|You gotta spin it to win it|
|Stop the presses!|
|We want pictures|
From its inception in 1985 to about 2000, the Discovery Channel was a TV network with many interesting documentaries and other popular science educational programs. Then around the turn of the century something snapped[note 1] and since then there's been a significant increase in reality shows (which are okay, if you're into that) and programs promoting pseudoscience: mostly cryptozoology, UFOs, pseudohistory, and paranormal nonsense. The best that can be said about those programs is the complete absence of anything even closely resembling alternative medicine (which is probably for legal reasons, more than anything else). Discovery still makes and airs real documentaries—and even some programs with a skeptical point of view—but for the layperson it's not always easy to distinguish between the real science programs and the pseudoscientific and pseudosceptical programs.
There are also a few spin-off channels, most notably Animal Planet (since 1995), Science (since 1996), TLC (since 1972, take-over by Discovery in 1991), and some others.
It was founded by John Hendricks who started the company in 1982 and launched the Discovery channel in 1985. Discovery, Inc completed a purchase of the Scripps network of channels in 2018. The company is publicly traded with significant shareholdings held by many individuals and companies including TV personality and businessperson Oprah Winfrey and John C. Malone, the libertarian boss of the Liberty media group who is also on Discovery's board. In May 2021, it announced a planned merger with WarnerMedia, part of the Warner Brothers entertainment group.
This is not a comprehensive list, just the best and worst of programs that relate to RationalWiki's mission. There are many more programs that either sit somewhere in between or aren't related to our mission. The dates are the original run dates, but many programs are re-run (and some, like Cosmos, are syndicated from another network).
The list combined programs from Discovery, Animal Planet, and Science.[note 2]
Some of the better programs promoting science and/or skepticism.
|Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious Universe||1995||No||Sequel to the more famous (and better) Arthur C. Clark's Mysterious World. Looks at genuine mysteries as well as some non-mysteries with a critical mind. Basically, it shows you how to have an open mind about all topics but not be a crank by having a mind that is so open that your brains have fallen out.|
|Connections||1979, 1994, 1997||No (PBS) for 1979 series; Yes for others||Explores connections between various scientific developments. The original was a BBC program shown on PBS in 1979, but the follow-ups (Connections2 and Connections3) were aired on Discovery and TLC.|
|Cosmos: A Personal Voyage||1980||No (PBS)||Carl Sagan's famous documentary explaining science and astronomy in particular.|
|Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking||2010||Yes||Examines aliens and time travel from a reality-based perspective.|
|Mostly True Stories?: Urban Legends Revealed||2002-2004||Yes||Mostly good; did copy a deliberate hoax from Snopes though; oops!|
|MythBusters||2003-2016||Yes||Mostly good but with some bad (but mostly good).|
|Naked and Afraid||2013-||Yes||Studies human sociology.|
|Phil Plait's Bad Universe||2008-2009||Yes||Phil Plait explains how the universe is trying to kill us.|
|Through the Wormhole||2010-||Yes||Hosted by Morgan Freeman, this series explores various topics on biology, cosmology, neurology, astrophysics, but also futurism, aliens, and transhumanism. They tend to steer away from endorsing pop science, but did have a controversial episode on Race and intelligence.|
|Wonders of the Solar System, Wonders of the Universe, Hacking The Universe 2015[note 3]||2010, 2011, 2015||No||Like Cosmos, but British. With Brian Cox.|
Not quite crap enough for that section, but not entirely kosher either.
|Amish Mafia||2012-||Yes||Pretends to be a documentary with genuine footage, but its authenticity has been widely disputed.|
|Brainiac: Science Abuse||2003-2008||No||Might be somewhat fun (although repetitive), but it's not science. It's what you get when a 14-year old tries to mimic MythBusters; it's all about blowing stuff up ("cool!") and their "research" completely misses the scientific method. Calling it "science" only serves to misinform the public on what science really is.|
|Dark Matters: Twisted but True||2011-2012||Yes||The show talks about certain controversial scientific experiments like MKULTRA, Agent Orange, Tuskegee experiment, but also gives far too much credence to the Philadelphia Experiment, the Lost Cosmonauts, and Nazi UFOs.|
|Deadliest Catch||2005-||Yes||Discusses marine biology, overshadowed by the usual scripted drama.|
|Eaten Alive||2014 special||Yes||Advertised as a guy who gets eaten by an anaconda, but this never happens in the actual airing. Not exactly pseudoscience, but it's a good example of the sensationalist nature which all too often features on Discovery.|
|Whale Wars||2008-||Yes||Follows the questionable exploits of Paul Watson and his Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Offers very little critical commentary.|
|Moonshiners||2011-||Yes||If I was making illegal moonshine, going on a TV show would be the last thing I'd do.|
These programs are mostly crap. Like most crank material they can be decent (and sometimes even good) sources of popcorn fodder. You just have to be willing to ignore what's being sold as science on what used to be a channel that knew what science was.
|A Haunting||2005-||Yes||Ghosts and other paranormal nonsense.|
|American Chopper||2003-2019||Yes||Fun at first, but soon got increasingly embarrassing as it focused more on petty fights. Everyone thought the embarrassment finally ended in 2010, but then it spun off American Chopper: Senior vs. Junior (2010-2012)—which is so embarrassing we're not even linking to it—Orange County Choppers (2013-2014), and a number of one-off specials.|
|Animal Face-Off||2004||Yes||Like Deadliest Warrior but with animals like bear vs. alligator. Fun when drunk with friends because it's just laughably bad. The creators and "experts" take it embarrassingly serious though.|
|Finding Bigfoot||2011-||Yes||Well, they haven't found it yet.|
|Ghost Lab||2009-2011||Yes||More ghosts.|
|Ghosthunters||1996-1997||Yes||And more ghosts... Not to be confused with the better known Ghost Hunters from Syfy.|
|Lost Tapes||2008-2010||Yes||Various nonsense of the cryptozoological variety.|
|The Lost Tomb of Jesus||2007||Yes||Claims to have found the tomb of Jesus. Spoiler: it's not Jesus' tomb.|
|Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives||2014 special||Yes||Claims that some ancient giant shark (Megalodon) still lives.|
|Mermaids: The Body Found||2013 special||Yes||Aquatic ape and mermaid nonsense.|
|NASA's Unexplained Files||2014-||Yes||Features some real science, but also a lot of pseudoscience. Suffers heavily from balance fallacy.|
|The Pet Psychic||2002-2003||Yes||Yeah, this is really what the title suggests. Features Sonya Fitzpatrick as a pet psychic.|
|Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science||2003||Yes||Also a book; looks at Sasquatch, Bigfoot, etc. In spite of the name, it's mostly pseudoscientific and ends with the conclusion that it's likely that Bigfoot exists. For example, it uncritically accepts the Patterson film and doesn't even consider the possibility that it's a hoax.|
- See the Wikipedia article on List of programs broadcast by Discovery Channel.
- See the Wikipedia article on List of programs broadcast by Animal Planet.
- John Hendricks: How He Built The Discovery Channel From Scratch, Forbes, 23 Dec 2013
- Discovery Communications Completes Acquisition of Scripps Networks Interactive; Changes Company Name to Discovery, Inc., Discovery Corporate, Mar 6, 2018
- Oprah Winfrey Gets Stake in Discovery as Company Takes 95 Percent of OWN, Hollywood Reporter, Dec 22, 2020
- Liberty Global’s John Malone increases Discovery stake, Digital TV Europe, 19 Nov 2019
- AT&T and Discovery to create new streaming giant, BBC, 21 May 2021
- "Mostly True Stories Sixpence Error" on Snopes.com