Upfronts 2014: Daredevil takes his high-wire act above the Windy City skyline in a new live special. What could possibly go wrong?
After surviving the whipping winds across a vast canyon last year, Nik Wallenda is taking his high-wire act above Chicago’s skyline for a new Discovery special. “Skyscraper Live With Nik Wallenda” anchors a Discovery slate that also includes specials on dolphins and tigers, a 42-day survivalist adventure, a strength-training series from Funny or Die, and a previously announced jump from Mount Everest.
The network also plans a series on the American West from Robert Redford and Laura Michalchyshyn’s Sundance Productions. And in case anyone’s adrenaline hasn’t spiked, Shark Week will be as Shark Weeky as always.
The Everest jump, tightrope walk and survivalist show (tentatively titled “Survival Live”) are all attempts to get viewers to watch television in real time in an era of DVR and binge-viewing. Nothing keeps people pinned to their seats like the threat of real danger. Wallenda’s June tightrope walk, “Skywire Live With Nik Wallenda,” was the most-viewed live non-sporting event on cable last year. The tightrope portion of the show (pictured) earned 13 million viewers.
New York City nixed Wallenda’s plans to cross the Manhattan skyline after his canyon crossing last June. But the Windy City is apparently more open to the idea of a man without a harness walking a highwire above its streets. Wallenda’s latest adventure is scheduled for this fall.
“Discovery Channel delivers the most talked-about live events in television,” said Eileen O’Neill, Group President of the Discovery, Science and Velocity networks. “I am excited the city of Chicago has been chosen for Nik’s next walk. It will be another epic live event for Discovery.”
“Chicago is home to the first skyscraper and has played host to countless world events, and this will be one for the history books,” said Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel. “We are thrilled Nik Wallenda has chosen our great city with its iconic skyline as the site of his next walk.”
Discovery also announced the new shows “Tree People” and “Siberian Cut,” and the return of “Deadliest Catch,” “Fast N’ Loud,” “Gold Rush,” “Naked and Afraid,” “Bering Sea Gold” and “Moonshiners.” The Funny or Die series is called “American Muscle” and features coaches working with everyone from bull riders to paraplegics trying to walk again.
Discovery, part of the vast Discovery Communications empire that also includes TLC and OWN, unveiled its slate as it prepares to pitch its new shows to advertisers at its upfront presentation Thursday. It boasts that its first three months of 2014 were its most watched in more than a decade. It averaged 1.34 million total viewers in the first quarter of 2014, up 2 percent from the same period a year ago.
The network is also ranked No. 8 in cable in the key 18-49 demo and No. 9 in total viewers for the year so far.
Here are Discovery’s 2014-15 shows, as described by the network:
LANDMARK SCRIPTED SERIES
THE WEST: Executive produced for Discovery by Robert Redford and Laura Michalchyshyn’s Sundance Productions, who recently produced Discovery’s Emmy Award nominated documentary All the Presidents Men Revisited, and Stephen David Entertainment, this special series will provide unprecedented access into the wilderness, frontier lawlessness and bloodshed of the 40 years between the end of the American Civil War and after the turn of the twentieth century, when the West was won. From Jesse James and Crazy Horse, to Wyatt Earp and Buffalo Bill, the characters at the center of this violent, blood-soaked period in American history are explored as each episode follows the stories and struggles of the West’s most infamous outlaws as they fight for their land and identity.
EVEREST JUMP LIVE: The world is about to witness one of the greatest human feats ever captured on television — when Joby Ogwyn attempts the first wing suit flight off the summit of Mount Everest. In May, Discovery will take viewers on the journey with two, one-hour pre-shows revealing Joby’s intense training and preparations for Everest. The special will then culminate with a live two-hour broadcast — showing Joby as he battles the grueling conditions on the way to Everest’s summit and ultimately when he takes the final plunge from the top. Joby’s custom-made wingsuit will be equipped with cameras bringing a bird’s eye view as he descends more than 10,000 vertical feet at speeds of over 150 mph.
