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TV CRITIC’S CORNER

Discovery Channel awaits rediscovery

Tina Rowden/Discovery Channel

Paul Bettany (center, as Ted Kaczynski) and Jeremy Bobb (right) in the Discovery Channel eight-episode series “Manhunt: Unabomber.”

By Michael Andor Brodeur Globe Correspondent 

Discovery Channel? Is that you?

Long understood as the anti-aspirational reality network where exhausted channel surfers finally stop resisting and agree to watch naked people bicker in the jungle, or fishermen fighting over tuna, or angry looking people panning for gold, or sharks being sharks, or . . . mosquitoes being mosquitoes, Discovery Channel is undergoing some serious self-discovery.

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This week it was announced that Discovery Communications purchased Scripps Networks Interactive for a cool $11.9 billion in a deal that will bring lifestyle networks like TLC, Animal Planet, HGTV, and the Food Network under its umbrella.

($11.9 billion? Why, Discovery Channel! [fans self] I had no idea!)

Meanwhile, the network’s programming also seems to be priming viewers for a rediscovery of the network. On Tuesday at 9 p.m. Discovery will premiere “Manhunt: Unabomber,” an eight-part limited series that documents the tense dance between the Unabomber, a.k.a. Ted Kaczynski (played by Paul Bettany, whose register you may recognize as the voice of JARVIS from “Iron Man”), and FBI profiler Jim “Fitz” Fitzgerald (Sam Worthington, “Avatar”). You can also watch the first hour of the series online now.

They lead a formidable supporting cast featuring Jane Lynch as Janet Reno, Chris Noth (Mr. Big!) as FBI agent Don Ackerman, as well as Jeremy Bobb (“The Knick”), Jay Duplass (“Transparent”), and Keisha Castle-Hughes (“Game of Thrones”).

(Who are all these new friends of yours, Discovery? Also: We still cool? )

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Despite last year’s “Harley and the Davidsons,” and the green light given the scripted Vietnam drama “The Suck” (slated for 2018), Discovery’s CEO David Zaslav has remarked that the addition of scripted series to the channel’s roster does not signal some sweeping shift in priorities (or spending), but rather a “tentpole strategy.”

How many more poles Discovery Communications will need to support its fast-growing tent remains to be seen (and “Manhunt: Unabomber” certainly seems like a promising sign of the network’s development potential); but as Discovery and its new subsets make plans for the future, I’d like to formally request that nudist survival shark-cooking competitions remain undiscovered territory.


Michael Andor Brodeur can be reached at mbrodeur@globe.com
Follow him on Twitter @MBrodeur.