National Geographic takes cable channel full-time

— If that teetering stack of National Geographic magazines in your attic could talk, it might need its own television channel.

Guess what?

No longer content just to hand out research grants, publish a 9 million-circulation journal and produce the occasional Jane Goodall special, the National Geographic Society is rolling out its own full-time cable TV channel. The National Geographic Channel is scheduled to make its debut Sunday, featuring daily original programming for cable and satellite subscribers.

The new channel, society officials said, will be serious-minded like its rival, The Discovery Channel. But unlike the well-established channel, which generally buys programming from outside sources, National Geographic will produce most of its shows in-house, using the society's vast Rolodex of researchers, writers and photographers. "It's not a scientific journal � this is presented for people who are learned, and for people who are just fascinated by the subject matter," said Russell Howard, vice president of communications.

The channel's signature show, "National Geographic Today," will be on nightly at 6 p.m. CST, from a new, gleaming, ground-floor studio in the society's downtown Washington, D.C., headquarters.

The live show, with former network news anchors Susan Roesgen and Tom Foreman, will follow an "All Things Considered" format, leading the hour with a brief recap of the day's environmental and science news. In a show taped last week, the news segment featured environmentalists' reactions to George W. Bush's pick for interior secretary, as well as a preview of environmental issues facing the 107th Congress. It also featured a breaking story about new government regulations for endangered species.

Then follows a traditional parade of science-and-nature feature stories: explorations of Egyptian tombs and coral reefs, an around-the-world catamaran race, a peek inside the White House (which is celebrating its 200th anniversary).

Society officials hope to bring in their own filmmakers, photographers, writers and naturalists for in-studio interviews, explanatory pieces and animal-handling demonstrations. They also hope to produce "urban anthropology" programs that follow firefighters, big-city bike messengers and others.

The channel will initially be on 18 hours each day, from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. CST. Paid "infomercials" will take up the remaining six hours.

The new channel will reach an estimated 10 million homes initially, with plans to reach 28 million within four years, Ong said. It will be available to cable customers in Los Angeles and San Francisco as well as parts of Chicago, Pittsburgh and Texas. The channel will also be available on DirecTV in many large cities.



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