TV's Unlikely Empire

Now that the little nature channel has become a big cable power, can DISCOVERY stay real--and on top?

Peering at the sharp, crystal-clear images of an episode of Insecticide on a massive, 60-in. plasma high-definition TV (HDTV), John Hendricks looks for all the world like a kid with a bug under a microscope. Except in this case, the kid is 50 years old, and the "microscope" is his fast-growing, unlikely cable empire, Discovery Communications.

If you've done any channel surfing over the past two decades, you've probably encountered Hendricks' pioneering brand of reality TV (he prefers the term real-world TV). Once an odd little documentary network making an occasional wave with shows like Shark Week, Hendricks' flagship Discovery Channel...

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now

Subscribe
Subscribe

Get TIME the way you want it

  • One Week Digital Pass — $4.99
  • Monthly Pay-As-You-Go DIGITAL ACCESS$2.99
  • One Year ALL ACCESSJust $30!   Best Deal!
    Print Magazine + Digital Edition + Subscriber-only Content on TIME.com

Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!