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...

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