Discovery wants to move away from reality television shows

Here Comes Honey Boo Boo was a controversial reality television programme about the family of a child beauty pageant contestant.

Aired from 2012 till last year, it did well in the ratings for TLC, a cable network owned by Discovery Communications, but some critics took umbrage, calling the show offensive, outrageous and exploitative.

Such sensationalist programming was also seen by some critics and viewers as a sign of Discovery losing its way.

Mr Phil Craig, 55, who joined Discovery Networks International, a division of Discovery Communications, as its chief creative officer in February, admits as much. While allowing that "observational character-based reality shows" worked well "for a time in some places", he says: "Quite a few of us feel that they were taking us a little bit away from the brand."

So, there goes Honey Boo Boo.

He adds with a wry smile: "I'm certainly not looking to develop any more shows like that. I think people have got a little bored with constructed reality. They prefer their reality a little more real."

Instead, he is championing a return to the core brand values of Discovery.

"The key thing is to look at the logo. It's the globe, the world. There's a slightly child-like sense of awe and amazement in some of the work we do. Look at the wonders and beauty of nature, the animal kingdom and human achievements."

He spoke to Life! recently while in Singapore on a business trip. According to its website, Discovery Networks International reaches 2.9 billion cumulative subscribers in more than 220 countries and territories through Discovery Channel, TLC and other channels. Its closest competitors include the National Geographic and History channels.

Mr Craig is keen to re-invigorate classic genres with modern production techniques and styles.

"Animal shows in the past looked a little like surveys, but we want them to really feel like great stories which will keep you on the edge of your seat. There will be more emphasis on the narrative and story-telling without neglecting the beautiful photography which is an iconic part of our brand," he says.

He even describes the upcoming The Lions Of Sabi Sands: Brothers In Blood as "a little bit like watching Game Of Thrones with lions".

The two-hour special about the struggle for power within a lion coalition in South Africa premieres on Animal Planet (StarHub TV Channel 424) on Tuesday at 9pm.

Given his experience in the industry, Mr Craig is well-placed to spearhead Discovery's factual and lifestyle content.

He is a veteran of more than 30 years and spent much of his career doing work for the BBC and was also head of factual at Australia's ABC TV.

 

In his new role, he will be commissioning local content and is "already developing projects with Singapore producers, Australian producers" and others.

He is "specifically charged with making shows that will work ideally everywhere, but certainly outside of America first".

Taking up the post is sort of like coming full circle as he had previously made a few shows for Discovery as a producer.

They include How We Invented The World (2012), which explores iconic inventions of the modern age, and Flight 93: The Flight That Fought Back (2005), about the resistance on board United Airlines Flight 93 on 9/11.

He says: "I've always felt that when you're saying something new or people are speaking to you for the first time or you're shining a light on a new place, that excitement of the new is always at the heart of a new story. Viewers love finding new things that they can enjoy, that they can share."

And he has big plans ahead.

"Look at our logo, it's the globe, that's the scale of our ambition and the scale of our business. We intend to grow into the digital future and to retain our place as the world's No. 1 storyteller on all platforms."

bchan@sph.com.sg