Yes, she’s Queen of all Media, but to Discovery, she’s Life itself

Oprah replaces Attenborough as narrator for U.S audience


Advertise with us

PASADENA -- There's bad TV, average TV, good TV and great TV.

Read this article for free:


Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe with this special offer:

All-Access Digital Subscription

$1.50 for 150 days*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles

*Pay $1.50 for the first 22 weeks of your subscription. After 22 weeks, price increases to the regular rate of $19.00 per month. GST will be added to each payment. Subscription can be cancelled after the first 22 weeks.


Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/01/2010 (4697 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

PASADENA — There’s bad TV, average TV, good TV and great TV.

At least, that’s the way most television watchers would tend to view things.

For the people who run the U.S. version of Discovery Channel, the scale seems to go one rung higher.

THE CANADIAN PRESS Oprah’s ‘wonderful warmth’ will be front and centre on U.S. Discovery’s Life.

Bad. Average. Good. Great.

And then….


How else, I couldn’t help but wonder, could the folks at Discovery (U.S.) explain their Life-altering decision to re-voice one of the best series ever produced for television?

In what could only be an attempt to give it a bit more audience-grabbing star power in this celebrity-obsessed country, the American cable science channel’s executives delayed their premiere of Life — the brilliant and visually stunning 10-part BBC series that premiered in Canada late last year — long enough to remove the narration by renowned naturalist and documentarian Sir David Attenborough and replace it with Oprah Winfrey’s reading of exactly the same text.

Why, you ask? Well, I certainly wanted to know.

When Discovery’s portion of the U.S. networks’ semi-annual press tour finally arrived, I posed the question to network president/GM Clark Bunting. His answer left me no more enlightened than before.

"We thought that Oprah has that iconic voice, and after hearing a bit of the read, we just simply said, ‘We think this is the person who can bring Life to life,’" Bunting offered. "Sir David is obviously a well-trained, well-known naturalist, zoologist and biologist. We thought Oprah could really open up the editorial opportunity for the show in a different and unique way."

Hmmm. I pointed out the fact that Attenborough is probably also the best-known narrator of nature documentaries in the world, and his is a voice that Discovery’s audiences around the world — including the U.S. — have for years trusted and enjoyed. So, again, why Oprah Winfrey?

"Again, we thought the editorial promise would be opened up by Oprah," said Bunting. "I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and I think it’s one of the best reads I’ve ever heard. I don’t think it detracts from the series at all. We have all the respect in the world for what Sir David has done in a long and distinguished partnership with us. This is one where we thought we could open that editorial up a bit, and we made that decision."

Another TV-critic colleague tried another angle at getting an explanation.

"How much of the decision was based solely on Oprah’s name recognition?"

Bunting responded with basically the same explanation for the third time, and then BBC producer Mike Gunton, who worked on the original series as well as this Oprah-cized U.S. edition, tried to make it make sense.

"I must say that I’ve worked with David Attenborough for 20 years; the first thing I ever did on natural history was with him," said Gunton. "He is a wonderful narrator, but listening to Oprah’s voice, I have been very impressed, actually. There’s a wonderful warmth, and it does bring something different to the program than David does… I think she has got a real talent for delivering narrations for this type of content."

And Sir David Attenborough doesn’t?

Bad TV. Good TV. Great TV. Oprah.

I guess it’ll remain a ratings-related mystery.

But hey, that’s Life.


For more TV-press-tour fun, visit my blog, CouchBoy Chronicles, at

If you value coverage of Manitoba’s arts scene, help us do more.
Your contribution of $10, $25 or more will allow the Free Press to deepen our reporting on theatre, dance, music and galleries while also ensuring the broadest possible audience can access our arts journalism.
BECOME AN ARTS JOURNALISM SUPPORTER Click here to learn more about the project.

Brad Oswald

Brad Oswald
Perspectives editor

After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.

Report Error Submit a Tip


Advertise With Us