Discovery Communications Chairman John Hendricks stepping down

John Hendricks is stepping down as chairman of Discovery.
John Hendricks is stepping down as chairman of Discovery.
(Discovery Communications)

Discovery Communications founder John Hendricks will retire as chairman of the board of the cable giant in May.

Hendricks, a science buff who worked in academia, launched Discovery Channel in 1985 and over the years the company went from owning a handful of educational outlets to a global media juggernaut filled with popular reality shows. Besides its flagship channel Discovery, the company also owns TLC, Animal Planet and 50% of Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network.

“Few words can appropriately convey what kind of person John is, or what he has meant to this company and the cable television industry overall. He is a true visionary, a man of enormous integrity and one of the world’s great entrepreneurs,” Discovery President and Chief Executive David Zaslav said in a statement.

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Discovery did not say who would succeed Hendricks when he resigns at the company’s annual meeting May 16. If the company decides to go with an insider, Zaslav would be the obvious choice.

In a letter to the board of directors, Hendricks said he plans to “spend the next few years traveling the planet and discovering the questions and mysteries that intrigue us all.”

When Hendricks created Discovery, there was very little original programming on cable TV. With backing from cable mogul John Malone, he turned Discovery into an educational outlet with a heavy focus on nature, science and space.

Hendricks stepped down as CEO of Discovery in 2004. Since then the Discovery networks have added more commercial fare in the form of reality shows including “Jon & Kate Plus 8" and “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” both of which aired on TLC.

While there have been criticisms about Discovery pursuing more commercial fare at the expense of educational programming, Hendricks defended the company’s broadening of its appeal in his autobiography “A Curious Discovery,” published last year.

“I could not disagree more,” Hendricks wrote. “Nor will I ever apologize for having built Discovery on good business principles.” In his letter to the board, Hendricks praised Zaslav for being a “careful steward of the Discovery brand.”

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Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.