Discovery’s thinking big

Cable network plans event programs on Earth

Discovery Channel will announce an upfront slate on Wednesday heavy on big-event programming in the vein of current hit “Life.”

The cabler, set to unveil its first slate since Clark Bunting returned to the channel in December as president/general manager, will also detail some of its 25th anniversary programming plans.

“There are a lot of folks out there diving toward the bottom,” Bunting said. “That means there’s space at the top, and that’s the place we want to be anyway, with big, beautifully made event-type TV.”

New specials include “Human Planet,” a new high-definition series that shows people in a wide variety of environments — such as the arctic, mountains, jungles, grasslands, deserts and cities.

Discovery also has partnered with NASA to create “Earth from Space,” using satellite imagery and data to showcase Earthbound events like hurricanes, how earthquakes alter the planet’s spin and how the Sahara can trigger rain in the Amazon.

“Reign of the Dinosaurs” uses creative talent from Disney and Pixar to illustrate advances in what’s known about dinosaur behavior. And “Engineering the Impossible” uncovers how ancient civilizations built the most iconic buildings in early history, and what they looked like.

Those events join the previously announced specials “Curiosity: The Questions of Life,” the first in a five-year, 60-episode series from Discovery founder John Hendricks; and Steven Spielberg’s “The Rising: Rebuilding Ground Zero,” which chronicles the site’s reconstruction.

“Our strong schedule is allowing us to take some risks and big swing programs that we previously haven’t been able to do,” Bunting said.

On the series front, “Man vs. Wild” host Bear Grylls is behind “Worst Case Scenario,” based on the books.

“It’s like a real-life ‘Bourne Identity,'” Bunting said of the show. “There’s so much adrenaline here. Bear has found a new genre of programming.”

In “Construction Intervention,” New York builder Charlie Frattini works with owners whose small businesses were hit by a derailed construction project.

“This is one of those shows with a ton of heart,” Frattini said. “And speaks to the underpinning of Discovery as a network with a social conscience.”

Discovery also has new episodes of returning series “Deadliest Catch,” “Dirty Jobs,” “Man vs. Wild,” “Mythbusters,” “Storm Chasers” and “The Colony.”

Meanwhile, for the channel’s 25th anniversary, Discovery plans to look back at its history during the week of June 13 through 18. Old logos and campaigns will be dusted off, and a “greatest hits” of Discovery programming will be screened.

According to Bunting, who has been with the company since the beginning, old and new favorites like “People of the Forest,” “Submarine Sharks of Steel,” “Blue Planet” and “Planet Earth” are likely to be included.

“Part of the challenge is figuring out what are the shows,” Bunting said. “The good news is there’s an embarrassment of riches.”

Asked why sister TLC is airing Sarah Palin’s Alaska-themed docuseries instead of Discovery, Bunting said the show has more “elements of story and connection to family,” making it “more appropriate for TLC.”

“If it were a pure natural history doc, that’s a different conversation,” he said.

Also on Monday, Discovery announced that Kevin Bennett has been tapped to spearhead programming and scheduling for the channel. He replaces Ken Schwab as senior veep of programming.

Bennett previously helped Bunting launch emerging nets such as Discovery Health, Discovery Times and Investigation Discovery. A 14-year Discovery Communications vet, Bennett reports to Bunting.

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