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Series Released Into 'Wild’

1/17/2010 2:01 AM Eastern

Predator sharks, unruly monkeys and a 900-pound bear raised from infancy by a naturalist will inhabit the programming lineup of upstart cable channel National Geographic Wild when the new wildlife channel launches later this spring.

Nat Geo Wild, which will replace Fox Reality Channel, will have at least five new series and specials ready to debut at launch, executives said. That will set Nat Geo Wild apart from other networks offering wildlife shows, according to Geoff Daniels, senior vice president of development and production for the upstart service.

“What we’re really doing is building off of 30 years of National Geographic as a world leader producing innovating, compelling wildlife films,” he said.

While Nat Geo Wild has yet to announce a specific launch date, Daniels said the network already has “hundreds” of hours of original programming in the pipeline, regardless of the wildlife-themed programming on National Geographic Channel. In fact, less than 5% of all Nat Geo Channel programming in 2009 was wildlife-related.

“The main National Geographic Channel offers a rich tapestry of adventure and exploration, culture and science programming, but a very select amount of natural history specials programming,” Daniels said. “Nat Geo Wild will dedicate the entire platform solely to wildlife programming with a mix of series and events and blue-chip specials.”

Among the new shows slated for the channel is documentary series, Expedition Wild. Its first episode will feature the exploits of naturalist and wildlife expert Casey Anderson, who attempts to teach a 900-pound grizzly bear that he raised from a cub how to capture fish in the wild.

“He adopted and raised a grizzly bear, so he has a unique relationship and insight into some of America’s most charismatic wildlife,” Daniels said. “He’s like the ultimate American safari guide.”

Another series on the docket is Rebel Monkeys, a 13-part series that follows a gang of monkeys that live among the people in the city of Jaipur, India. Considered sacred by the people of the city, the monkeys often wreak mayhem throughout the town. “The series has an exotic urban edge to it that will take the traditional animal docu-soap to an entirely new level,” Daniels said.

Among the new specials slated for the channel are Mystery Gorillas, in which primatologist Mireya Mayor ventures deep into the heart of the Congo to observe the culture and behavior of a group of rare and endangered great apes; and Predator Island, which will take viewers to Cocos Island off the cost of Costa Rica where sharks and other predator creatures live and hunt for food.

Daniels said he’s not concerned about comparisons with other competitors in the wildlife marketplace, such as Discovery Channel and its sister service, Animal Planet.

“The natural fit of that this channel has with our brand and the extension of what we’ve done with the channel sets us apart,” he said. “We’ve been the leader for 30 years so I think people may need to start comparing themselves to us.”

The network, which will be Nielsen-rated at launch, will also provide a 24-hour high-definition simulcast channel, although Daniels would not say how many if any affiliates have deals to distribute the HD feed.

“This channel is such a perfect fit for HD, and the value that we’re going to bring to operators through the content and with HD is unparalleled,” he said.

In related news, National Geographic Channel will celebrate the 25th anniversary of its Explorer franchise with a two-hour special set to launch later in April and an extensive web presence.

National Geographic Channel correspondent Lisa Ling will host Explorer: 25 Years, a special debuting April 18 that will highlight how Explorer — the longest-running documentary series in cable history — has covered our changing world.

Highlights include the very first look at the undersea wreckage of the legendary Titanic liner in 1997 and, more recently, 2007’s undercover report from inside North Korea and the 2009 intimate portrait from inside the controversial detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, said the network.

Nat Geo will acknowledge the series on a dedicated Web site, http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/channel/explorer-25, through an extensive collection of video, game and editorial content. Each week the site will feature a past Explorer episode with commentary from the producers or others involved in the program, according to network officials.

The network will also launch a casual game based on Explorer in which players pose as a reporter to investigate and uncover various nefarious activities being conducted around the world.

On the editorial side, the network will post a special article covering Explorer’s impact over the past 25 years by the people behind the series, including Lisa Ling, Boyd Matson and the Explorer filmmakers.

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