent” (working title) and “The Sit Down,” described as “People’s Court” meets “The Godfather.”
During the presentation, Mr. Campbell also unveiled programming plans for a dozen other Discovery networks.
Afterward he said he felt “the most optimistic I’ve been” since joining the company, because of the new programming in the pipeline and the new management and programming teams at the networks. Over the past year or so Mr. Campbell has installed new general managers at networks including Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet, Travel Channel, Discovery Health Channel and BBC America.
Joe Abruzzese, president of advertising sales for Discovery Networks U.S., said that despite TLC’s ratings woes, which have necessitated some creative maneuvering to make clients whole, Discovery’s networks are “still in high demand” in the scatter market.
He declined to predict how Discovery would fare in the upfront, but he said that, like last year, he expects about $500 million in spending to shift from the broadcast networks to cable because ratings for cable continue to increase and because cable enjoys a pricing advantage over broadcast.
Discovery will continue to offer clients product placement and integrated advertising opportunities, he said, adding that integrated sales bring Discovery either higher ad prices or higher volume. One client’s spending with Discovery rose from $11 million to $41 million, Mr. Abruzzese said, in part because of a product-placement deal.
Integrated clients include MasterCard, Visa, Circuit City, Home Depot, Procter & Gamble and General Motors.
During a fast-moving two-hour presentation that included an appearance by six-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong (whose team is sponsored by Discovery), Mr. Campbell and Mr. Abruzzese laid out programming plans for the company’s networks.
One show that may or may not be sold during the upcoming upfront market is “Planet Earth,” a Discovery Channel special slated for fall 2006. The 10 or 11 hours, presented with limited commercial interruptions, will offer eye-popping scenes of never-before-filmed locations. Discovery is talking to partners about a potential theatrical release of a feature film version of the show.
New Discovery Channel series include “Pop Nation: America’s Coolest Stuff,” “I Shouldn’t Be Alive,” Firehouse USA: Boston” and “Dirty Jobs.”
Animal Planet will feature a new special, “Jane Goodall’s When Animals Talk,” and will bring back its “Puppy Bowl” for Super Bowl Sunday.
Travel Channel programming will focus more on journeys than on destinations, Mr. Campbell said. New shows include “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations,” following the celebrity chef’s globe trotting, and “Stranded-With Cash Peters,” in which the travel correspondent must rely on the generosity of strangers for food and lodging.
Discovery Health Channel will venture into new territory with “Strictly Sex With Dr. Drew,” featuring Dr. Drew Pinsky. Another new show is “Dr. Know,” featuring Dr. Paul Trotman, who separates health myths from reality.
BBC America next season will update four Shakespearean plays by placing them in very modern settings. The network will also feature an original drama, “NY-LON,” about sex in New York and London; an original dramedy, “Love Soup”; and “Little Britain,” a comedy from the United Kingdom.
The Military Channel plans to premiere specials next season, including “Ace in the Hole,” on the search for Saddam Hussein, “Inside NORAD” and “War Games.”
Discovery Times plans to launch “Finding America,” featuring New York Times reporter Charlie LeDuff, and “Off to War,” which follows 57 men from Clarksville, Ark., who left their families to go to Iraq as part of the Arkansas National Guard.
New specials on The Science Channel include “Prehistoric Lab,” which uses electronic animation to bring dinosaurs to life, and “Cracking the Ocean Code,” in which scientist Dr. J. Craig Venter characterizes new species of sea life by their genetic makeup.
New series on Discovery Home include “Flip That House,” “Inner Chef” and “Make Your Move.”
The new series “The Gym” will join the FitTV program lineup for the 2005-06 season.