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Upfronts ’14: TLC, OWN, ID, Animal Planet talk slates

From Oprah's "dream" series to more Kate Plus 8, Discovery Communications' portfolio of cable nets announced their 2014/15 slates during a presentation in New York City on Thursday (April 3). (Pictured: Animal Planet's The Yao Ming Project.)
April 4, 2014

Marquee-level live events and scripted movies are ramping up across Discovery Communications’ portfolio of American cable networks.

In addition to Nik Wallenda’s latest live tightrope walk – over the Chicago skyline – set for Discovery Channel, Science, Animal Planet and OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network unveiled other high-profile programs during the company’s 2014/15 Upfront presentation in New York City on Thursday (April 3).

However, the two-hour presentation for 2,000-odd advertisers and reporters at Jazz in Lincoln Center was primarily devoted to unscripted programming – and talent – compared with last year’s cavalcade of stars that included William Hurt, Morgan Freeman and Mariel Hemingway.

Filmmaker Ron Howard made an early appearance to tout his new digital studio New Form, which will develop scripted and unscripted short-form content aimed at reeling in younger audiences for Discovery online.

Meanwhile, sitcom veterans Roseanne Barr and Leah Remini were on hand to promote shows for ID: Investigation Discovery and TLC, respectively.

River Monsters star Jeremy Wade used a bloodsucking lamprey to plug the show’s sixth season on Animal Planet, while OWN honcho Oprah Winfrey closed out the show with help from the cast of Tyler Perry’s The Haves and Have Nots and R&B singer Toni Braxton, who will star in a biopic about singer Darlene Love to be executive produced by 20 Feet From Stardom director Morgan Neville.

DISCOVERY CHANNEL

Discovery Channel’s slate included three live events: Wallenda’s Skyscraper Live, which will air sometime in the fall; Survival Live, a hybrid survival series-live event from Adjacent Productions; and the previously announced Everest Jump Live, which will see wingsuit jumper Joby Ogwyn jump off the summit of Mount Everest.

New series #Bikerlive incorporates live and interactive component to give viewers the power to vote for the winner of a custom bike building competition. Robert Redford and Laura Michalchyshyn’s Sundance Productions are teaming up with Stephen David Entertainment to produce the scripted western series, The West.

Read more about the network’s unscripted slate here.

TLC

Female-skewing sister net TLC emphasized the themes of family, relationships and weddings with 44 new and returning unscripted series amounting to 500 hours of programming in 2014.

The network unveiled the strand ‘TLC’s Family Reunion,’ which will bring back stars of past series for new one-off specials. Kate Plus 8 (working title) from Figure Eight Films checks in on Gosselin clan matriarch and her sextpulets and twin teenagers. In Megalomedia’s Quints By Surprise: 5 Years Old, the Jones family celebrates their quintuplets’ fifth birthdays.

TLC will push the family theme in seven other unscripted series and specials. The Figure Eight Films one-off A Duggar Leaves Home  follows Amy Duggar, cousin of the 19 Kids & Counting family as she moves to Nashville to become a country singer; The Leah Remini Project (working title) from Gurney Productions is a reality series starring the King of Queens‘ actress and her sitcom-esque real-life family; Listed Sisters (working title) from Matador Content is a real estate show featuring three entrepreneurial sisters; and the Shed Media US-produced special Long Lost Family (working title), based on the format that’s been a hit in assorted territories including the UK, follows people who reunite with their loved ones after a prolonged period apart.

Twofour Productions’ Risking It All (working title) is about houseboaters living off the grid in physically demanding conditions; The Speegle Life (working title) from Ryan Seacrest Productions follows a southern family that leaves its church in Florida to help the daughters find a new congregation in Alabama; and Welcome to Allentown (working title) is a special from Stiletto Television about a musical family of 10 who travel the country in a bus.

New additions to the channel’s bridal block on Friday nights are the Half Yard-produced special Curvy Girls Bridal (working title), about the owners of a bridal boutique for full-figured women;  and Heidi to the Dresscue (working title), a Trium Entertainment-produced special about an Alabama-based custom wedding dress designer.

