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Why is Discovery Channel Cutting Climate Change Episode From Popular, Groundbreaking Series?

By Joe Romm on November 16, 2011 at 7:10 pm

"Why is Discovery Channel Cutting Climate Change Episode From Popular, Groundbreaking Series?"

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Discoveryby Jocelyn Fong, in a Media Matters repost

For the past few weeks, we’ve had to wait patiently while our friends across the Atlantic enjoy the BBC’s seven-part Frozen Planet series on life at the poles, which won’t air in the U.S. until the new year.

This sequel to Blue Planet and Planet Earth – two of the greatest programs to have ever come through my television — took four years, dozens of cameramen, 28 helicopters and 2 ice-breaking ships to make. The effort has been described by producer Vanessa Berlowitz as perhaps “our last chance to record these astonishing wildernesses that have existed untouched by humans for millennia and that, within a century, may change beyond recognition.”

Series narrator Sir David Attenborough, who has previously been reluctant to discuss the human environmental footprint in his films, spends the final episode “on location, talking to the camera in his own measured words about shrinking glaciers, warming oceans and the threat posed by man-made global warming,” according to The Guardian.

But now we learn that after earning “massive ratings” from Planet Earth and collaborating with BBC to produce the sequel, the Discovery Channel will not air the climate change episode of Frozen Planet in the U.S. due to a “scheduling issue.”

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The Arctic is called ground zero for global warming because it’s heating up faster than anywhere else on the planet, and changes there can further amplify warming and push up sea level against the world’s coasts. U.S. Geological Survey scientist Steven Amstrup says “the Arctic is a different world than it was in 1980 when I first started going up there.” While we’ve read reports and seen data about the changes, it’s been difficult to really grasp since the region is so unfamiliar and so rarely depicted in the media.

Which is why Frozen Planet would seem like an ideal opportunity for us to learn what is going on up there — an indispensable opportunity, really, given the scale and distinction of this project. The decision to nix the final episode feels very “heads in the sand,” even if Discovery incorporates some “elements” of the climate change discussion into the other episodes, as it reportedly plans to do.

Not to mention that there is precious little science on the Discovery Channel these days. Yesterday Discovery aired four hours of “American Chopper,” a reality show about guys who build motorcycles; seven hours of “Auction Kings,” a reality show about people selling old stuff; and two hours of “Cash Cab,” which, OK, I don’t really have a problem with. But what exactly is the “scheduling issue?” To cut 15 percent of a one-time production of the highest quality for one of those shows is simply incomprehensible.

Give us the science, Discovery, we can handle it.

– Jocelyn Fong, Media Matters

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45 Responses to Why is Discovery Channel Cutting Climate Change Episode From Popular, Groundbreaking Series?

  1. Peter Houlihan says:

    Some pressure on this issue might move them. They clearly are sensitive about it. I left a post on their FB page politely asking why they are doing this. The post was removed within an hour. Seems they don’t want to upset either side.

    Contact info for Discovery Channel would be welcomed.

  2. Peter Mizla says:

    Something stinks here- and its not a ‘scheduling issue’.

    I am sure if we dig deeper into why the last episode was ‘eliminated’ we will find some sponsors(s) who pulled the plug.

    Censorship of the highest order? Perhaps- but in the case of AGW money buys denial, lies and coverups.

  3. Rob Jones says:

    If I may speculate on the scheduling issue.
    I would say the issue is that discovery is in the control of idiots who would rather receive money from polluters that inform their customers. Such greed and foolishness will be the undoing of humanity. Its a ship of fools led by fools, foolishly rushing headlong into oblivion. It makes me sad.

    • NJP1 says:

      one must quote Macbeth:
      To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
      Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
      To the last syllable of recorded time;
      And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
      The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
      Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
      That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
      And then is heard no more. It is a tale
      Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
      Signifying nothing.

  4. bill waterhouse says:

    The Discovery Channel describes itself thusly on Facebook:

    Description
    Discovery Channel, one of the most widely distributed cable networks in the U.S., is dedicated to creating the highest quality non-fiction content that informs and entertains its consumers about the world in all its wonder, diversity and amazement.

    They have “consumers,” not “viewers.” We will all be unwilling consumers of climate change if the general public remains ignorant.

    • joyce says:

      Interesting description, since in my region the Discovery Channel has all sorts of weird programs on ghosts, UFO’s, paranormal, etc, that I consider a weak connection to non-fiction.

  5. Risa Bear says:

    I noticed too that warming has practically disappeared from National Geographic since their deal with News Corp on Nat Geo channel. Coincidence? They were really good on this, it’s a shame.

  6. Peter Bellin says:

    Is there a way to see these shows online? I do not have cable, so I don’t see this stuff anyway. If someone knows, please post a way to view these, avoiding Discovery Channel.

  7. joyce says:

    Is there a way to purchase episode 7? I left a note on the BBC’s Frozen Planet “Open University” website, but don’t know whether that’s the best place to find out. We would show it regionally. It appears from the BBC website that the only way to view other already aired sectons is if you are in GB. They don’t function for me.

