The Discovery Channel was once a very dry
but very earnest item in the basic cable lineup.
In the ’80s and ’90s, the cable network ran
educational shows, but since every other channel
decided to get into reality television in
the new millennium, Discovery pivoted to a
reality-heavy rotation too.
And with reality TV comes scandal.
The MythBusters crew educated as they entertained,
informing the masses about how the world really
works and debunking widely believed misinformation
along the way.
The gang also seemed to virtually always find
a reason to blow something up, you know, for
The vast majority of the time, those explosions
were conducted in a controlled environment
with every precaution considered ahead of
But with explosions, you really have to get
all the boxes checked or things go sideways.
After a MythBusters-created explosion knocked
her off her couch and shattered a window in
her house in Esparto, California, in 2009,
Sherril Stephens told KCRA TV:
“It was a boom that was just – I had never
heard anything like that before, it was really
Seeing a plume of smoke and dust rise about
a mile outside town, locals thought there
might have been a plane crash or a building
But it had merely been those pesky busters
of myth, attempting to see if the phrase “knock
your socks off” had any basis in reality.
They’d blown up 500 pounds of ammonium nitrate
to remove the socks from a mannequin, but
they didn’t realize the explosion would be
as big as it was.
MythBusters paid for several broken windows
in and around Esparto.
In 2014, the Discovery Channel announced Eaten
Alive, a two-hour special featuring Paul Rosolie,
a conservation advocate and snake expert,
in his quest to locate a 25-foot-long anaconda
he’d seen years before in the Amazon rainforest.
While wearing a protective suit covered in
pig’s blood, he would allow the snake to consume
and then regurgitate him.
To raise awareness of the need to save the
PETA condemned the televised stunt, arguing
that it was cruel to provoke an animal, but
the Discovery Channel argued that the snake
would ultimately emerge unharmed, as would
“I know a lot about anacondas.
I would never hurt one.”
Despite the concerns, Eaten Alive aired in
It was ultimately much ado about nothing,
because Rosolie did not even get eaten alive.
Worse, he didn’t even find the right snake.
After traipsing around the jungle, he had
to settle for a 20-foot anaconda.
With ten minutes left in the show, he approached
it in the water and successfully provoked
Its mouth closed around Rosolie’s head and
started to crush his arm, which is when Rosolie
freaked out and called for his crew to shut
down the stunt and pull him out of snake’s
In the end, those most angered by Eaten Alive
were viewers who expressed their disappointment
at not actually getting to see what was advertised
in the show’s title.
For 10 seasons now, armchair survivalists
and people who like the idea but not the practice
of camping have dutifully followed Alaskan
Bush People, the Discovery Channel show about
the large and extended Brown family as they
try to live way off the grid and not die in
the most remote parts of Alaska for months
at a time.
While the family is ostensibly from Alaska
and certainly seem to embody the rugged Alaskan
values they espouse on the show, not all of
the family members actually live in Alaska
all the time, which got them in trouble with
No, it’s not illegal to stretch the truth
on a reality show, but it is illegal to claim
tax credits as an Alaskan resident when you
don’t live there.
In 2014, not long after Alaskan Bush People
premiered, a grand jury in Juneau issued indictments
for members of the Brown family on felony
charges of unsworn falsification and theft.
Top dog Billy Brown and son Joshua Brown reached
a plea deal, accepting fines and 30 days in
jail while admitting they had left Alaska
in October 2009, stayed gone until August
2012, but still accepted the subsidy that
full-time residents receive from state oil
Airing on the Discovery Channel from 2011
to 2014, Sons of Guns focused on a Louisiana-based
company called Red Jacket Firearms which made
and sold customized weaponry to police departments,
private security companies, and gun enthusiasts.
That kind of business necessarily involves
dangerous and explosive equipment, including
guns, of course, as well as ammunition and
Sons of Guns also involved a bit of travel,
as Red Jacket sold to individuals and organizations
all over the country.
Shortly after the show’s first season debuted,
two crew members parked a rental truck filled
with pyrotechnics and a few firearms outside
Terminal B at the Dallas/Fort Worth International
Then, looking for a third member of their
party, they left the truck unattended.
Yes, they briefly abandoned a truck loaded
with explosives and guns outside an airport.
Even worse: They did it on September 11, 2011,
the 10th anniversary of the terror attacks
Airport security and the FBI located the owners
of the truck and grilled them.
The crew members were eventually released,
and the locked-down terminal reopened after
a couple hours.
Besides reality shows, another constant in
cable TV programming is alarmist commercials
for wallets that claim to block hackers’ attempts
to steal information from radio frequency
identification-enabled, or RFID, credit cards.
It turns out that techno-criminals really
can do that, and in 2007 MythBusters hosts
Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman tried to prove
CNET reports that at the 2008 Last Hacking
on Planet Earth conference, Savage claimed
that the experiment was scrapped mid-production
due to objections from advertisers in the
technology and credit card sectors in a conference
call with Discovery Channel brass.
Savage described a conference call where:
“Texas Instruments comes on, along with chief
legal counsel for American Express, Visa,
Savage went on to say Discovery was “outgunned”
and told not to air the episode.
Texas Instruments spokesperson Cindy Huff
told CNET that her company just had some questions
for MythBusters about how they planned to
broach the topic, and said it was MythBusters
who decided not to pursue the episode.
After that, Savage had to retract some of
his wording, saying:
“I have to admit that I got some of my facts
He revealed that he hadn’t actually been on
the conference call.
