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When it debuted in 1985 as a venture of the Cable Educational Network, The Discovery Channel was intended as a venue for educational programming, and its focus was primarily on science- and culture-related documentaries. The channel still relies mostly on non-scripted programming, but in the last decade its serious educational content has been replaced almost entirely by reality-TV programming and series that concentrate more on entertainment than on science.
As cable programming began to shift in the early 2000s from a wide variety of specialized channels in unique niches to more homogeneous reality programming across the dial, Discovery led the way by adding non-science reality shows like “American Chopper.” Series such as “Mythbusters” retained the channel’s original educational spirit but repackaged it in a more entertaining, mainstream-friendly format.
By the second decade of the twenty-first century, Discovery’s schedule was filled almost entirely with reality series, with series such as “Deadliest Catch,” “Dirty Jobs,” “American Loggers,” “Moonshiners,” “Swamp Loggers,” “Sons of Guns” and “Gold Rush” giving the channel a predominantly blue collar, male-oriented focus. Other reality niches covered by the channel include auto modification (“Desert Car Kings, “Fast N’ Loud”) and wilderness survival (“Man, Woman, Wild,” “Dual Survival,” “Naked and Afraid”).
Discovery began its popular annual “Shark Week” programming in 1987, and the annual event continues, although it’s been subject to criticism in recent years for an alleged descent into pseudo-science and sensationalism.