That’s a Discovery Channel documentary I’d like to see. It would be a two-hour special heavily promoted as a genuine investigation into the serial sexual molestation of innocent children by David M. Zaslav, the president and CEO of Discovery Communications, which owns the Discovery Channel. The show would interview a variety of law enforcement agents from around the world as well as psychologists specializing in sex crime offenders, all documenting Zaslav’s pathological obsession with the brutal sexual molestation of children.
Now I don’t have any evidence that David Zaslav has ever molested children, but that does not appear to be a concern for the folks at his Discovery Channel. If we produce and promote it right, viewers will be duped into assuming he has, and the ratings will be massive – which is all that seems to matter to the folks at the Discovery Channel. At the very end of the program, just before we speed through the credits, we’ll flash – and I do mean flash…for a second or two – a disclaimer in very small print, briefly noting the lack of authenticity of everything featured in the program. In other words, we’ll promote and present it as the truth and it’s up to the viewer to figure out that we lied.
I used to be huge fan of the Discovery Channel. It featured documentary programs focused on popular science, technology, and history. But things started to slide, and the timing of Zaslav arrival in 2007 seems to coincide with the decline in programming quality.
It all came to a head, at least for me, with the airing of a “docufiction” called Mermaids: The New Evidence,back on May 26, 2013. It presented itself as a genuine scientific documentary, the kind the Discovery Channel had built its reputation on. And, as a scuba diver interested in all things in the ocean, I thought I’d give it a look. After all, it did present itself as offering scientific evidence that these mythical creatures weren’t so mythical – an incredible assertion, but the backing of a heavily promoted documentary by an established TV channel with a reputation for producing innovative scientific documentaries gave it what proved to be misplaced credibility.
Apparently this was a sequel to another special, Mermaids: The Body Found, that aired a year earlier on Animal Planet, which is also owned by Discovery Communications. I don’t watch Animal Planet so I had never heard about this. And it wasn’t until I was well into the Discovery Channel special presentation that I started to get suspicious about its authenticity. That’s when I started Googling things, including the marine biologists featured, only to discovery (it is the Discovery Channel, after all) that none of them exist.
The Discovery Channel wanted to mislead you. They never mentioned that everything about this “documentary” was fake. They promoted it as a real scientific investigation and portrayed it as such. It wasn’t until the very end of the two-hour program that they finally came clean, in the form of a disclaimer that was flashed on the screen for a few seconds in a very small print. It basically said that none of the people or evidence portrayed in it were real.
I dramatically curtailed my viewership of the Discovery Channel after that. But Shark Week started yesterday, the channel’s annual programming blitz that features scientific documentaries about sharks – a legitimate sea creature I’ve seen with my own eyes. Again, as a diver, I was naturally interested, so I decided to tune in.
The first show in this year’s Shark Week line-up was a two-hour special called Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives. It was promoted and presented as a two-hour scientific documentary about an attack off the coast of South Africa that led researchers to consider the possibility that these giant sharks might still exist. Only there was no such attack off the coast of South Africa, and none of those researchers exist. It was all a hoax…completely fake.
And that proved to be not only my last Shark Week show, but the last time I ever watch a show on the Discovery Channel. Thanks to the power of TiVo, I have removed it from my cable TV line-up. At least until they air David Zaslav Molests Children, Again. That’s a documentary I’d tune-in to see.