Think of Discovery Channel’s “Frozen Planet” like a literary gem, made possible through the generous funds generated by more populist fare akin to a best-selling sudser.

A quick look at the Discovery website yields a banner hawking its top shows: “American Chopper: Senior vs. Junior” sports a TMZ-like tout “Father and son meet at OCC … this time in front of cameras” and there are audience faves that make up much of the sked, including “Dirty Jobs,” “Mythbusters” and “Man vs. Wild.”

It’s a far cry fom the channel’s original mission of providing science, technology and nature programs on an elevated PBS level. Yet, at least once a year, the cabler pulls off an impressive educational series with jaw-dropping photography.

“A lot of these channels have had their brands evolve in this really organic, unplanned fashion as a result of unexpected success,” says Max Dawson, a professor specializing in television at Northwestern U. “Shows like ‘Sons of Guns’ can bring in the revenue to support the kind of programs like ‘Frozen Planet’ that Discovery originally set out to provide.”

After production-intensive projects “Planet Earth” and “Life” fared well with critics, the cable channel once again joined with the BBC to create big event spectacle and seven-part project “Frozen Planet.” The nature series focusing on the world’s polar regions took nearly four years to film and averaged more than a million viewers — a respectable but not spectacular turnout.

” ‘Frozen Planet’ is the kind of prestige project a network can boast about, and DVD sales should be excellent,” says Gail Pennington, TV critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “So not only will a show like ‘Frozen Planet’ put Discovery on the Emmy radar, it’s exactly the thing to entice the network’s target viewers and keep them engaged.”

Road to the Emmys 2012: Reality & Nonfiction
And here’s the pitch. . . | Fundraising a huge obstacle for documakers | Hinterland heroes all the rage | ‘Frozen Planet’ proves cool for Discovery | Why we watch: Personalities that keeps auds glued | Reality: A genre bursting beyond the seams