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Discovery Networks to Dabble in Scripted Programs

Discovery Channel, Science will both test out dramatic concepts

A TV company best known for its reliance on so-called “non fiction” programming is playing with something a little off-kilter for its viewers: scripted fare.

Discovery Communications, the cable network that makes its bones showing science and nature programming as well as off-kilter reality shows, said it will air a scripted mini-series for the first time on its flagship Discovery Channel as well as a scripted drama – another first – on its Science Channel.

The bulk of the programming announced across six nets still has its roots in real life, and even the scripted fare is based on history or a non-fiction book. But the company’s decision to dabble in the scripted realm echoes maneuvers elsewhere. NBCUniversal’s Bravo is developing three scripted series based on novels centered on the wealthy and/or lovelorn, for example.

At Discovery Network, executives will unveil “Klondike,” based on Charlotte Gray’s book “Gold Diggers: Striking it Rich in the Klondike.” The show will follow six strangers “and their collective fight for survival and wealth in a small, frontier town in the remote Klondike,” the company said.

Meantime, the Science Channel will run its first scripted dramatic feature, “73 Seconds: The Challenger Investigation,” starring William Hurt. “The BBC co-production details the aftermath of the Challenger disaster, following physicist Richard Feynman’s efforts to cut through cover-ups and agency red tape to uncover the tragedy’s true cause,” the company said in a statement. The drama will debut in November, accompanied by a documentary about the real-life events behind the drama.

The emerging interest in scripted fare by nets known for reality-based programming reflects a truth known across the TV business: Scripted programming has more of a shelf life after its first on-air run, while reality shows are a harder sell. Discovery has long sold some of its biggest events on beautiful DVD packages, but getting another network to pick up old seasons of “Jon & Kate Plus Eight” might pose a challenge.

Discovery Channel will also host live event, “Wallenda Live,” in which high-wire walker Nik Wallenda will attempt to tightrope-walk across the Grand Canyon without using a harness. Discovery will also introduce “Big Brain Theory: Pure Genius?,” in which 10 contestants vie each week to prove themselves America’s next great innovator. Actor Kal Penn will host.

At TLC, the network popular for its looks at intriguing slices of American subculture, new shows include “Alaskan Women Looking for Love”  and “Best Funeral Ever,” set at a Dallas funeral home.

At Investigation Discovery, one of Discovery’s faster-growing properties,  Jerry Springer will host “Tabloid!” a new series looking at bizarre real-life stories perhaps best suited to the cult-favorite Weekly World News.

OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network, a joint venture of Discovery Communications and Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Prods., is expected to launch two scripted series from Tyler Perry in May, as well as “The Haves and the Have Nots,” a one-hour ensemble drama on May 28. Sitcom, “Love Thy Neighbor” will debut May 29 with two consecutive half-hour episodes.

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