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Ross plots new path for Discovery Channel

Discovery Channel is taking a new direction in its programming strategy, moving away from sensationalised shows such Eaten Alive and towards documentaries and scripted series, according to its new president.

Rich-Ross-NEW_400Rich Ross (left) told journalists at Discovery’s TCA session that this week’s hire of former HBO exec John Hoffman as executive VP, documentaries and specials was “not just such a signal” of his intentions, but a “a message” that the latter’s remit was “very important to us”.

Hoffman in part takes on responsibilities that were previously undertaken by Andrew Jackson, who was Discovery Channel’s EVP, landmark series and specials before exiting last year and re-emerging at Grant Mansfield’s Plimsoll Productions.

Discovery Channel president Ross said the network’s programming would be broader during his tenure than male-skewed shows such as Eaten Alive that tell stories while also transmitting scientifically-sound information. “I don’t believe you’ll be seeing a person eaten by a snake during my time,” he said, adding the show’s packaging was “misleading”.

“The Discovery Channel that I’ve come into is that it’s more narrowly niche than it ever needs to be or should be,” he added. “Being more inclusive to women and younger men is a way for us to build back the audience, and to being the number one TV brand for the whole family.”

Ross, who joined Discovery Channel’s flagship US cable feed this month after leaving Shine America, was critical of shows that dealt in hypothetical science such as Megalodon: The New Evidence, which suggested the extinct megalodon could still be alive in the oceans.

“I don’t think it’s right for Discovery Channel, and think it’s something that in some ways has run its course,” he said. “They’ve done very well, but I don’t think it’s something that’s right for us.”

Discovery will also push further into scripted programming, with Ross also hiring John Goldwyn as executive producer.

Goldwyn, grandson of MGM co-founder Samuel Goldwyn, was most recently EP on Fox’s Broadchurch remake Gracepoint, which Ross’s former firm, Shine America, produced. He was previously a Paramount film producer, and launched prodco Michaels/Goldwyn Production with Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels.

Ross said yesterday he plans to have a pair of new scripted series on air by year-end, with history drama a likely genre. “We’re already talking to producers who have properties and are very close to buying one,” he said.

“I know that there are over 45 networks now doing scripted, but a lot of those networks no-one watches a lot. Discovery is a top 10 network, a huge network for men, and we have a huge opportunity, signaled yesterday with the hiring of John Goldwyn, to launch in the scripted arena more aggressively.”

Asked what project he wants to do most, Ross said: “I do know that what I would love to be able to do, which is something meaningful for me and my whole career, is something that impacts people to do something, to lean forward, not just to watch, but to influence them to do something. A lot of the natural history programming is so provocative in that way and an opportunity at something we’re certainly going to look at.”

Ross’s vision was well-received by TCA critics and social media, with his name trending on Twitter minutes after his quotes broke on the web.

Further developments from Discovery Channel parent Discovery Communications’ TCA included cable channel Investigation Discovery ordering Killer Instinct with Chris Hansen, a true crime series from UK-base ITN Productions.

Elsewhere, American Heroes Channel acquired French World War II doc Surrender, which comes from commercial channel TF1 and Roche Productions.

AHC has picked up exclusive North American rights from distributor Terranoa, and will run it as a two-part special in spring.

“We are losing ‘the Greatest Generation’ with each day that passes, making 2015 – the 70th anniversary of VE [Victory in Europe] Day – a landmark occasion to reflect on and preserve the oral history of this iconic chapter in world events,” said Kevin Bennett, general manager of AHC.