    • mt says:

      You can buy Multi-Zone DVD players on-line. They are inexpensive and allow you to have access to movies and documentaries in the world outside the USA.

  8. Jameson Quinn says:

    Don’t just tell us about this. Call us into action!

    • Interesting Times says:

      An online petition might have an impact, especially if the issue is framed as censorship and “Why don’t the oil companies let you watch this?” Classic reverse psychology, even perhaps with people who don’t think about climate change – the more you tell them they’re not being allowed to see something, the more they’ll want to see it.

  9. Bill Walker says:

    The Daily Mail (!) reports different reasons:

    “It is feared a show that preaches global warming could upset viewers in the U.S., where around half of people do not believe in climate change.”

    The story seems to be rather in favor of coverage of climate change, which seems a bit odd coming from the Daily Mail.

    • Paul Magnus says:

      Yes, recently the DailyMail and the Telegraph in the UK, who once were strongly in denial or whatever, have now started to dilute their anti-science rhetoric to GW.

      I think it is due to the turning tide with prominent people like David ‘coming out’ and plainly admitting that things are bad. I wish he and others like him had been a bit more progressive earlier.

      Plus all the recent and current extreme happening round the clock, round the world, hitting place like the US and Europe just as bad as poor nations. The reality is sinking in that developed nations are going to be brought down just as easily and surely as poor nations to a painful standard of living (and thats just the beginning).

      I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the editors have now had personal experiences related to these recent events which have affected their outlook and spurred them on to do something in their capacity as journalist.

    • Paul Magnus says:

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/16/scientists-hurricane-iren_n_1098072.html?ref=green&ir=Green

      The 600-page report called ClimAID, intended as a resource for planners, policymakers, farmers and residents, says New Yorkers should begin preparing for hotter summers, snowier winters, severe floods and a range of other effects on the environment, communities and human health.

  10. Paul Magnus says:

    Just back from Bill McKibben’s talk at UBC.

    He is out here to drum up enthusiasm to tackle the coming battle against the Albertan pipe line to the East (Asia).

    The young ones need to start stepping up to the plate. All revolutions have been driven from the youngers.

    Just immensely over joyed at having being able to meet and thank Bill in person for what he is doing.

    Here he is occupying Vancouver….
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9JenSfRau40

    • Mike Roddy says:

      I think you mean to the West, Paul.

      Guess what? British Columbians won’t go for it. I have friends up there, and they are furious about the tar sands to begin with. They will fight a pipeline to a Pacific port with everything they’ve got, and will win, too.

      The battle is still here. A “new route”? Is that the best Obama can do?

      • J Bowers says:

        The interesting thing about the new route is the companies said it wasn’t possible to put the pipeline on that path and it had to go the old route, but are now suddenly saying that it’s possible ….now that Nebraska won their case.

  11. Lazarus says:

    It is hard to imagine what would be more important to schedule over this issue.

    Lucky for me I’m on this side of the pond and I am enjoying this series immensely. I really do hope you get to see the full series.

  12. @Bill Walker: We have a huge problem when journalists write about ‘preaching’ and ‘believing in’ climate change.

  13. harvey says:

    hopefully PBS will buy the whole series including the last episode …

  14. Leif says:

    One is not allowed to “believe” in science. You either accept science or you do not. You do not build bridges assuming you do not believe in gravity. You do not fly commercial jets assuming you do not believe in aerodynamics. You cannot structure civilization on the assumption that science is faulty unless you can scientifically prove that the science is in fact faulty. Belief is not an issue. There is lots of stuff in quantum mechanics that taxes the “belief” of even the smartest folks in the world but it is accepted because it is the way it works. Reality bites. Get over it.

  15. Sasparilla says:

    I saw that article the other day, whether its Discovery not showing it in fear of a hit in its ratings (seems unlikely since its last) or follow on DVD sales (seems more plausible) or if its that they don’t want to offend advertisers, its hard to tell.

    It seems we have the “consumption” market at work here reinforcing self censorship of controversial topics from the infotainment Discovery channel (which is what the market tends to do to maximize profits), probably just a symptom of why we don’t see climate change in our other infotainment channels and news media, for the most part, either.

  16. Mike Roddy says:

    “Scheduling issue”, my ass. First they sell out, then they lie to us as if we were dummies.

    Discovery actually started out well a long time ago, but became sick to the money. They can now be added to the media companies that need to be replaced.

  17. David B. Benson says:

    Complain to them; here doesn’t help methinks.

  18. Bob Geiger says:

    Are they required to file a list of major contributors? Time for some investigative journalism I would say. Exposing the extent of major backing from fossil fuels interests would build the case that they are knuckling under to Big Oil, if that’s the case. This action on Discovery’s part should not go unchallenged.

