Under Discovery Channel’s new regime, fake shark movies and man-eating anaconda stunts are out.
In an apparent response to viewer dismay over ratings-grabbing stunts that went against Discovery’s science-and-nature brand, the cable channel’s new president, Rich Ross, said he will avoid such content under his leadership.
Appearing at the Television Critics Association’s semi-annual press tour in Pasadena on Thursday, Ross was first asked about bogus nature documentaries, like last year’s Shark Week movie Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives — a fictional film about a “serial killer of the seas” disguised as a legitimate documentary. The project was slammed by fans of the annual programming stunt and is part of a line of programs that includes Discovery sister channel Animal Planet’s notorious mermaid films.
“I don’t think it’s actually right for Discovery Channel,” said Ross, the former CEO of Shine America, when asked about the film. “And it’s [a type of programming] that I think in some ways has run its course. I don’t think you’ll be sitting with me here next year asking me a question about something I put on—whether a series or a special—where that’s the dilemma. They’ve done very well, many of them, but it’s not something that’s right for us … if something [has been previously ordered], it’s probably still coming. But I’m telling you where I am and how I feel moving forward.”
Ross was also asked about the controversial recent special Eaten Alive, which outraged viewers by seeming to promise that naturist Paul Rosolie would be fully consumed by an anaconda in his crush-proof suit, then outraged viewers yet again when he seemingly tapped out early.
“It was the right intention with a packaging that was misleading,” Ross said. “Paul Rosolie cares deeply about snakes and wanted to draw attention [to deforestation]. [But] you don’t have to be so sensational. In his mind he thought [being eaten by the snake] was actually possible. But the fever of that story got out of control. So whether it’s about a title [adding] a question mark … for me I’d rather be in a situation where the story is clearer, and you don’t expect at the end something that can’t possibly happen.”
Pressed if Discovery will make a follow-up to Eaten Alive, Ross said: “I don’t believe you’ll see a person being eaten by a snake during my time here.”
Ross added that his goal is to re-build Discovery’s audience, while also broadening its appeal. “[We want to be] a number one TV brand that’s for the whole family and not just for the men in the family.”