When it debuted in the mid-1980’s, the Discovery Channel was home to educational programming. It featured cultural and wildlife documentaries as well as science and history programs. When its sister channel, Animal Planet, debuted in the mid-00’s, it too focused predominately on educational programming. Unfortunately, by the late 00’s, both channels had shifted away from informative, evidence-based programming toward reality television shows and pseudoscientific specials. This descent into mediocrity and disrepute bottomed out with the release in 2012 of the Animal Planet special, Mermaids: The Body Found, it’s 2013 sequel Mermaids: The New Evidence, and Discovery’s 2012 special Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives. Each show was a ratings success for the channels, with 1.9 million and 3.6 million viewers watching Mermaids and its sequel and 4.8 million viewers tuning in for the Megalodon nonsense. Despite the fact that the specials were pseudoscientific drivel, they were peddled as “it’s maybe, kinda possible these things are out there”. While the conclusion of both Mermaid specials carried disclaimers explaining their status as pieces of ‘docufiction’, Megalodon had no such admission. Which probably explains why 79% of respondents to a post-show poll believed that megalodon’s still roam the oceans (they don’t, they’ve been extinct for millions of years). Thankfully, in early 2015, new Discovery Channel chief Rich Ross said fake documentaries would no longer be part of the programming for either channel.
Hopefully Ross will be able to turn Discovery Channel and Animal Planet back around and make them credible, educational channels again. It would be cool to watch a special about some of the amazing creatures that do exist in the worlds oceans, like the undersea inhabitants recently found by a National Geographic team in the caldera of an active volcano: