It's not uncommon to hear hyperbolic talk at upfront presentations, but when Discovery Channel president Rich Ross talked about reaching for the moon at the network's presentation in New York Tuesday, he meant it—among the shows Discovery Channel announced is Lunar XPRIZE, tracking a competition among teams working to land a craft on the moon (preferably, Ross said, live, and in prime time).
The Discovery Channel also announced Racing Extinction, a documentary from the producers of the Academy Award-winning The Cove that will "expose the hidden world of endangered species and race to protect them against mass extinction."
Discovery Communications chief executive David Zaslav said with Discovery networks in 230 countries, an effort like Racing Extinction can become a show with truly global scale. "It's something only Discovery can do," Zaslav said. "We're reaching more people in more countries than any other media company."
Zaslav said his networks had focused their spending on programs with international appeal, as Discovery worked to expand its global footprint. "Our international pillar gives us a real hedge as you look at the slowing of the U.S. business," said Zaslav.
Highlights from the Discovery networks:
- Discovery Channel, which saw strong performance among men—and impressive growth among women—will bring back Shark Week and add a new event, Elevation Weekend, which focuses on explorers pushing the limits in mountain climbing and conquering the elements.
- Discovery Channel also announced its newest scripted series effort, Harley-Davidson, which tells the story of William Harley and Arthur Davidson and the company they built that became a global icon.
- TLC announced a variety of new series, including Hardly Royal, which follows a blue-collar guy from Maryland who discovers he's the heir to the throne of the U.K.'s Isle of Mann, and Married by Mom and Dad, a series to debut in 4Q, in which parents of men and women who've had no luck in love select spouses for their kids.
- Animal Planet announced a slate of new shows, including America Builds a Shelter, which is an animal-focused Extreme Makeover that will build or renovate animal shelters in deserving communities; and Fish or Die, the story of four fishermen and the families that depend on them.
- Investigation Discovery will bring Barbara Walters to the network with American Scandal, a series that revisits some of Walters's most famous interviews from ABC News, including elements that never made air. "It's just amazing what never aired originally," said Zaslav.
- Velocity, the car-focused channel which saw double-digit ratings growth—particularly among men ages 18 to 34—in 2014, will bring back 12 shows including Bitchin' Rides, which became the highest-delivering series in the network's history in its first year. Velocity, which is branded Discovery Turbo overseas, will be a key part of the company's strategy in 2015, aiming to "push Turbo to be the next global Discovery brand," said Zaslav.
- Discovery Communications also announced the acquisition of U.K. production company Neal Street, the Sam Mendes-founded company responsible for Penny Dreadful and Call the Midwife. The acquisition expands Discovery's reach into scripted series.