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History Turns ‘Life After People’ Into a Series

Dec 21, 2008  •  Post A Comment

“Life After People” is finding new life as a series on History.
“Life After People” set ratings records for History in its original incarnation as a special. The program showed how cities, buildings and bridges would eventually crumble without human maintenance and be overrun by nature. It pulled in 5.3 million total viewers and 2.8 million adults in the 18-to-49 age bracket.
Life After People
The network thinks those viewers will return for 10 one-hour episodes set to air in the second quarter of 2009.
When a special draws big numbers, it’s natural for a programmer to see if there’s a way to return to the trough. Since “Life After People’s” storyline as a special ended hundreds of years after man had departed the Earth, it wasn’t immediately clear if there was more ground to cover, said History General Manager Nancy Dubuc.
“I’m never one to squander an opportunity,” Ms. Dubuc said. “We asked the tough question, ‘Was this a one-shot wonder or is there a deeper idea here?’ We went back and talked to the producers, and when we really got into it, the subject is incredibly wide and varied.”
Ms. Dubuc said the show combines the almost supernatural quality of imagining a world without people with the engineering aspect of looking at how things run and the history of places and things that have been deserted for a long period of time.
“It’s a marriage of three genres that we know have tremendous success on our network. It’s that sweet spot that we talk about looking for,” she said.
The show is a long way from the World War II documentaries that built the network, but Ms. Dubuc—who became general manager of History two years ago—has been broadening its programming mix and focusing on series.
“The History viewer is a different viewer today,” she said. “There are more of them, clearly, and their tastes are more diverse and their palette is very accepting of us doing these types of programs.”
Indeed, History, the 18th-ranked advertising-supported cable channel in terms of prime-time viewers during third quarter 2008, is finishing a record year.
Ratings are up 12% among adults 25 to 54 year-over-year and up 17% with adults 18 to 49. The network’s average age has dropped by three years.
When it first ran, “Life After People” was very different from anything else running on History.
“We had no proof from anything on our air that showed us that this would work. That was just instinct,” Ms. Dubuc said.
Episodes of the series will focus on what happens to Earth’s air, water and other resources after the end of man. Each episode will focus on abandoned locations that show the effect of time on man-made structures, such as ships or buildings. The program also will use large-scale animations of familiar cityscapes crumbling as the years pass.
The episodes are being produced by Flight 33. History’s Paul Cabana and Dirk Hoogstra are executive producing.
The series will get a big marketing push before its premiere. Since the series was ordered after the upfront, the network also is lining up sponsors.
“Interest is strong and we have a good handful of advertisers seriously considering the presenting sponsor position,” a History spokeswoman said.
This is not the first time History has turned what was supposed to be a one-shot deal into a series.
The hit series “Ice Road Truckers” emerged from an episode of the network’s “Modern Marvels” anthology and the network has produced five “Extreme Marksmen” specials.
“It’s a series, but our guys are in denial about [that],” she said of the “Marksmen” producers.
While the network is concentrating on series, it is still producing 40 to 50 hours of specials a year. And frequently shows that get pitched as a series get turned into specials by Ms. Dubuc and her team.
Ms. Dubuc said that while the network is keeping an eye on the economy, its programming plan has not been affected by the recessionary environment.
“We’re in a really good position heading into what is clearly going to be a very difficult time for our industry. But I actually couldn’t feel better about where we are heading into this,” she said. “We know what our programming budgets are and we’re going for ratings. Appointment viewing series are our priority.”

20 Comments

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  2. The show is an answer to a question we didn’t know was there. Usually this implies a shift in social perspective. It could prove interesting to interview people about the show (during the series) asking why this idea appeals to them. This may suggest areas to focus on and/or new directions for future productions–completely diffferent but related. Maybe on online survey. National Geographic has interactive internet site. All sorts of individualized directional possibilities.

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