TLC renewed the relationship series 90 Day Fiancé for a second season and greenlit new shows Psychic Matchmaker from Jane Street Entertainment and The One That Got Away from Ardaban.

ANIMAL PLANET

Animal Planet renewed 11 series, including River Monsters, Treehouse Masters, and My Cat From Hell! and is bringing back its popular ‘Monster Week’ and Puppy Bowl events.

Leading the network’s slate of new titles is the special The Yao Ming Project (working title, pictured), which follows the basketball star as he travels to Africa to witness illegal poaching and lobbies the Chinese government to end the trade of illegal ivory and rhino horns in China.

Revenge of the Whale (working title) is a two-hour scripted coproduction with the BBC about the story that inspired Herman Melville’s classic book Moby Dick. Martin Sheen stars as Old Thomas Nickerson, a former cabin boy on the ill-fated whaling ship Essex. It also stars Jonas Armstrong and Adam Rayner.

Other specials set to air over the next year are Last North, which follows polar explorer Eric Larsen on a 49-day expedition across the North Pole; the wildlife doc Primates: Clash of Kingdoms (working title); Snow Wolf Family (working title), director Gordon Buchanan’s wildlife doc set on Ellsemere Island in Canada; Surviving The Kill Zone, a wildlife doc shot in Zambia’s Luangwa Valley using 65 remote-controlled cameras; and Walking the Nile (working title), which follows writer and photographer Levison Wood on a 4,250-mile walking trek along the full length of the Nile River.

Animal Planet will also air the wildlife specials Wild Asia, Wild Australia and Wild Mexico.

New series on the network’s slate include Deadly Islands, starring predator expert Dave Salmoni; Ice Lake Rebels, a survival series set on Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories in Canada; and Pool Master, starring an eccentric designer and sculptor who creates swimming pools that resemble nature.

Redwood Kings follows twin brothers who turn reclaimed redwood trees into works of art; Rocky Mountain Bounty Hunters follows two teams of fugitive retrieval agents who go after armed delinquents hiding out in mountainous terrain; and My Tiny Terror (working title) stars dog trainer Jacqueline Wilson who specializes in tiny, problematic dogs.

SCIENCE CHANNEL

Leading Science Channel’s slate is the live event chronicling the Google Lunar XPRIZE, an international competition that is offering a $30 million reward for the safe landing of a private, unmanned spacecraft on the moon. Science and Discovery Channel will air a miniseries following the 18 teams participating in the competition. The live event will air sometime in 2015.

The network is also following its debut scripted movie The Challenger Disaster with another BBC-coproduced drama. Spies of Los Almos will air in the first quarter of 2015 and is about the secrecy surrounding the construction of the atom bomb during World War II.

Late night talk show host Craig Ferguson is executive producing I F-Ing Love Science (six x 60 minutes) a series inspired by the “I F****** Love Science” Facebook page. Strip The Cosmos (six x 60 minutes) uses CGI to explore what lies beneath planets, moons, black holes, stars and galaxies. Meanwhile, My Life As A Satellite also uses CGI as well as NASA footage and video, to create a first-person account of the life of a man-made satellite.

Other new series premiering over the next year are Alien Universe with Brian Cox (five x 60 minutes), American Makers (six x 60 minutes, working title), and Biblical Conspiracies (four x 60 minutes).

ID: INVESTIGATION DISCOVERY

Investigation Discovery

Roseanne Barr hosts ID’s Momsters: When Moms Go Bad.

Touting ID: Investigation Discovery’s distinction of having the “longest length of tune in television,” network president Henry Schleiff appeared in a pre-recorded skit dressed as a doctor who advises a couple with a severe addiction to its crime and mystery programming.

The network greenlit 11 new series and renewed 22 returning series, amounting to more than 700 original hours.

