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Discovery Lineup Fulfills a Vision

Feb 20, 2006  •  Post A Comment

So far this year, running Discovery Channel has not been such a dirty job.

After a two-year ratings slide for the network, the under-the-radar hit “Dirty Jobs” has helped Discovery crawl up 8 percent in prime time compared with last year, quarter to date, according to Nielsen Media Research.

“We’re up in every single daypart. We’ve got a vision and it’s really started to work-and this is the first time I’ve said that,” said Jane Root, VP and general manager of the network for the past 20 months. “We’re on a bit of a roll here.”

Part of that vision is continuing to feed Discovery’s roots in informational programming. To that end the network is ordering “Everything You Need to Know About …,” a magazine-style series produced by “Made in America” and “Grizzly Man” producers Creative Differences that gives viewers useful facts about a different subject each week.

“It’s the ultimate water-cooler show for us,” Ms. Root said. “It’s about knowledge, but tells you in a hip, modern and immersive way … with great trivia everyone can use.”

Scheduled “Everything” topics include poison, hurricanes and, of course, sharks, as Shark Week continues to be one of Discovery’s most enduring programming successes.

Ms. Root has ordered 13 episodes, a typical season order for the network, and commissioned pre-production on an additional 13.

“I’m that confident in it,” she said.

The network is also renewing its adventure re-enactment series “I Shouldn’t Be Alive,” which premiered in October.

Though the modest climb does not necessarily indicate the start of a full-scale comeback for the network, promising signs in addition to the overall prime-time ratings bump are starting to emerge.

“MythBusters” has continued to be a hit for the network, averaging 1.6 million viewers. The new series “Stunt Junkies,” which premiered last month, has provided a solid 1.1 million average.

The network also has Ted Koppel working on the first of his investigative reports for a planned debut later this year.

The biggest new driver on the network has become “Dirty Jobs,” in which affable host Mike Rowe takes on a different uncomfortable occupation in each episode, such as horse inseminator, septic tank technician and oyster collector.

Season to date the show has averaged 1.8 million viewers, closing in on the network’s top-ranked “American Chopper” (1.9 million). The most recent original episode of “Dirty Jobs” drew 2.8 million viewers, landing the show in the cable weekly top 10, besting FX’s “The Shield” and Fox News’ airing of the State of the Union address.

“This has been a show that’s been climbing and climbing,” Ms. Root said. “It’s one of those quiet sleeper hits that our audience completely loves, and it repeats well.”

After years of ratings and subscriber growth, Discovery Networks-owned TLC and Discovery have been in a ratings funk during the past two years, with Discovery losing about 20 percent of its total viewership. Though the brand continues to be strong among advertisers, finding more hits like “MythBusters” and “American Chopper” has proved difficult.