In a world that hails guilty pleasure television, Discovery Communications and its web of channels seems to have lost itself in the reality wave. However, they’re looking to change all of that now.
Over the last ten years, Discovery Communications began to shift toward a new viewer base and television concepts, leaving behind the information-style documentaries that once appeared on all of its affiliate channels: Animal Planet, TLC, and Discovery Channel. These new television concepts began simple enough at first, with TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting,” the cult “Shark Week,” and “Naked and Afraid.” However, these sensationalist shows lacked the true substance that Discovery Communications was once known for, and now they are looking to revert back to their old school classics.
The communications company first appeared on the scene with Discovery Channel‘s “after-school special on icebergs” about 30 years ago that began its reputation as a curious environmentalist’s television network. However, to survive in the new era of television that began with reality-based shows like MTV’s “Real World” and beyond, Discovery Communications began to trade up its elephant documentaries and environmental-based depictions for a less educational and curious approach.
The head of Discovery, David Zaslav, “the highest paid-chief executive in the United States,” told The Washington Post:
“One day we just came in and looked at each other and said, ‘You know, no more bearded guys in the kitchen with f—ing pigs running through the living room. Let’s get back to who we really are. We’re about satisfying curiosity. Let’s forget about the ratings right now and let’s chase what the brand is at its best.”
This new approach comes as music to the ears of many generations who grew up watching the curiosity-satisfying documentaries that Discovery became famous for, settling in each Saturday morning to tune into Animal Planet to discover their new favorite animal of the week, or flipping to TLC to watch an information special.
However, it is important to point out that though Discovery is changing its game, the reality cycle of television did pay off well for the company that “broadcasted into nearly 280 million households worldwide” in 2014 and also running “the three most-watched unscripted shows in 2015: “Gold Rush,” Alaskan Bush People,” and “Naked and Afraid XL.”
Despite these shows turning into successes for Discovery Communications, the most important factor in their transition back to their great ideas begins with the shift that’s occurring in popular culture now, too. As the life and sciences idea becomes a key focus in major motion pictures, like The Martian and Leo’s upcoming masterpiece, The Revenant (for which he should definitely win an Oscar, or else all hope is lost for the poor soul), it’s a sign that the world is tiring of trashy reality television and are looking to satisfy a greater source of knowledge.
That, honestly, is what Discovery Communications was best at, and I know I’m truly excited for this shift back to the glossy documentaries educating me on some far away place I haven’t yet seen. Now, if only the History Channel and A&E Networks would take a lesson from this shift, too.
David Zaslav, ending his interview with The Washington Post, summed it up nicely in regards to the shift back, “This is a purpose-driven company. We want to do well, but we also want to do good.” In the end, as a viewer, I think that’s all I can ask for.