Animal Planet is planning to air two multipart natural history specials co-produced with BBC Worldwide.
“The Great Rift” is slated to air in 2010 and “Madagascar” is scheduled for 2011.
Animal Planet, which has been looking to attract more adult viewers through series programming, notes that natural history specials bring the network some of its highest ratings.
“It’s part of what we think people come to us for,” said Marjorie Kaplan, president and general manager at Animal Planet. “A big part of our need is to create tune-in, must-see, must-watch-it–every-Friday-night kind of TV. But a critical part of the Animal Planet DNA are these grand natural history specials.”
In January, Animal Planet ran the Discovery Channel special “Planet Earth” and drew an average of more than 1 million viewers per installment. The network last year averaged 557,000 viewers in primetime, up 3% from 2007, to rank 32nd among all advertising-supported cable networks.
The network also has the special “Yellowstone,” which launched March 22, and “Wild Russia,” which will air over the summer.
“The Great Rift” will be among the programming Animal Planet presents to advertisers during the upcoming upfront market.
The network would be open to having a title sponsor for the special.
“We’re always interested in sponsorship,” Ms. Kaplan said, pointing to “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” which is coming back for a seventh season.
Last week, Animal Planet announced it was ordering a seven-episode second season of “Jockeys,” a docudrama that follows the men and women who ride racehorses. Season one concluded March 13. Six jockeys from season one will return this summer, along with new riders Garrett Gomez and Corey Nakatani. The first season of “Jockeys” also is being sold as a DVD at Discoverystore.com.
But another touted series, “Dark Days in Monkey City,” which employed comic-book-style graphics to tell the tale of warring tribes of simians, didn’t perform as well as the network hoped.
“When you’re on a night when ‘American Idol’ is on, it’s tough,” Ms. Kaplan said. The series will rerun on the network at some point in the near future and might also be made available online.
When doing natural history specials, the goal is to create an awesome spectacle, Ms. Kaplan said.
“They’re either so amazing to look at, or things you never thought of, or places you’ve always wanted to go,” she said.
“The Great Rift” examines the geographic fault system that stretches for thousands of miles from the mountains of Kilimanjaro to the Red Sea’s coral reefs.
“The Rift is like the Garden of Eden,” Ms. Kaplan said. “It’s not the cradle of civilization, but it’s the cradle of mankind.”
“Madagascar” is about the island in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa that was separated from the rest of the world for 65 million years and largely untouched by man, creating a hotbed of evolution that created a concentration of unique creatures.
Madagascar also is well known from the animated DreamWorks films of the same name. Ms. Kaplan said she would be open to a tie-in if it coincided with a new film release.