Discovery Chief Rich Ross on Controversial ‘Eaten Alive’ Special: It ‘Was Misleading’

TCA 2015: New boss stresses the need for authenticity during winter press tour

Brand-new to his role as president of the Discovery Channel, Rich Ross met with reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena on Thursday to offer some nascent thoughts on how he’ll approach the gig.

Short answer: He’s looking for authenticity, and to add more scripted programming to the channel’s roster.

And no, there probably won’t be a sequel to “Eaten Alive.”

“I would say I have priorities in mind,” Ross said, when asked what changes he might be mulling. Saying that “authenticity” is the key word relating to Discovery, he added, “It’s really important that we look into this incredible brand and make sure that’s what we stand for.”

Which brought up the topic of the exceptions to that rule that Discovery and its sister networks have recently delivered to the public. Such as the Animal Planet special “Mermaids: The Body Found.” And the offerings on TLC that have been criticized by some as promoting unhealthy lifestyles.

While Ross declined to criticize Discovery’s sister channels, on his own channel, he pointed to Thursday’s hiring of HBO veteran John Hoffman, who “has a long history of telling great, authentic stories” and will serve as Discovery’s executive vice president of documentaries and specials. Hoffman’s hiring, Ross said, “was not just a signal, it was a message that it’s very important to us and very important to me that when people are telling stories they’re delivering information that is true, and it can be entertaining as well.”

Regarding Discovery’s December special “Eaten Alive” — which kinda, might have falsely promised that a guy would get swallowed whole by a snake — Ross said the special had “the right intention with a packaging that was misleading,” noting that show host Paul Rosolie cares deeply about snakes, but that the show probably erred on the side of sensationalism.

Asked about a follow-up to “Eaten Alive,” Ross offered, “I don’t believe you’ll be seeing a person being eaten by a snake in my time [at the channel].”

On the non-documentary side of things, Ross offered that he’s looking to bring more unscripted fare to the channel, likely launching two new unscripted shows this year. Ross, who noted that Discovery is currently talking to producers about buying properties and is close to acquiring one, said that he’s looking toward scripted projects with a historical bent.