This year, North America is seeing many revamped, relaunched channels dedicated to docs and factual. Canada’s Documentary Channel has been re-invented under the moniker Documentary, and Discovery is in the midst of transforming a number of its channels. Discovery Times became Investigation Discovery in January, and 2009 will see Discovery Health switch to the Oprah Winfrey Network. Planet Green is the latest revamped channel from Discovery to hit televisions, out of the shadows of Discovery Home. Realscreen spoke with both Dan Russell, VP of programming and scheduling for Planet Green, and Bruce Cowley, creative head of digital channels for the CBC and the man in charge of Documentary.
According to Cowley, the difference between old and new is slight, but they didn’t rebrand for nothing. Documentary will continue to bring feature-length docs to the screen, but will have a special focus on one-hour formats to draw in a non-traditional doc audience. ‘In general, my quest is to make the channel relevant, accessible and something that all curious folks are interested in watching,’ says Cowley. To him, this means catering not only to doc buffs but also people who are used to one-hour factual and who may not be willing to dedicate an evening to a film. For producers approaching the channel, this means that, in addition to the 10 hours of features programmed into the channel’s primetime schedule, Cowley is looking for more series. He uses Sundance Channel’s Iconoclasts as an example of the type of series for which they’re looking. A program that pairs disparate personas, such as Dave Chappelle and Maya Angelou, both of whom are successful in their field and in some way known for breaking down barriers, and follows them in conversation. To Cowley, it’s programs such as this that will draw in unlikely audiences and introduce viewers to important ideas through non-traditional filmmaking.
Planet Green is a more obvious departure from its launching pad, Discovery Home. Starting off with the latter’s subscriber base, the 24-hour eco-lifestyle channel recently launched in 50 million homes. Though green has been a hot topic for a couple of years, Russell says he doesn’t have an inventory of programs to lean on to help jump-start the channel. Rather, the focus is on original programming. Russell is looking for lifestyle shows with a green spin. While he feels there is room on the channel for films with big environmental messages, the focus is not on the regular doom and gloom docs. He advises producers to bring him shows that would work on HGTV, Bravo or TLC, but with a green lens. As he says, he doesn’t expect to draw viewers to the channel simply because the programming is good for them. ‘Our network focuses more on inspiring and empowering and using the imagination and giving people the ideas of what they can do themselves in their own lives. It’s about getting people to be green with honey rather than the stick.’