SKYSCRAPER LIVE WITH NIK WALLENDA: Chicago is the destination for Nik Wallenda’s next live event for the network. Wallenda, known as “The King of the High Wire,” will attempt to cross the Chicago skyline, untethered, as Discovery captures all of the excitement of the live event, in fall 2014.
SURVIVAL LIVE: Eight survivalists who think they have what it takes will compete in this 42-day live event … but they’re not surviving solely on their own. In this 24/7 real time, multi-platform viewing experience, viewers will play a large role in each survivalist’s success or failure. The survivalists’ struggle will be streamed live, day and night, from the moment they are abandoned into the remote wilderness with only the clothes on their back. Viewers will have the ability to check out the survivalists biometric data to see who is physically struggling, and can then elect to help them out. The survivalists will be able to build a relationship with the audience by talking to them through the cameras. That relationship could be the difference between failing to succeed on the first week or making it the full 42 days. To prosper, these survivalists will need the audience in their corner.
NATURAL HISTORY SPECIALS
DOLPHINS: SPY IN THE POD: Using robotic cameras, extraordinary imagery, humor and never before seen behavior, Discovery Channel explores the secret lives of one of the world’s most popular animals – the dolphin.
GIRL GANG OF TALIA: Tigers are believed to be solitary hunters. However, in the forests of central India, a gang of four tigresses is turning this notion on its head. Four sisters have reunited and learned to hunt cooperatively and they’re taking down large, dangerous prey like bison and sloth bears. This hunting behavior, extremely rare in the wild, has never been filmed before.
SHARK WEEK: This is cable’s longest-running programming event and everyone’s favorite summertime ritual. Every year the sharks return to Discovery Channel, slashing through a sea of competition to rack up new ratings successes. Grab your scuba gear and climb into the cage, because it’s time for Great Whites, Hammerheads, Whale Sharks and more! This consistent audience pleaser never fails to deliver as it reveals remarkable new insights into these magnificent and elusive creatures.
See video: Shark Week: Autotuned (Video)
MOTOR MONDAYS features both returning favorites as well as all-new series premieres of all-motor programming. From the amazing builds and big laughs of Richard Rawlings and Aaron Kaufman on Fast N’ Loud and high octane stakes of Street Outlaws, to a close up view of bike build competitions in #BikerLive and a unique partnership between car build legend Rick Dore and wrestling superstar Chuck Palumbo in Lords of the Car Hoards, Motor Mondays is guaranteed appointment viewing for all-motor action and fun each Monday night, for 52 weeks a year.
AMERICAN MUSCLE: Fit isn’t a just destination. It’s a way of life. And Discovery introduces viewers to that way of life with this all new Funny or Die sports docu-series. Legendary strength coach Mike Barwis, trainer to more than 500 Olympic and professional athletes, and his staff of dedicated trainers take on everyone from troubled NFL players to Wild West bull riders and paraplegics looking to walk again. From the gritty Detroit-based Bawris Methods Training Center, each episode features high-profile athletes who have made the trek to Detroit to work one on one with Barwis. These professional athletes want to be the best. And to be the best, they have to train with Mike Barwis.
#BIKERLIVE: In this brand-new series, viewers get an up-close look at bike build competitions featuring three regional competitors per episode and an interactive live voting component. Each week a winning bike is crowned, based on audience votes, live.
EDGE OF ALASKA: This all-new series follows frontier life in an “Old West” town in eastern Alaska. A town at the end of America, where young men go to prove themselves, and old outlaws go to die; home to wolf hunters, gold miners, gun smiths, backwoods survivalists — people willing to risk their lives to live truly free.
FAT N’ FURIOUS: In the rust belt state of Ohio, speed reigns supreme — the faster the car, the fatter the profit and every second counts. With a waist size that rivals the Rust Belt itself, Tommy Christmas and his family are known for driving big and living even bigger. “Fat n’ Furious” follows the hilarious car junkies of Christmas Automotive as they hunt down left-for-dead cars and bringing the back to life and to the racetrack.
