Just when you thought John Ford’s cable tour of duty was over, the non-fiction programming veteran and HD champion has returned to his longtime employer, Discovery Communications.
Six months after announcing the end to a three-year stint running programming for National Geographic Channel, Ford is returning to Discovery to run the Military Channel and Discovery Times Channel.
The Discovery veteran was president of Discovery Health Channel and discoveryhealth.com (which he launched in 1999), before joining NGC in July 2003 as EVP of programming. He also crafted Discovery’s high definition strategy and launched Discovery HD Theater, and earlier served as SVP and GM of TLC, which he joined as head of programming in 1991.
As president and general manager of the Military Channel and Discovery Times — which is searching for a new name now that the New York Times has pulled out its equity stake in the joint venture channel — Ford returns to a revitalized Discovery, which has been undergoing a company-wide shakeup under president and CEO David Zaslav since taking office on Jan. 1.
It’s a perfect fit for Ford, who’s revered as a non-fiction programmer and is a military history buff. Indeed, his post-NGC plans included setting up an independent production company, Bassett Ridge Productions LLC, to develop feature-length documentaries (Discovery Times’ speciality) and scripted feature-length films based on historical events, including his father’s experiences as a naval aviator in World War II.
His production company plans are now on hold — along with any dreams of an easier pace and picking and choosing his pet projects — now that Zaslav has lured him back to Discovery.
Ford, who had "retired" from Discovery before "retiring" from Nat Geo Channel on March 1, told reporters on a conference call that day he had no plans to return to Discovery. Instead, he vowed to return to his roots as a producer and devote his energies to cutting-edge TV technology including interactive television.
He also said he would be advising NGC through late summer to help with the transition. With his return to Discovery (after meeting with Zaslav) he will oversee non-fiction programming that will compete with Nat Geo Channel, meaning he either had a very short (six month) non-compete clause or none at all.
"This is a real homecoming for me," Ford commented in Discovery’s press release today. "I am extraordinarily impressed with the new management at Discovery Communications, and cannot wait to work with David Zaslav, Bruce Campbell [president of emerging media, digital networks and business development] and this team of industry leaders. Military Channel and Discovery Times are great brands with so much promise and potential. I am excited to build upon their growing audience share, and take the brands to the next level of growth and success."
Zaslav commented, "John is without question one of our industry’s top programming chiefs, and it is our good fortune to welcome him back to the Discovery family."
Just after Ford’s resignation in March, Zaslav hired former NBC Universal colleague Bruce Campbell, whose previous title was EVP of business development, and promoted Clint Stinchcomb from EVP of new media to EVP of the company’s new Emerging Networks Group. Stinchcomb duly added Discovery Times, Home and Military channels to his new media and HD oversight duties, reporting to Campbell.
With Ford now taking over the Military Channel and Discovery Times — and Discovery Home relaunching in the new year as Planet Green — Stinchcomb will lose oversight of Discovery’s emerging networks but continue to oversee the company’s high definition strategy.
Stinchcomb will continue to manage HD Theater (aka Discovery HD Theater, which may drop "Discovery" in its name so as not to confuse consumers with this month’s launch of Discovery Channel HD on DirecTV) and Turbo Media, Discovery’s "multiplatform, multimedia initiative focused on all things motorized."
"Clint’s leadership and passion have put Discovery Times and Military on the fast track," stated Zaslav. "I look forward to the same energy and operating expertise for Turbo Media and our aggressive HD strategy."
Click here for our earlier story on Ford’s resignation from National Geographic Channel; and here for CableFAX editor Mike Grebb’s exclusive video with Clint Stinchomb on Discovery’s HD strategy.