Discovery Communications Parties With James Woods, Robots, Oprah at Upfront

Cable company unveils a slew of green lights

Discovery tends to play it big for its upfront presentation, and 2012 was no exception. If you had to pick a star of the show, it would probably be Henry Schleiff, head of Investigation Discovery and now Destination America—the former unexpectedly a breakout hit with women in the dollar demo, the latter a bid to repurpose the unsuccessful Planet Green.

Schleiff told Adweek that while much of Destination America's job (at least to start) would be repurposing library content from Discovery's other networks under an attractive brand, he is looking forward to premiering new shows like the meat-tastic adventure eating show United States of Food.

At a breakfast earlier in the day with the company's international execs, Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav fielded questions about the new network, saying that its purpose first and foremost was to boost flagging interest in the channel, which (as Planet Green) had been taking up valuable basic cable real estate without pulling its weight.

But there's more to come from every corner of the Discoveryverse—the flagship channel will follow up the current Frozen Planet with North America, and BattleBots fans will be happy to see Robogeddon (not to be confused with upcoming Spielberg flick Robopocalypse), a radio-controlled robot arena fighting show.

Then there's OWN. The segment started off well with a sketch starring CEO Oprah Winfrey and Jimmy Kimmel testing a new idea for a show, Book Club Fight Club (OWN co-president Erik Logan said the sketch was "just another board meeting at OWN!" when the sketch ended, earning laughs). Winfrey then described the process of laying off 30 employees and dealing with low ratings as "climbing Kilimanjaro."

Another network getting a lot of attention from its parent company: Velocity. With Bob Scanlon in charge, the company is looking to appeal to high-income men in the same way that other reality-focused networks have found traction with higher-salaried women.

On the sales front, at least one exec's network has been experimenting with secondary guarantees based on data from companies like TRA and IAG, which are less useful for demo data but much more accurate when it comes to predicting which products the viewer will buy. The services, which use data sets like customer loyalty card info cross-referenced with viewership numbers culled from set-top boxes, aren't as useful for, say, financial services, but packaged-goods and pharma companies can press their media buyers to look for greater market penetration by selecting shows watched by, say, a high percentage of Crest toothpaste customers.

The party in the lobby of Jazz at Lincoln Center's home in the Time Warner Center (yes, it's confusing) was informal and frankly a lot of fun—James Woods, host and executive producer of Science's upcoming This Changes Everything, hobnobbed with journos and buyers, though the OWN crew hit the road early in the evening. It wasn't quite a dinner or a cocktail party, so there were a lot of folks circulating with tiny plates and miniature forks as they talked shop and admired the star of Robogeddon, a green four-wheeled robot with wicked-looking spikes sticking out of his chassis. He didn't appear to have a name, but we'll probably all be calling him "master" soon enough.