Programming: Discovery Channel in France

November 1, 2004


Discovery Channel in France

(London, U.K.)

Target Audience

Men and women, ages 18 to 44, middle income, post-secondary education (sub demographic for daytime is men and women, ages 16 to 25)


3.2 million subscribers


Marian Williams

VP of programming for Europe, Middle East and Africa


‘It’s very much Discovery’s style to have big production specials – programs that look like cinema.

‘[We also want] factual entertainment rather than classic interview, archive, reconstruction-type documentary programming. [Discovery's style] is primarily storytelling and making difficult subjects accessible. In France, our stories are real stories about real people, and personal quests that are universal in their appeal.’

Need it

Williams is on the hunt for entertaining, people-based factual programming with a French angle. She’s interested in big French specials that not only work for France, but translate for other regions as well.

One such copro, a 4 x 1-hour series by London’s 3BM Television and Montreal’s Cineflix, is called Zero Hour. Recently aired on Discovery in France, Zero dramatizes the hour leading up to unforgettable historical events, such as Chernobyl and 9/11.

Nefertiti, a special Discovery U.S. produced about a year ago with London-based Atlantic Productions, is a good example of the personal stories for which Williams is looking. In the two-hour program, British scientist Joann Fletcher tries to determine if a particular mummy is the body of the legendary Queen Nefertiti. ‘It’s basically one woman’s search for another [woman], rather than an archeological program,’ explains Williams.

‘I’m also desperately looking for half-hour popular science series, and engineering and mechanics programming.’

Don’t Need it

‘In terms of commissioning and coproducing, we don’t do classic arts or current affairs,’ says Williams. ‘And we tend not to do social issues or ethnography.’

While it’s very rare for Williams to commission a single one-off, Massacre in Madrid is an exception. Produced by London-based October Films, the one-hour program for Discovery Europe examines the infamous bombing in Madrid last March and its immediate aftereffects on the people involved.

Her advice for those pitching Discovery in France is simple: ‘Look at the schedule, website and listings guides to get an idea of [the channel's] look and feel. There’s nothing more off-putting than a producer coming to me and saying, ‘I’ve got the show your channel needs,’ and it’s a sports program.’

What’s On Now

Launched in September, Discovery Channel in France aired Girl with X-Ray Eyes in October. A one-hour one-off produced by London-based Shine, it tells the story of a Russian girl who has a talent that enables her to ‘see’ peoples’ medical problems. The special follows her as she undergoes scientific testing.

In November, the channel broadcasts Intelligence Blunders, a four-part series by London-based Wilton Films that shows how failure or changes in intelligence have affected the outcome of events in recent history. Also airing in late 2004 is Blueprint for Disaster, a 6 x 1-hour series by Toronto-based Temple Street Productions. Blueprint mixes recreation, documentary and CGI to follow scientific investigations of major engineering disasters.

About The Author
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.