Science and wildlife documentaries occupy a pinnacle of respect in the rhetoric of public service broadcasting. They exemplify the epitome of ‘quality’ factual television in contrast to the docusoaps that dominated the schedules in the latter half of the 1990s. Although associated in the UK with the public service ethos of the BBC and the long-standing ‘blue chip’ wildlife films of the Natural History Unit, the global success of series such as The Human Body (1998), Walking with Dinosaurs (1999), The Blue Planet (2001) and The Life of Mammals (2002) has also depended on a joint venture agreed in 1996 between BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the BBC, and the Discovery Channel, a highly successful global cable company based in the USA specializing in factual programming (Chris 2002: 18). These blockbuster series help to reinforce the reputations of both companies as prestige global brands. Heavily marketed in advance, they attract large audiences as well as winning industry prizes. Their brand value is then exploited further through subsequent product spin-offs such as books, videos, DVDs, computer games, music CDs, educational toys, inter­active CD-ROMS and websites, which are promoted on-air and sold direct on the Internet to schools as well as the general public (Chris 2002: 20).

The prestige of these documentaries owes a great deal to their use of the legitimating discourses of science and of the latest imaging technologies. Production personnel have close links with scientific institutions; indeed, many achieved a doctorate in science before they became television producers. The cultural assumptions that are inscribed into science as an institution and method of enquiry pervade this generic form. Yet their address to a mass audience means that they are also structured as entertainment. Their popularity rests on their ability to provide education in ways that appeal across the generations to a family audience. The pleasures of narrative and of visual spectacle are important here as a means to engage audiences. Discovery has ‘strategically cultivated the entertainment value of non-fiction’ (Chris 2002: 12). This has been

achieved through a focus on topics with global appeal, such as natural disasters or human and animal mating practices, which are presented to emphasize dramatic story lines. Since its inception in 1985, Discovery has now expanded to eight channels that address very precisely targeted niche markets. For example, Discovery Health is oriented to a feminized ‘lifestyle’ niche, while Animal Planet, a channel devoted to wildlife programming, is oriented towards a younger market and is explicitly educational in its address.

Given these developments, the focus of this chapter is on the interrelation between the demands for ‘quality’ in the deployment of ‘technoscientific’ discourses in science and wildlife programming and generic innovations that have enhanced their popular appeal. It also considers the implications of this interrelation for the sexual politics of these genres, which traditionally were structured around a gendered binary between the detached observer, coded as masculine, and an embodied ‘nature’, coded as feminine. My analysis derives from feminist challenges to these hegemonic discourses and the gendered hierarchy they sustain. The second half of the chapter takes up this analysis in relation to the series The Human Body and its construction of sexual difference. The focus here is on how the programme’s use of digital imaging, metaphor and narrative work to produce ‘intelligible bodies’ that conform to normative concep­tions of sex and gender. This is compared to alternative ‘feminist’ or ‘queer’ explan­ations of the relation between sexed bodies and cultural genders that emerge on the margins of the schedules. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the potential, in a global market, for discursive innovation in these genres and the implications for their sexual politics.