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Animal Planet Snares 'Wild Kingdom'

Mutual of Omaha — which enjoyed a 20-year run as sponsor of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom
— last week signed a deal to bring new installments of the wildlife-documentary franchise to Animal Planet this fall.

The network will run a package of six one-hour primetime specials, Animal Planet executive vice president and general manager Michael Cascio said last Friday. The first will be televised in September, with the rest to run "every six or eight weeks" of the 2002-03 television season.

They may run more often during the summer to capitalize on the broadcast networks' rerun-laden summer schedules, he added.

The shows will cover six of the seven continents (sans Antarctica). The September outing probably will be "Elephants of Timbuktu," a Discovery Networks U.S. spokeswoman said.

Cascio declined to supply a dollar figure for the long-term programming, advertising and marketing partnership. He called Mutual of Omaha'sWild Kingdom
"the Animal Planet of its day, back when there were no cable networks."

The insurance and financial-services provider will receive billboards, bumpers and four spots per show, as well as additional spots across the Animal Planet schedule.


Cascio said joint marketing and advertising efforts could include affiliate promotions and the sale of Wild Kingdom
merchandise at Discovery Channel Stores. He said both companies' would be involved in conservation-themed outreach and educational efforts, many of them oriented toward children.

"Our challenge was to preserve the values of the old show, but make it relevant for today's audiences," Mutual of Omaha CEO Jack Weekly said in a prepared statement. To accomplish that, the executives said the new shows will offer state-of-the-art filming techniques, new graphics and as-yet unannounced "signature narrator."

Former on-air Wild Kingdom
personalities Jim Fowler and Peter Gros will act as advisers to the new series. Fowler succeeded the late Marlon Perkins as host in 1985.

The old Wild Kingdom
episodes — which aired on NBC from 1968 through 1971, then in first-run syndication through 1988 —were "never really part of the discussion," said Cascio. Nonetheless, he said, some "classic" footage will appear in the initial special and perhaps in others as well.