It’s been a little more than four months since Jana Bennett was named president and gm of History, and we’re starting to get a sense of her plans for the brand. Speaking at Realscreen Summit Tuesday evening, she didn’t go as far as Rich Ross did when he joined Discovery with his call for a return to “actual factual” programming, but she did promise more history on History.
Does that mean no more “Pawn Stars” or “American Pickers?” Nope, they’ll still be there, but the network will layer more of it into shows. “We’re not going to crowbar history in, but Pawn Stars is a genius format for history,” Bennett said. “Ice Road Truckers?” What could be more historic than ice, quips new star Craig Ferguson, whose late-night talker “Join or Die” debuts on the net February 18.
“It’s more of a restatement of the depth of the brand,” Bennett explained. “We want to have more things that you can really feel you’re getting a great satisfying experience about finding things out about history.”
And yes, she wants more scripted programmed, with her waxing wistfully about the beauty of Netflix’s “Narcos,” about drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. “We’re not as brave,” she said, explaining that she wants History to feel less encumbered in how it uses media resources. There’s a lot that’s happened in the “last 30 years of history, but it’s not the history you teach in the classroom,” said Bennett, who herself is a big fan of fact-based books and movies. She called out movies “The Big Short” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” as other ways to dive into history. “I’d like to have a more of a steady set of returning series. The limiting facto there will be funding. These are tougher to finance.”
The exec also is excited about the potential for documentaries, saying they are on the rise again. “People are trained to watch longer box sets. There’s more patience than 5 years ago,” she said.
Bennett ended the Realscreen on-stage interview by talking about what she hopes History looks like a year from now. Big, premium documentaries are one of her priorities as well as digital-first innovation. And don’t forget scripted. “You’re going to see the start of at least another continuing scripted series. You’ll see an ongoing story of scripted storytelling on the channel, as well as ‘Vikings’ coming back, which is very exciting,” she said.
Another goal is to make History more diverse, something reflected in efforts to use a more contemporary lens to examine history and next year’s remake of “Roots.” “It’s much more than a remake. It’s a reimagining of Roots, which was one of the biggest TV events in America and around the world,” she said. “The 40 years of scholarship that’s happened since Roots first aired also has informed this drama treatment… It shows we are telling these big, epic, important stories about how we got here.”