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Nat Geo Spices Up Sked With Specials

Jan 9, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Since its debut five years ago, National Geographic Channel has been gaining ratings ground due to topical specials such as “Inside 9/11,” “Unlocking Da Vinci’s Code” and “Inside Hurricane Katrina.”

During fourth quarter 2005 the network was up about 25 percent over fourth quarter 2004, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Sticking with what has worked for it, the channel soon will announce three more specials: “Freemasons,” “Tools of the Trade” and “Fight Science” (working titles), to run in the second and third quarters of this year.

The first, the one-hour “Freemasons” (Weller/Grossman Productions) is a forerunning tie-in to Dan Brown’s upcoming novel “The Solomon Key,” a follow-up to his best-seller “The Da Vinci Code.” Nat Geo’s biggest ratings splash to date was its examination of controversial historical claims in “The Da Vinci Code.” “Freemasons” will similarly examine myths and facts about the secret society at the heart of Mr. Brown’s new novel.

In the two-hour “Fight Science” (Base Productions), a team of scientists and animators will use high technology to examine the science behind various styles of martial arts fighting.

The third, “Tools of the Trade” (Jupiter Entertainment), will run as three one-hour specials. “Tools” looks at specialized equipment used to complete difficult and dangerous jobs.

“Trade” could also be considered a backdoor pilot. Though four of Nat Geo’s seven current series were launched as series, part of the network’s strategy is to first test potential serial concepts as specials.

“We’re not big on launching 13-part series without proof of performance,” said John Ford, executive VP of programming for Nat Geo. “We don’t have to do that because we’re not that hungry and we’re not series-dependent. We only want as many series as will work. We don’t want to be wrong-times-13.”

One type of popular programming Nat Geo refuses to purchase as series or specials is docu-soap reality, even though in recent months most ad-supported cable networks have embraced the format as an all-purpose solution to boost ratings.

Mr. Ford said his network receives up to 10 docu-soap pitches per week and promptly turns them down.

“We’re consciously not doing docu-soaps,” Mr. Ford said. “We never look at what somebody else produces and steer toward it.”

This month Nat Geo will also launch a high-definition spinoff channel. The channel will be a simulcast version of Nat Geo that will consist almost entirely of programming shot in high definition, making it a rarity among HD channels.