Discovery’s John Ford Out in Major Reorg

John Ford is leaving Discovery Channel, as part of a comprehensive reshuffling of the programming giant’s executive suite.

Ford, who in November 2007 was named president and general manager of Discovery Communications’ flagship network, is being unseated by 24-year company veteran Clark Bunting, who will assume oversight of Discovery Channel and Science Channel.

Bunting will serve as acting president and general manager of both brands. Most recently, he was president and general manager of Discovery’s emerging networks group, which included Science Channel, Military Channel and Investigation Discovery.

Debbie Myers will continue as general manager of Science Channel, reporting to Bunting.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, Discovery said that the flagship channel and Science were grouped together because they “occupy complementary genres and appeal to many of the same viewers.”

Outside a four-year hiatus (2003-2007), during which he was executive vp, programming at rival National Geographic Channel, Ford had spent the better part of the last 20 years at Discovery. Shortly after joining the company in 1989, Ford took the reigns at TLC as its senior vp, programming and executive vp and general manager, serving in that role until 1999.

He later put in time as president of new media for Discovery Networks U.S., where he launched the company’s first high-definition service, Discovery HD Theater.

On Dec. 1, Ford attended Discovery’s holiday press function in New York, where he introduced partygoers to Charlie Frattini, a Brooklyn-based developer who in 2010 will host the new series Construction Intervention. Ford didn’t speak like a man who would be out of a job in three weeks’ time; in fact, he was eager to talk up the gruff Frattini as the “new face of Discovery Channel.”

Other networks will be structured along demographic lines. Henry Schleiff, formerly the general manager of Investigation Discovery, will run the male-targeted properties: Military Channel, Discovery HD and ID. Schleiff, who joined the company in August 2009, now reports directly to Discovery president and CEO David Zaslav.

A similar approach will lump the company’s female-friendly channels under Planet Green chief Laura Michalchyshyn. Also a relative newcomer––she joined the startup in February from Sundance Channel––Michalchyshyn will helm Planet Green, FitTV and Discovery Health. The latter net is set to transition to OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, in January 2011.

With Michalchyshyn stepping up, Discovery Health and FitTV general manager Carole Tomko has been named president of Discovery Studios. The centerpiece of that unit is the 60-episode series, Curiosity: The Questions of Life, a five-year project set to roll out in January 2011.

Tomko will report to chief operating officer Peter Liguori, the former Fox programmer who joined Discovery earlier this month.

There were no major changes announced for two of Discovery’s biggest networks, as TLC and Animal Planet will continue to operate as standalone networks under their current president/general managers. Eileen O’Neill assumed responsibility for TLC in July 2008, while Marjorie Kaplan took the helm at Animal Planet Media in 2007.

“Across our portfolio, Discovery’s U.S. networks have delivered solid ratings strength and revenue growth over the past year,” said Zaslav, by way of announcing the reorg. “I am confident that the changes…will enable us to further strengthen our content pipeline, build a more efficient operational structure and better exploit the company’s valuable beachfront real estate.”