The natural world may be disappearing around the globe, but it’s showing up like gangbusters on television.
On Monday, March 29, the National Geographic Channel launches Nat Geo WILD, a brand-new nature-and-wildlife channel that will scour the planet in search of the most compelling, never-before-seen stories.
The channel aims to replace Fox Reality Channel in some 50 million homes upon its debut. As for whether the television universe really needs yet another outlet for the furry, the finned, and the fantastic, Geoff Daniels, senior vice president of development and production, hopes the offspring’s connection to its respected parent gives it an important, competitive edge. “The ability to tap into that vast network of filmmakers, scientists, [and] explorers [with a] longstanding relationship with the National Geographic Society ... is what sets us apart,” Mr. Daniels told a group of reporters at a January industry event in Pasadena, Calif.
National Geographic Channel (NGC) general manager Steve Schiffman adds that while the channel has always featured wildlife programming, it accounts for no more than 5 percent of the schedule. “National Geographic has been the leader in wildlife programming. But while wildlife is at the core of our brand, NGC actually has had [only] a small percentage of natural-history programming among the diverse topics that we have covered.... So we are dedicating a new network to our favorite genre with Nat Geo WILD. We already have hundreds of hours of programming in development.”
The launch lineup of nearly a dozen programs – all shot in high definition – will focus heavily on personality-driven adventures, such as Casey Anderson’s efforts to teach an orphaned grizzly bear cub the basics of salmon fishing, and Mireya Mayor’s foray deep into silverback gorilla territory in Congo.
Mr. Anderson said he traveled to Alaska to learn from the experts, “to witness in the wild how mothers teach their cubs how to fish.” He points out that while it’s easy to think fishing is an instinctual thing for a bear, “it’s actually something that a mother teaches [her] cubs, and they all have different tactics and strategies.” He says he spent hours watching the adult bears.
“It’s apparent, as I’m teaching Brutus [the cub] through this thing, that it’s not easy. It’s hard to replicate what a female bear does, but you’ll see the trials and tribulations that happen through the show.”
Ms. Mayor recounts one of the few times she actually ran from a gorilla. “In all of the years of experience that I’ve had with gorillas, I’ve been charged by them dozens of times, and never once did I move out of its way or run like that. Generally, I act like a gorilla, and I react to them a way a gorilla would, which is to get into a submissive posture and just let him know that, yes, I know you are boss.
“In this case – and this comes from years of experience out in the field – I knew that he wasn’t just doing a bluff charge. In fact, I was talking to the camera when I felt a tension. I didn’t even hear a sound. I felt a tension behind me. I looked, and I knew that he was springing. And he landed in the very spot that I was just sitting in the split second I decided to clear [out of] its way because this was just no typical charge.”
Her program, “Mystery Gorillas,” debuts on April 5. The launch slate includes “Rebel Monkeys,” about primates living in the Galta temple in Jaipur, India (March 31), as well as “Expedition Wild” with Anderson and his Alaskan ursine adventures. The full schedule will be rounded out with select programs from the domestic and international NGC stable.
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