Discovery’s New President Promises to Ditch Silly Stunts Like ‘Eaten Alive’

Wants growth from inclusive programming, not sensationalism

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Rich Ross, former CEO of Shine America and chairman of Walt Disney Studios, had been on the job for just 72 hours as Discovery Channel's new president when he met with reporters this week.

Still, Ross already had a clear sense of how to bolster Discovery Communications' flagship network, which has suffered ratings erosion. The key, he said, will to be "authentic."

"It's really important that we look into this incredible brand and all the programming that we make and make sure that's what we stand for," he told journalists at the Television Critics Association winter press tour. "And it's a filter in which we're looking at everything we have on the air and everything we're talking about moving forward."

That means no more silly stunts like December's Eaten Alive special, which sparked viewer outrage after Paul Rosolie was not ingested by an anaconda as had been promised. "It was the right intention with a packaging that was misleading," said Ross. "You don't have to be so sensational and overpromise."

Nevertheless, Ross did offer one promise: "I don't believe you'll be seeing a person eaten by a snake during my time."

The new chief also won't pursue fake documentaries like 2013's Megalodon: The Monster Shark That Lives, claiming that the trend has "run its course." Instead, he will "absolutely" be looking for more scripted series like last year's miniseries Klondike, and on Wednesday hired film and TV producer John Goldwyn (Hollywood legend Samuel Goldwyn's grandson) for an "aggressive" push into scripted content.

"I don't think it's about doing 10 series. I'm hoping that we can get probably two up for this year," said Ross, who wants to focus specifically on history, which is a genre that has been difficult to tackle in unscripted series. "I know that there are over 45 networks now doing scripted, but a lot of the networks no one watches a lot. This is a top 10 network, a huge network for men, and I think we have a huge opportunity."

He'll also reach out to Discovery's international partners to see "what opportunities may be adaptable here." First up: a trip to Istanbul, where he'll brainstorm with top execs from Discovery's global group. "I think it's a real opportunity to do better with what we have," Ross said, "but also look around the world to all these really smart people and find out what they have."

Ross' top priority: expand Discovery's audience, which he said is "more narrowly niched than I think it ever needs to be or should be. And I think being more inclusive to women, to younger men, is the way for us to build back the audience to being a No. 1 TV brand, a No. 1 brand that is for the whole family and not just for the men in the family."

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV/Media Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.
Publish date: January 10, 2015 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT