Hendricks to Satisfy Discovery’s ‘Curiosity’

Discovery Channel founder John Hendricks is returning to the fold to lead the charge on a five-year project designed to untangle the knotty questions about human existence.

The 60-episode series Curiosity: The Questions of Our Life will begin rolling out in January 2011, with plans for a new hour-long episode to debut each month in the Sunday 8 p.m. time slot.

Each installment of Curiosity will address a specific issue related to humankind and our place in the cosmos. In keeping with Discovery Channel’s original mission statement, the central questions posed by the series will be examined through the prism of science, running the gamut from archaeology to quantum physics.
Although Curiosity wasn’t far enough along in the development stage for Discovery to tease it during its spring upfront presentations, the network is now ready to begin talking with potential sponsors. “The series will be ad-supported, absolutely,” said Carole Tomko, president, Discovery Studios. “We’re at the point now where we feel comfortable talking about it as an opportunity for key sponsors to come onboard.”
While Hendricks’ role wasn’t explicitly defined, Curiosity is a joint production between Discovery Communications and Experius Academy, a Colorado-based resort-cum-learning collective set to open its doors in spring 2010. Hendricks also happens to be the guiding force behind Experius, which is expected to branch out to include an explorers’ club and a residential community.

(In a note on the Experius Web site, Hendricks characterizes the venture as a means “to make the most of your vacation time by creating a unique destination for your leisure-time learning about topics ranging from science and history to self-improvement and the arts.” He adds that the resort also functions as “a destination in which you can personally interact with the world’s leading experts on the questions that have fueled your lifelong curiosity.”)

Also lending their expertise to the Curiosity initiative are a roster of top-flight American universities, including: Princeton, Cornell, Syracuse, Georgetown and the University of Virginia.

In a statement, Dr. Shirley Tilghman, president of Princeton, applauded Discovery’s quest to leverage mass media to wrestle with some of the thornier questions about human life. “We are living in a golden age of discovery, in which scientists are beginning to peer further back in time to the origins of the universe, unravel the extraordinary complexity of the human brain, and explain the immense diversity of living organism that have evolved on earth,” Tilghman said. “As educators as well as scientists, faculty at Princeton are eager to communicate the excitement and importance of these discoveries as broadly as possible.”

Along with the TV series, the Curiosity project will also include K-12 educational content such as teacher guides and supplemental classroom material developed by Discovery’s education unit. Each episode will be augmented by online material designed to provide a deeper dive into the topics examined throughout the linear series run.

Production on all aspects of the project will be managed by the Discovery Studios.

“Satisfying curiosity has been at the heart of Discovery since the launch of the channel in 1985, and this landmark series is the next investment in fulfilling the breadth and ambition of that very powerful mission,” said Hendricks, who serves as chairman of Discovery Communications.

As it begins digging into the initiative, Discovery has begun reaching out to a clutch of bold-faced Hollywood names. While Discovery did not provide any intel into the identities of the producers and directors it has approached, earlier this year president and CEO David Zaslav was said to have been in talks with Steven Spielberg regarding an unspecified project.
Tomko deftly sidestepped the Spielberg rumor, but she did say that Discovery would look to “bring together the best and brightest talent in the non-fiction space,” adding that the network is also considering its choice for on-air talent.

“We’re looking at a pretty fantastic group of potential hosts for the series,” she said. “The idea is to identify someone who can serve as a guide for the show, someone who is quintessentially Discovery. … If the Discovery brand were to be adapted into a series, this would be it.”