Highlights include Vanity Fair Confidential, an hour-long series featuring crime stories taken from the pop culture and current affairs magazine; the miniseries Heartbreakers, in which TV heartthrobs from the 1980s and 1990s such as Kevin Sorbo and Antonio Sabato Jr. take on bad boy roles; and Momsters: When Moms Go Bad, a Roseanne Barr-hosted (pictured) series about mothers who are not above breaking the law in order to help their children succeed.

Other new crime series are Young, Hot & Crooked, Murder Book (working title), See No Evil (working title), Your Worst Nightmare (working title), Living A Lie (working title), The Help (working title), Did He Do It? and Twisted Tales of My 9 to 5.

OWN: THE OPRAH WINFREY NETWORK

OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network has commissioned the network’s first scripted drama, My Name Is Love: The Darlene Love Story, from executive producers Winfrey and Morgan Neville.

Neville also directed 20 Feet From Stardom, the Oscar-winning documentary about back-up singers credited with helping revive the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame honoree’s career. R&B singer Toni Braxton will star in the lead role.

The network will also air Belief, a seven-part documentary series about the origins of faith coproduce by Harpo Studios and Part2Pictures. Executive producers are Winfrey, Sheri Salata, Jon Sinclair, Jill Van Lokeren, David Shadrack Smith, Greg Henry and Kim Woodard.

“This series is one of my biggest dreams ever,” Winfrey told the audience. “It’s the reason why I put my name on the channel.”

Winfrey also announced the fourth season of Oprah’s Master Class, which will premiere on May 11 with an episode about pop star Justin Timberlake. Other celebs set to appear this season include Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Roberts and Lionel Richie.

The rest of OWN’s slate leaned heavily on drama such as the miniseries Tulsa starring Octavia Spencer, series The Single Moms Club and a new season of Tyler Perry’s The Haves and the Have Nots.

VELOCITY

Male-skewing net Velocity has ordered more than 300 hours of programming including 12 returning shows and seven new series. The network has also inked a deal with collector car auto auctioneer Barrett-Jackson to air more than 100 hours of live coverage across Velocity, Discovery Channel and Discovery Networks International beginning next year.

New series on the Velocity slate are Junkyard Hustle (six x 60 minutes, working title), about a father and son who search junkyards and auctions to find cars, boats, homes, campers and other metal objects they can flip for a profit; and
Wheeler Dealers USA (10 x 60 minutes, working title) follows hosts Mike Brewer and Edd China as they travel to America to restore and flip cars. Other new series include Crash! (17 x 30 minutes), Versus (eight x 30 minutes), Garage Squad (working title), Wheels That Fail (18 x 30, working title) and Extreme Auto Hunters.

AMERICAN HEROES CHANNEL

Earlier this year, Discovery rebranded Military Channel as American Heroes Channel, a network that airs a mixture of military and history programming. Its 2014/15 slate is led by One Giant Leap (working title), a documentary special about the space race of the 1960s.

Other programs include The Raid, about elite units of soldiers; Secrets of the Arsenal (working title), a one-hour series that searches museums and collections for little-known historical artifacts; D-Day To Victory, a series about the final years of World War II; A Different Destiny (working title), a show that imagines what might have happened had the events that make history turned out differently; and The American Revolution, a three-part series about the United States’ war for independence from colonial rule.

DESTINATION AMERICA
Discovery’s cable net celebrating all things American added five new programs to its 2014/15 slate.

The latest entry into the network’s Buying…franchise of real estate shows is Buying the Beach, which follows prospective homeowners as they search properties in Southern states for the perfect beach home. BBQ Pit Wars follows competitors on the BBQ circuit attempting to dethrone champ Myron Mixon. Swamp Monsters is a supernatural series about an enforcement agency that takes on threats from “creepy Cajun creatures.”

The natural history special America The Beautiful tours the most beautiful landscapes across the United States and delves into their geological history. Finally, in Red, White and You the network teams up with USA Weekend magazine to stage competitions in which small towns can win a Fourth of July celebration.

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.

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