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Smithsonian Sets Lineup

Jan 29, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Priming for an April launch, Smithsonian Networks unveiled its first programming slate, which includes a co-production with BBC and a behind-the-scenes look at the national museum hosted by former “Ed” star Tom Cavanagh.

A joint venture between Showtime Networks and the Smithsonian Institution, Smithsonian Networks originally planned to operate solely as a video-on-demand service. But after talks with cable and satellite operators, it has been encouraged to follow up with a linear high-definition network in the fall.

“We think VOD remains our first launch platform,” said David Royle, executive VP for programming and production. While operators are focused on VOD, he said, “The other movement we’ve seen in the cable industry is the realization of the dawn of the age of HD from a consumer point of view.” All Smithsonian programming is originating on HD, making it attractive to operators, he said.

While Mr. Royle said operators have shown enthusiasm for the VOD service, the network has no carriage deals to report at this time.

Smithsonian plans to launch its on-demand service with 40 hours of programming in such categories as air and space, cool collections, history and mystery, natural wonders, pop culture and Smithsonian Kids. Some programs will be acquired but the bulk will be original.

One original show will be a version of “Timewatch,” the long-running BBC history series. Smithsonian is working with “Timewatch” producers on selecting subjects for the episodes and determining how the stories are told, Mr. Royle said. He wouldn’t disclose any of the initial topics because the show often breaks news by “throwing new light on our understanding of important world events,” and so its investigations need to be kept under wraps.

Another Smithsonian show is “Stories From the Vaults.” In the series, Mr. Cavanagh goes behind the scenes with the museum and its staff to watch a CAT scan of a Stradivarius violin and to visit the museum’s cold tissue storage area and Phyllis Diller’s joke file. “It’s every person’s dream to be able to explore behind closed doors and look into the nooks and crannies of the nation’s attic,” Mr. Royle said.

Peter Schreimer, a 22-year-old naturalist from Michigan, hosts “Critter Quest,” a show designed to teach kids about the wildlife they can find in their backyards.

The network also plans to run a special on the story of the 1933 gold Double Eagle coin, the world’s most valuable coin, and the Sundance Award-winning documentary “Cutting Loose,” which looks at Mardi Gras in New Orleans, a tradition nearly wiped out by Hurricane Katrina.