If one scene defines last week's premiere of Ted Nugent's Gun Country, set in the survivalist-thick scrublands surrounding Waco, Texas, it is the show's unnervingly giddy and pony-tailed host standing behind a .50-caliber Browning armor-piercing machine gun and blowing a bunch of holes in the four-inch reinforced steel door used by a team of local "preppers" to protect their bunker armory against an attack of the undead. Neither the machine gun nor the vault hatch fills any conceivable civilian-defense need, but the show, like the gun culture it celebrates, is all about overkill. An excited Nugent declares his intent to upgrade the defenses around his own bunker gun closet, and after a commercial break appears on screen pumping off rounds from the preppers' Zombie Apocalypse chainsaw-shotgun.
It's the sort of weapon you'd expect to see wielded with glee in a Dawn of the Dead remake, not on the flagship network of a media behemoth claiming a science-educational mission. But such is the state of programming these days on the Discovery Channel, long overdue for an honest update of its tagline, "Science, History, Space, Tech, Sharks, News!"
It is admittedly quaint to say in 2012 that a billion-dollar cable corporation has failed to live up to its stated values, and we're at least several decades past debating whether television can become the productive social force some imagined during the medium's infancy. Indeed, Discovery's devolution was notable a full decade ago, when the science journalist Chris Mooney penned an op-ed for the Washington Post bemoaning its programming turn away from science documentaries and toward the paranormal, the sensational, and the idiotic. Discovery Communications, noted Mooney, touted its goal of helping young viewers "critically analyze" information even as its properties such as Animal Planet increasingly aired fare like The Pet Psychic. A spokeswoman for the company claimed at the time that such shows represented a "whimsical take" on the company's science mission.
The Pet Psychic is A Brief History of Time compared to many of the shows now airing on the channel. In recent years Discovery has joined other companies in its former documentary niche in largely abandoning in-depth science programming in favor of its antipode, what might best be called anti-science: shows that glorify stupidity and celebrate a giggling, Beavis and Butthead-style pleasure in blowing stuff up and killing things.
Discovery is not filling a munitions void here so much as chasing the lowest common ratings denominator; The Outdoor Network and The History Channel first pioneered programming for the demo Nugent calls "gun nuts." But Discovery has gone furthest down the rabbit-hunting hole. Among the channel's slew of reality shows are three and counting devoted to portraying the patriotic fun to be had with high-caliber automatic weapons: American Guns, Sons of Guns, and the special (or is it pilot?) that aired last week, Ted Nugent's Gun Country, which officially pushes the phenomenon beyond the reach of parody. It is as if ESPN began airing a show called Frog Baseball Tonight.
On Wednesday, the Discovery Channel aired "an inside look at American gun culture" starring controversial National Rifle Association board member and Washington Times columnist Ted Nugent. Discovery Channel documented Nugent shooting a scimitar-horned oryx, an animal extinct in the wild, and also showed him spending time with a group of heavily armed doomsday "preppers."
Now the question remains: Will the Discovery Channel continue to allow Nugent to use the channel as a "resource" to help him win the "culture war"?
In a September 26 press release, Discovery Channel billed Ted Nugent's Gun Country as a "one-hour special." But during an appearance on Armed America Radio, Nugent stated that the Discovery Channel "want[s] to do it as a regular feature." He told listeners to "expect that there will be at least a dozen shows a year."
MARK WALTERS, HOST: Ted, is this going to be a regular series?
NUGENT: Well just the title, Ted Nugent's Gun Country, I mean even if Discovery doesn't air anymore shows it's still alive and well. They want to do it as a regular feature. We expect that there will be at least a dozen shows a year.
NUGENT: Every month. And we are really excited about it. I think it came off great. We trained with a bunch of zombie killers, we did a lot of ammunition testing.
A graphic accompanying an October 1 promotional appearance on NRA News described Ted Nugent's Gun Country as a "series."
Last night, the Discovery Channel aired "an inside look at American gun culture" featuring Washington Times columnist and National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent. Media Matters previously noted that Nugent often uses inflammatory language against the Obama administration, women, religious and ethnic minorities and members of the LGBT community.
On the day that Ted Nugent's Gun Country aired, Nugent accused the "lying enemies of America" Obama administration of treason and "criminal complicity to murder." In promotional radio appearances for his special, Nugent accused "anti-American" Barack Obama of only feigning respect for veterans and declared his intention to use the Discovery Channel as a resource to help him win the "culture war."
Ted Nugent appeared this past Sunday on Armed America Radio to promote his special on gun culture that will air on the Discovery Channel tonight. During his appearance, The Washington Times columnist and National Rifle Association board member went on a sustained rant against President Obama.
Nugent made a number of wild-eyed accusations against Obama and his policies, referring to the president as "a Mao Zedong wannabe." In his view, Obama's administration is "anti-American, anti-quality of life, anti-freedom, anti-liberty, and anti-being the best that you can be" while the president himself is "against the very spirit" of "the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution."
Nugent also accuses the president of implementing communist policies, while pretending to honor fallen U.S. soldiers at sites like the Vietnam Wall, an act which Nugent calls "one of the most vile, repugnant, obscene gestures in the history of American politics."
