"We're about satisfying curiosity about the world," says David Zaslav, president and CEO of Discovery Communications (DCI), which airs Dirty Jobs and has more than 100 TV networks reaching 1.5 billion subscribers. Zaslav, who arrived in early 2007, overhauled management, eliminated some 1,200 jobs, and ditched the 120 tanking retail stores to focus on e-commerce. "We're not just a cable company anymore," he says. But while cyber is cool—and DCI saw profits rise to $246 million in his first nine months, up nearly 50% from a year ago—cable is still king. Here are four of DCI's key properties:
- Planet Green
Starting in 2008, Discovery Home will be recycled into Planet Green, a 24-hour channel dedicated to eco-everything. Expect blockbuster specials mixed with lifestyle series; Leonardo DiCaprio takes a turn as the producer of Eco-Town, a chronicle of the rebirth of a tornado-devastated Kansas town into a fully green community.
- Animal Planet
From meerkats to orangutans, the critters of Animal Planet have provided at least as much drama as human-based reality TV (the stars can actually die). Jeff Corwin, the Emmy-winning host of several Animal Planet series, recently collaborated with CNN on Planet in Peril, a four-hour miniseries, which aired on both networks.
Makeover-ista Stacy London's show What Not to Wear is a big part of TLC's solid showing. (She also hosts the channel's first talk show, which premiered last November.) TLC saw its 2007 prime-time audience rise to 933,000, up from 816,000 last year.
- Discovery Channel
Planet Earth, Discovery's return to the blockbuster miniseries, won an Emmy in 2007, but grit is the channel's daily fare. Dirty Jobs, Deadliest Catch, and Man vs. Wild, among others, give regular viewers their he-man fix. The channel has 95 million subscribers; their average viewership is up 18% from this time last year.
A version of this article appeared in the February 2008 issue of Fast Company magazine.