Learning Channel Relaunched With Expanded Programming

By Mark Walsh — October 23, 1991 3 min read

The Learning Channel, considered a relative lightweight on the cable-television spectrum until now, has been relaunched this month by its new owner with the hope of having a much bigger impact on educational television.

Among the new projects for the revamped network will be a daily block of commercial-free programming designed for classroom use and a show for teachers to be produced in conjunction with the National Education Association.

“From a teacher’s standpoint, there is going to be a wealth of material” on the network, said John Ford, senior vice president for programming at the Learning Channel. “It is really an exciting channel for anyone who has a hunger for learning and knowledge.”

The Learning Channel was purchased this year by Discovery Communications Inc. of Bethesda, Md., parent of the Discovery Channel.

Discovery Communications has experienced marked success with its original cable channel, which now reaches 56 million households nationwide with its schedule of documentary programming. The Discovery Channel also has a block of educational programming each weekday called “Assignment: Discovery.”

Discovery Communications announced its purchase of the Learning Channel in February from Financial News Network Inc. and Infotechnology Inc. The Learning Channel, launched in 1980, reached only 15.6 million cable-television households with its previous mix of lecture programs, feature films, and crafts and how-to programming. (See Education Week, Feb. 27,1991.)

N.E.A. Venture To Debut

Under the relaunch, the Learning Channel’s new mission is “the world of ideas,” officials say.

Evening prime-time programming is being grouped under the theme of “Renaissance Spirit"; it will feature specials and series focusing on accomplished individuals and shows that illuminate scientific, literary, and artistic ideas. These include an eight-part series called ''Made in Latin America,” about the people and culture of that region.

The channel will retain some of its how-to programming, grouped under the theme of “Pursuits,” such as “The World of Photography,” a 14-part series running this month.

Under the umbrella of “Classroom America,” the channel will provide one hour each weekday and three hours on Saturday of classroom-oriented programming that is free of commercials. The block will include mathematics and science, social studies, literature, foreign language, and current events, as well as educational blocks offered by other cable channels.

The programs, airing from 10 A.M. to 11 A.M. Eastern time on weekdays, are designed to be taped by teachers for use in the classroom. Among the programs to be featured in the block are “France Panorama, " a magazine-style show focusing on French culture, and “Mathematical Eye,” which uses cartoons and graphics to discuss math.

The company is still negotiating for some high-tech interactive science programming for the Saturday-morning block of “Classroom America” that would be an educational counter to the regular networks’ schedule of cartoons, Mr. Ford said.

This week, the channel airs a 30- minute special on voting rights. “Your Vote,” with Frank Zappa as host, will be shown on Oct. 24 from 11:30 A.M. to 12 P.M. Eastern time.

Next month, the Learning Channel will show a one-hour preview of a major educational project for the relaunched network, “Teacher TV.”

The program, which by next spring is to air as a weekly series, is a magazine-style show exploring issues of interest to teachers, from controversial topics to innovative classroom techniques.

The N.E.A. will co-produce the program from its new broadcast studios at its Washington headquarters. Mr. Ford said the program would be “ecumenical” in its approach and would not reflect only the union’s viewpoint on educational issues.

The one-hour special premieres on Nov. 18 at 8 P.M. Eastern time, with several repeats.

One series whose future on the Learning Channel appears uncertain is the education reporter John Merrow’s policy and issues program, “Learning Matters.”

“We are in discussion with John on what to do in 1992,” Mr. Ford said. “We are in monthly specials now, and we are leaning toward [keeping it] a monthly hourlong program.”

Officials at the Discovery Networks would like to see the Learning Channel grow in popularity to the level of the Discovery Channel.

A version of this article appeared in the October 23, 1991 edition of Education Week