The Discovery Channel will be providing Ted Nugent with a platform to help him fight the "culture war" when it features him in a special this week, the controversial National Rifle Association board member and Washington Times columnist said in a recent interview.
Nugent has a lengthy history of making violent, inflammatory, and offensive remarks against women, the LGBT community, and racial and religious minorities. Earlier this year, he told attendees at the NRA's annual meeting that he would "be dead or in jail by this time next year" if Barack Obama was reelected president, which prompted scrutiny from the Secret Service.
But none of that stopped the Discovery Channel from contacting him to star in its programming, as Nugent detailed in an interview with NRA News. Discovery is promoting the October 10 special, Ted Nugent's Gun Country, as "an inside look at American gun culture through the eyes of" Nugent.
Speaking with Cam Edwards, Nugent explained how he hopes to use that platform as an opportunity to promote his position in the "culture war":
NUGENT: Cam, you know you and I have known each other a long time, I really have always celebrated and promoted the Second Amendment, all things guns, the good, the perfection, the good over evil that guns provide, the joys, the discipline, the marksmanship discipline, and the fact that the American Dream became available because brave patriots stood up with guns and fought the Evil Empire. So what we did with the Discovery Channel, they contacted me and went, "You know, if we are going to produce gun shows shouldn't we do it with this Nugent guy?"
NUGENT: "Because even his guitars are ballistically coefficient." I celebrate this every day of my life. I do media literally 300-plus days a year. Even during the hunting season I'm available between 11 and 1 pm because I really believe during this culture war we have talked about many times--
EDWARDS: Mm hmm.
NUGENT: --that it's imperative that those of us who cherish and believe and demand freedom, that we use every resource we have that we can cultivate and maximize to promote and celebrate all things Second Amendment and the perfection of gun ownership. So the Discovery Channel has some really wise souls there and they contacted me and said, "How would you like to do a TV show called Ted Nugent's Gun Country?" And I went, "I'm already doing it. You might as well start recording it."
Later in the interview, Nugent stated, "I believe if you hate the NRA, if you hate guns, if you hate Ted Nugent, then you clearly hate America. And I have never apologized, I've never defended -- there is nothing to defend -- but in this culture war we do sometimes have to explain ourselves."
On October 10, the Discovery Channel will air a special on gun culture in America starring Washington Times columnist and National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent. In doing so, the channel will give mainstream treatment to a divisive right-wing figure who has made countless inflammatory remarks on the topics of race, religion, LGBT equality, politics, equal treatment of women, immigration, and vigilantism.
Last month I lamented the Discovery Channel's reported plans to cut the groundbreaking seven-part BBC Frozen Planet series to six episodes for scheduling reasons, omitting the series finale in which British naturalist Sir David Attenborough "journeys to both polar regions to investigate what rising temperatures will mean for the people and wildlife that live there and for the rest of the planet." The episode airs in the UK tomorrow night.
The notion that a series exploring the Arctic, which is considered ground zero for global warming, would exclude the episode incited widespread questions and concern, and today AP reports that Discovery has decided to air the series in full. It will premiere in the U.S. on March 18 with the first six episodes narrated by Alec Baldwin.
Discovery had previously said they would make sure to include some discussion of climate change in the other episodes, which trace the exceptional seasonal cycle in the Arctic and Antarctica. But Dr. Mark Brandon, who served as an academic consultant on the series, said that it's important to put climate change information in a separate installment to make clear "the difference between the largest seasonal change on the planet and the observations of longer term change."
UPDATE (12/6): AP reports that Discovery has decided to air the full climate change episode! The series will premiere in the U.S. on March 18. Set your DVRs.
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."
Late last month we brought you news that Sarah Palin, the former half-term Governor of Alaska, had inked a deal with Discovery Communications' The Learning Channel (TLC) for her very own reality show - one that will apparently spotlight the natural wonders of her beautiful home state.
Cenk Uygur, co-host of radio's The Young Turks, is up with piece on Huffington Post concerning the show full of interesting details:
Last night on The Young Turks we broke the story of reaction to Sarah Palin's new show inside Discovery. We have an inside source at Discovery Communications and we've been leaked information on Sarah Palin's show for Discovery's TLC network.
Last week Discovery had its annual sales conference for ad buyers for all of its 13 networks. The presentation showcases all of their new shows across the different networks. That night the presentation was on Sarah Palin's Alaska.
Our source says "the whole thing [was] comical." Apparently the ad buyers were not impressed. This Discovery insider said, "When the promo was over, people (employees and buyers) were rolling their eyes, snickering, and even laughing. People were laughing and it's not even a comedy. No one took it seriously."
This person was concerned that given the lack of interest from ad buyers that Discovery would have to dump the show to "a crappy time slot" to cut its losses. They added, "Bottom line everyone thought it was a new all time low for Discovery. My guess is the show is going to tank big time."
We can't be sure how accurate this insider's review of the sales conference is but it wouldn't surprise me if green-minded companies were leery of sponsoring Palin's new fame vehicle given her horrible track record on the environment.