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Nat Geo Outlines 'Grand' Plan

Touting five consecutive quarters of ratings growth, National Geographic Channel unveiled a slate of new and returning series, as well as new specials and themed weeks, at an upfront presentation the network held in New York Wednesday night.

The nearly five-year-old network, which now reaches 53 million subs, will renew its series Megastructures, Naked Science and Explorer.

Additionally, NatGeo will air a slew of new series including Beyond the Bible, a scientific dissection of the existence of Jesus, and Is it Real?, a look at supernatural phenomena including Bigfoot and crop circles.

The network will continue to rely heavily on specials, many filled with elaborate CGI animation, after last year’s specials outperformed audience estimates promised to advertisers.

“Last upfront, the advertiser attitude was ‘prove it,’ and this year it’s proven – promise fulfilled,” said programming VP John Ford. “We’ve got happy advertisers coming to the table.”

New specials include Hannibal, retracing the warrior’s route from Tunisia to Italy, (fourth quarter 2005); Inside Grand Central [the site of the upfront presentation] (fourth quarter 2005); Blackbeard, a drama/documentary slated to coincide with Disney’s release of Pirates of the Caribbean II (for first quarter 2006); and Relentless Enemies, a look at buffalo and lions on Africa’s plains (first quarter 2006).

Most are being shot in HD to build a library in the format should Nat Geo spin off a separate HD network, although there are currently no plans to do so.