Discovery Nabs History Star

Feb 19, 2007  •  Post A Comment

History Channel’s star archaeologist, Josh Bernstein, will be taking his Indiana Jones hat to Discovery Communications.

Mr. Bernstein, currently host of History Channel’s popular “Digging for the Truth,” will join the Discovery Channel as field explorer, executive producer and host on series and specials covering anthropology, archaeology, the environment and other issues, a Discovery executive said.

Luring Mr. Bernstein away from History Channel marks a win for the Discovery Channel, which is refining its brand to focus more on nature and history. Discovery is shifting away from pop-culture fare such as “American Chopper,” which drew in viewers but diluted its brand. Mr. Bernstein’s jump costs History Channel a budding celebrity host who starred in one of its most popular programs.

“Digging” is averaging a 1.3 Nielsen Media Research household rating and 1.5 million total viewers since its third-season premiere Jan. 22, making it one of History Channel’s top-drawing shows.

Mr. Bernstein will join Discovery in April and will become one of the more prominent faces on the channel. Discovery also expects the explorer, president of the Boulder Outdoor Survival School, to be featured online and in other multiplatform programming initiatives.

“This is a major coup for the network,” said the Discovery executive. An announcement of the deal could come as early as this week.

Discovery is an attractive venue for Mr. Bernstein because it underwrites a number of major scientific expeditions each year.

Mr. Bernstein was raised in New York and maintains an apartment there as well as a yurt in Southern Utah. His Boulder Outdoor Survival School is billed as the largest and oldest of its kind in the world and teaches courses on making fires, building shelters and turning river rocks into cutting tools. He’s also a member of organizations including the Explorers Club, the Royal Geographical Society and the American Museum of Natural History.

Team Effort

The expedition to lure Mr. Bernstein away from History, where “Digging for the Truth” has aired for three years, was the work of Discovery Channel President Jane Root and Jeff Hasler, head of development for Discovery Channel, who used to work at History Channel and A&E.

The deal has been in the works for several months. Discovery said Mr. Bernstein’s leap was not announced at the Press Tour in January as a courtesy, so that it would not interfere with the launch of a new season of “Digging.”

Nevertheless, the poaching of Mr. Bernstein contributes to A&E’s bad blood with its rival Discovery.

The enmity starts at the top because some A&E Television Networks board members believe it was improper for new Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav to continue to attend A&E Television Networks board meetings as a representative of part owner NBC when he knew he was about to take the Discovery job.

A&E Television Networks had a board meeting during the second week of November. Mr. Zaslav’s move was officially announced Nov. 16.

A&E Television Networks executives who declined to speak on the record said that Mr. Zaslav’s recent reorganization at Discovery, which shifts more responsibility to the managers of the individual networks, to them resembles the structure currently in place at A&E.

A spokesman for A&E Television Networks declined to comment.

“David has the highest respect and affection for the team at A&E Networks,” Discovery said in a statement.