KODIAK: Kodiak Island is remote. For three multi-generational families risking it all to make a living in this dangerous environment, each day is a roll of the dice. Home to some of the best fishing and deadliest hunting on the planet, Kodiak Island is a land of natural treasures and populated by as many as 3,500 Kodiak bears — one for every square mile of land — each weighing in at over 1,500 pounds. Too many bears ultimately means starvation for the species, so carefully regulated hunting is the only solution. And there is also fierce weather to contend with. Kodiak Island averages 70 inches of both snow and rain per year — and fog is common. Those who reside here truly live on the edge. For the bush pilots, master guides, expert hunters, survival experts and adrenaline junkies who call Kodiak Island home, each and every day brings new challenges.
SIBERIAN CUT (working title): This series follows American logger Sean Vann as he attempts to build a new logging operation in the frozen forests of Siberia. Vann has been logging in Russia for 17 years and landed a contract to log the world’s largest forest in Siberia. Vann looks to American loggers who are experiencing a recession and convinces a group of men from Montana and Oregon to leave the forests of America and seek their fortunes in the sub-zero ground of Siberia where they must work side by side with a Russian crew who have a very different view of the world, and a completely different way of working. The two crews will face each other, drive their convoy of logging machines deep into the forest, confront angry villagers, and cross the Trans-Siberian Railway during a storm all before they even begin to cut the timber that they hope will earn them their fortunes.
TREE PEOPLE: Hidden in America’s Pacific Northwest, among the tallest trees in the world, are a select group of people that call the treetops their home. The 3,000 miles of forest are filled with punishing weather conditions, deadly animals and the hardened descendants of those who passed through on the Oregon Trail beginning in the 1840s. With no modern amenities, these tight knit communities don’t take kindly to outsiders and fight to keep what is rightfully theirs. They live off the trees and the forest.
ALASKA: THE LAST FRONTIER: This fan favorite follows the Kilcher family and their unique and isolated homesteader community outside Homer, Alaska. The Kilchers, led by patriarchs Atz and his brother Otto, have cultivated and lived on their homestead for four generations. These men, and their wives and children, live off the land, racing the clock during the limited months of summer and fall to hunt, fish, gather and grow enough food to last the harsh Alaskan winter. They battle extreme elements to gather enough firewood, ward off predators, complete projects for sustained shelter, and prepare their cattle herd for the eight months of cold and darkness. They proudly choose this rugged lifestyle with no indoor plumbing or electricity, in hopes that future generations carry on the family tradition of survival.
AMISH MAFIA: Untrusting of outside law enforcement, some Amish in Lancaster County have for many years regularly turned to a small organized group of men for protection and justice. This series provides the first-ever look at the small and tightly knit group of men who protect and maintain peace and order within the Amish community in Lancaster. Lebanon Levi is the Amish insider who holds the power and serves as protector of the community, at a price. He exists above the law and occupies the role of police, judge and jury. Levi’s team engages in a life outside of Amish and non-Amish community codes as he quietly exerts his influence and control.
BERING SEA GOLD: Nome, Alaska: Even in sub-zero temperatures and six-foot-thick slabs of ice, nothing will stop a handful of thirsty characters who risk their lives diving beneath the frozen Bering Sea in hopes of striking it rich. When the ice melts, Nome transforms into a modern day gold rush as fortune seekers from around the world arrive in hopes of striking it big in the most unlikely of places: the bottom of the Bering Sea. Meet the salty and eccentric characters who spend hours on the rocky, frigid ocean floor, hunting gold from custom built, sometimes barely seaworthy rigs. From the desperate to the diabolical, the Nome gold fleet takes on all comers, the brutal Bering Sea does the rest.
DEADLIEST CATCH: While the wary veteran skippers cement their legacies on the Bering Sea, the young guns begin to create their own this season. But they better be careful what they wish for. This multiple Emmy Award-winning series kicks off its landmark 10th season on Discovery Channel on April 22. The late Capt. Phil Harris brought notoriety and respect to the industry, and to the fishermen who risk their lives in one of the most dangerous jobs around. This season proves to be a momentous one for Phil’s son, Josh Harris, who is back as captain and owner of his father’s boat the Cornelia Marie. There are also big changes on the horizon for the F/V Northwestern. Sig Hansen’s 18-year-old daughter Mandy joins the ranks as deckhand. In a profession typically dominated by men, Mandy has a lot to prove. But can Sig treat her just like one of the crew?