Nevertheless, MythBusters did eventually air
an episode about RFID, but didn’t address
the technology’s possible security flaws.
American Casino, which aired on Discovery
in 2004 before moving to sister network the
Travel Channel the following year, gave viewers
an inside look at the day-to-day business
and operations that take place behind the
scenes in one of the most secure and secretive
places in the country: a Nevada gambling resort,
namely, the Green Valley Ranch casino and
hotel in suburban Henderson.
American Casino didn’t rely much on the soap-opera-like
personal clashes that define most reality
TV shows, but it provided for some shocking
and tragic off-camera scandal.
Michael Tata was featured on the show’s first
season, going about his job as vice president
of hotel operations.
In July 2004, while Discovery was in the middle
of airing American Casino, Tata died at age
A medical examiner later determined the death
to be accidental, likely due to a combination
of alcohol and fentanyl, an extremely powerful
American Casino got bumped from Discovery’s
lineup due to a scheduled hiatus, but producers
got back to work making more episodes less
than a month after Tata’s death.
About the worst thing a reality show can do
is fake it.
It makes viewers feel silly for investing
so much time and emotional bandwidth in a
series only to find out that it was staged.
Discovery Channel’s Man vs. Wild featured
military-trained British survivalist Bear
Grylls as he ventured into the wilderness
with little more than his special set of skills.
He always made it through, in part because
most everything was staged.
After the first season of the show aired,
a crew member told the Sunday Times that Grylls
wasn’t always sleeping on twigs and leaves,
but in a nearby hotel.
On another occasion, an episode implied Grylls
built himself a sturdy raft, when it fact
a crew had previously built it to see if it
would float, then carefully disassembled it
so Grylls could put it together himself.
And those wild horses Grylls encountered?
They were rented.
When confronted with all this, Grylls didn’t
He told the BBC:
“If people felt misled on how the first series
was represented, I’m really sorry for that.”
Meanwhile, the Discovery Channel owned up
to how “isolated elements” had not been “natural
to the environment,” or, you know, fake.
“I’ve been all the way around this now, and
it’s definitely an island!”
What American Chopper was to motorcycles,
American Guns was to firearms.
It showcased the goings-on at the Wyatt family’s
Gunsmoke Guns shop in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.
In December 2012, Discovery Channel canceled
American Guns and pulled reruns, too.
The network claimed it had decided weeks earlier
to not renew the show, but it was only announced
after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting
in Newtown, Connecticut.
Even if that hadn’t happened, Discovery likely
would’ve distanced itself from American Guns
soon anyway, because a massive scandal broke
Shortly after a 2013 break-in and robbery,
the IRS closed Gunsmoke to perform a search.
A month later, an affidavit related to that
search was made public.
It all goes back to 2010, when the Bureau
of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
received a tip that Gunsmoke, under manager
Rich Wyatt, possessed six illegal firearms.
That prompted a closer look at Gunsmoke’s
records, which revealed that the Wyatts didn’t
actually own the store as their show implied.
Wyatt’s signature appeared on sales tax returns
from 2008 to 2011, but nobody’s signature
appeared on several other years’ worth of
tax returns because they weren’t filed for
a number of years.
The government also alleged that the Wyatts
underreported their wages to steal from the
business, as evidenced by multiple large real
estate and car purchases.
In 2018, Rich Wyatt got a 78-month prison
sentence for the gun dealing and tax charges.
“You’re taking all this money?”
“All this money, yeah.”
“You can’t do that.”
Discovery Channel’s motorcycle series Monster
Garage followed Jesse James and a team of
mechanics, fabricators, and artists as they
attempted to make extreme modifications to
For example, they tried to turn a DeLorean
into a hovercraft.
James came to the series with solid credentials,
as the owner and main builder of souped-up
and custom motorcycles at West Coast Choppers.
James also stakes historical and familial
claim to his bad-boy image: He says he’s a
distant descendant of Wild West scofflaw Jesse
It would seem that the 21st-century Jesse
James broke the law, just like his 19th-century
The California Air Resources Board levied
a fine of more than $270,000 at James and
West Coast Choppers, charging man and business
with customizing and selling bikes that shattered
the Golden State’s clean air regulations.
An investigation found that his “monsters”
didn’t come with state-certified exhaust and
fuel system emissions gear, and that they
generated 10 times the legal limits of hydrocarbons.
James and company worked on the bikes in question
between the years of 1998 and 2005, overlapping
the time Monster Garage was on the air.
Early one morning in December 2011, MythBusters
visited a bomb range in Alameda County, California,
about 25 miles north of San Jose.
They had been there more than 50 times already.
This time, they brought along a cannon built
especially for the show and tested the trajectory
of a softball-sized cannonball.
The projectile was intended to blast through
a few barrels of water and a wall of cinder
blocks, then come to rest somewhere in the
protective hills around the bomb range.
The cannonball missed the water barrels intended
to slow its flight.
It soared through the wall and bounced off
one of the hills and into the nearby town
The cannonball kept going, through the door
of a house, through the walls of an upstairs
bedroom, and through the window of a minivan
100 feet away.
That house was occupied by three people at
the time, who somehow didn’t even wake up.
MythBusters sent a producer to the home and
agreed to meet with the family’s insurance
companies to work everything out.
“It radically altered our entire safety procedure.
And our approach, and mental approach, to
safety from the ground up.”
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