  19. Christopher S. Johnson says:

    This reminds me of the Koch Brothers funded PBS NOVA series that did an entire segment on Lonnie Thompson and his glacier ice core drilling. It was thorough and discussed the common melting happening everywhere, and yet, NEVER mentions why! It’s amazing, like something was cut out. Lonnie at one point says he hopes we can “do something about it”, but never says what that means or what the cause is. Here is the video. It’s the final segment in the program:

    http://video.pbs.org/video/1197885396/

    I feel for NOVA and WGBH. Times are tough and they can barely hold a staff. The have to take oil money to stay afloat.

  20. I found a message form to the Discovery Channel at

    http://corporate.discovery.com/contact/viewer-relations/

    You have to answer a bunch of questions first, but eventually you get to the message window. I selected “Blue Planet” as the program I wanted to ask about since “Frozen Planet” wasn’t on the list of options.

  21. Philip says:

    I went into the Discovery Channel’s Facebook page and asked them why the last episode of Frozen Planet will not be airing in the U.S. Mu question was deleted about 3 minutes later.

    The Discovery Channel: not just censoring science, but censoring people who question the censoring of science. Nice.

  22. Jim Pettit says:

    The Discovery Channel nowadays is about science the way MTV is about music. By my count, the network’s current line-up contains 25 reality shows, one game show, one history show, and just five occasional science shows. Obviously, reality programming costs just a fraction of what gorgeously-produced programs like the BBC ones do. But I don’t know how the Discovery Channel can still claim with a straight face that it’s “dedicated to creating the highest quality non-fiction content that informs and entertains its consumers about the world in all its wonder, diversity and amazement.” In fact, with most of those reality shows centered on hunting, fishing, guns, cars, motorcycles, survival, mining, or logging, I as a viewer have a very difficult time finding any programming at all that I’d consider wonderful, diverse, or amazing.

  23. Lionel A says:

    Thomas

    I selected “Blue Planet” as the program I wanted to ask about since “Frozen Planet” wasn’t on the list of options.

    It is almost as if they are erecting all the screens they can to hide behind.

    Shame that the BBC did not insist that Discovery show all or nothing. I think that is not an uncommonly employed condition in matters of this kind.

  24. NJP1 says:

    deny everything—that way you’ll be elected President of the United States

  25. bill waterhouse says:

    The NRDC gave an award to the CEO of the Discovery Channel a few years ago. They should take it back.

  26. Chas says:

    The reason for dropping that episode falls on the BBC, not the Discovery channel, see below quote from The Telegraph;

    “The BBC has dropped a climate change episode from its wildlife series Frozen Planet to help the show sell better abroad.
    British viewers will see seven episodes, the last of which deals with global warming and the threat to the natural world posed by man.
    However, viewers in other countries, including the United States, will only see six episodes.”

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/8889541/BBC-drops-Frozen-Planets-climate-change-episode-to-sell-show-better-abroad.html

    • Joe Romm says:

      Not quite true. This was co-developed with the Discovery and the story makes pretty clear that countries were offered either 6 or 7.

  27. I was so incensed by this news that I started a petition. Please sign and circulate widely. We can’t afford to let ignorance win another round!

    http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/prevent-climate-change-censorship-show-on-thin-ice-in-usa/

  28. Doug Bostrom says:

    Who wants to be on the receiving end of a wave of hostile and even violently threatening communications from the army of volunteer, mouth-breathing bully boys deployed by the fossil fuel industry? Lots of hands going up?

    Useful idiots have their role in the strategy of delay; verbal assaults help to keep discussion of climate change out of the public square.

    A post or two at WUWT and a couple of other sites will bring down a blistering verbal assault on Discovery; words can’t really hurt us, but they have a cumulative effect nonetheless.

    Is it any wonder that human nature asserts itself in the form of self-protection, that Discovery should take the easier way out on this?

    We wonder why there’s been silence here in the media concerning climate change, why coverage is so tentative and even absent. Emotional exhaustion is likely a factor. Any of us prepared to say we’d be entirely unaffected by repeated beatdowns should stand forward and volunteer to open Discovery mail, should the climate segment air.

    • Dennis Tomlinson says:

      If only for lack of a volunteer to suffer “repeated beatdowns”, I would gladly be that volunteer. I might not open and read all those cards and letters, though – or any;)
      But I would give them their due.

  29. Dennis2sheds says:

    I went to Discovery Chanel Viewer Relations and finally linked into a place to ask questions and comment. Would suggest others do the same.

  30. Celia Schorr says:

    Interesting recent article that identifies Discovery Channel as a brand that ‘crosses the political divide’:
    http://www.brandchannel.com/home/post/2011/11/07/YouGov-US-Political-Brand-Affiliation-110711.aspx
    Politics and Brand Preference: Can Cheerios Bring Together Dems & GOPers?
    Posted by Abe Sauer on November 7, 2011
    “The brands that managed to cross political divides to be highly regarded by consumers of all political stripes include Discovery Channel, Johnson & Johnson, History Channel, Clorox and, of course, Cheerios.”

    Also, a Feb. 2008 story on Democracy Now re: Discovery deciding not to air an oscar-winning documentary, deeming it “too controversial”:
    http://www.democracynow.org/2008/2/12/discovery_channel_accused_of_political_censorship