DUAL SURVIVAL: Meet the Odd Couple of Survival, Cody Lundin and Joe Teti, two trained and expert survivalists who enter the most forbidding terrains in the world where they must overcome all obstacles in order to survive using intuitive tactics and finely tuned skills. Finding food, water and shelter are nothing compared to their toughest challenge of all: getting along with one another.
DUDE YOU’RE SCREWED: What would you do if you were captured, blindfolded and taken to an unknown, remote location? This ultimate survival game features five friends – who happen to be a handful of the most elite survivalists in the world — who play the ultimate game of survival. Each week one guy in the group is ambushed by the other four as they monitor his every move in the wild.
FAST N’ LOUD: These guys cruise for the classics. Meet self-described “petrol-sexual” motorhead Richard Rawlings and mechanical prodigy Aaron Kaufman as they search far-flung corners of the country for forgotten and derelict classic cars to restore to tip top shape at their Gas Monkey Garage. Heaps of rust are transformed into gleaming road warriors and sold to the top bidder.
GOLD RUSH: Friday night’s No. 1 show for men in all of television features men in the face of an economic meltdown who risk everything to strike it rich mining for gold. Among the gold mining crew leaders is 19-year-old Parker Schnabel who mined for gold last season with the big boys in the Klondike to see if he had what it takes to be a true gold miner. He grew up in the gold mining business and gives the other gold mining crews a run for their money. Todd Hoffman leads his crew of miners, including his dad Jack, hoping that all of their hard work results in a major payday. The “Gold Rush” gold mining crews make mistakes, learn lessons along the way, overcome enormous obstacles, and do their best on their rocky road to success.
MOONSHINERS: White Lightning, Bathtub Gin, Mountain Dew or just plain Moonshine — it has many names — but what remains true is it’s made in secret and it’s illegal. This hit series follows those who take serious precautions to remain safe as they practice the art of making moonshine, and the law enforcement tasked with capturing them.
MYTHBUSTERS: Quirky special-effects experts Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage, with Kari Byron, Grant Imahara and Tory Belleci, continue their mad scientific quest to discover the truth behind popular myths and urban legends. This mentally tantalizing series takes on the myths and uses modern-day science to show what’s real and what’s fiction.
NAKED AND AFRAID: In Discovery’s survival series, a new pair of strangers each episode will find themselves stranded in some of the world’s harshest environments with no food, no water, no tools … and no clothes. As their extreme survival skills are put to the test for 21 days, each couple must battle the elements, each other and their own inner weakness to triumph over the terrain and their predicament.
SONS OF GUNS: Will Hayden is an American success story. Having turned his Louisiana-based small business, Red Jacket Firearms, into a regional powerhouse, he’s ready for the next step for himself and his family. Like so many American small businesses, Will’s journey from garage based gun shop to the pride of Baton Rouge is rife with personal sacrifices and some risky decisions.
STREET OUTLAWS documents the world of Oklahoma City street racing, where you’re nothing if you’re not on “The List.” Who has what it takes to be #1? Buckle up and hold on tight, because Discovery is racing back with this fan favorite.
SHARK AFTER DARK is the “Shark Week” aftershow that leads viewers through an hour-long celebration of all things shark-related, including celebrity guests, shark experts and shark attack survivors, among others. The live show gives viewers the first opportunity to interact live on-air every night with tweets, questions to the shark experts, and more.
YUKON MEN: Just 60 miles from the Arctic Circle lies a town on the edge of civilization: Tanana, Alaska. This frozen village of 200 people is part of an unknown America where men hunt and trap to survive, subsisting as people have in Alaska for decades. Each changing season brings new struggles, new threats and new dangers. This small band of men and women risk their lives to put food on the table, and keep their way of life alive.