A new Discovery

December 20, 2009|By David Zurawik

From the end of "Jon & Kate Plus 8" to the start of what it is hoping will be a beautiful relationship with Oprah Winfrey, it has been a year of headlines and tabloid madness for Maryland-based Discovery Communications, a company once known for nature documentaries made in other countries.

"Jon & Kate," a reality TV series about a family of 10, became tabloid manna last spring when it was revealed that Jon Gosselin, the 34-year-old dad, was having relationships with women in their 20s. By the time the series, which airs on Discovery's TLC channel, returned for its fifth season in June with the announcement that Jon and Kate were divorcing, the tabloid-driven audience had soared to 10.8 million viewers - and Discovery earnings were up $109 million over last year.

But it was the beginning of the end for the Gosselin show, and the series shut down production in October after Jon took legal action to keep his children off the air. The divorce became official Friday.

While Discovery has long been a major TV brand, it vaulted into a new category of importance and recognizability with the announcement in November that it would launch the Oprah Winfrey Network in 2011. With Winfrey saying she will end her landmark syndicated talk show after 25 years in 2011 to devote herself to her new channel in Silver Spring, the possibility that she will do a new talker on OWN has set the media world abuzz.

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