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Through the Wire

NASCAR Star Revs Up the Weather

Jeff Burton runs rapidly on the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing circuit, so one would think his downtime is equally fast-paced. His TV choices are other races, shoot ’em ups or another action genre, right?

Not exactly. Burton spends more time watching The Weather Channel than any other network, and lists the nets Five-Day Planner as his favorite program. That show in particular helps him navigate the event circuit.

Burton stopped by Weather’s studios last week while he was in town to race his 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet in Atlanta at The Golden Corral 500 on March 20.

Burton told network officials he sees a parallel between his sport and TWC. “People watch what you do and are pulling for you. And they are counting on both of us to be there and give them a show they can count on,” he said.

While at the net, Burton sped from an appearance on Your Weather Today to a session where he was coached through a forecast in front of a green screen by on-camera meterologist Heather Tesch, to a stand-up outside with his racer, explaining to TWC’s Stephanie Abrams how changes in weather affect driving technique and strategy during a race.

His mini-tutorial provided him with some advanced weather intelligence for race day. Unfortunately, the prognostication was for rain.

Lions, Tigers, Bears … And Pythons. Oh My!

Things got a little wild for Maureen Smith at Animal Planet’s press luncheon last week.

Prior to unveiling news about a pair of themed nights and an upcoming daytime block, Animal Planet’s executive vice president and general manager was draped in a yellow, 80-pound python named Speedbump. She and vice president of development and production David Doyle also got up close and personal with 9-month-old white Bengal tiger Sophie.

Lion cub siblings Katie and Caesar were also in Manhattan’s Soho House on March 14, gaining sustenance from a baby bottle handled by trainer Donald Reinhardt.

In looking to get a head start on Discovery Networks U.S.’s April 7 presentation pack, Smith said that having the animals on board was aimed to evoke a sense of “wow” among the assembled.

“There’s nothing quite like the energy, the feeling of seeing these creatures up close,” she said. “At the same time, you have to remember that they could take your arm off with one swipe of their paw, so there is also a primal fear connection.”

Smith said she wants Animal Planet to convey that “sense of awe, spectacle and heart-tugging” throughout its lineup. She also hopes to “bring more balance” to it, by raising the male composition of its audience to 45% from its current 40%.

To that end, Mo Rocca, the former Daily Show With Jon Stewart correspondent, will host “Whoa! Sunday,” an 8 p.m.-10 p.m. block of family-friendly specials, beginning March 27 with Spy on the Wild.

Bowing June 15, “Wild Wednesdays” will be the home to new series for Animal Planet, including Buggin’ with Ruud, featuring quirky entomologist Ruud Kleinpaste, and the Jeff Corwin Experience.

Come August, Animal Planet will introduce “Simple Pleasures,” a daytime block initially comprising Doga, about interspecies yoga classes; and Backyard Habitat, which shows watchers how to make a home for animals in their back doors.

Smith said Sophie gave two big paws to the scheduling strategies.

Nat Geo’s Wild Ride At Grand Central

Late last week, National Geographic Channel held its own wild and wooly upfront event at Grand Central Station in the Big Apple.

Nat Geo’s menagerie included two bear cubs, a young black panther, a baby kangaroo and a large iguana, the elder statesman of the group at five years old. Attendees there also were told they could look at the critters, but couldn’t touch them.

National Geographic Explorer host Lisa Ling chatted with The Wire about her research for a show on the culture inside the all-male California Sacramento State Prison in Folsom. She said she was surprised that inmates there were fans of The View, and recognized her from her hosting days on that daytime female gabfest. The gang in the Big House are also loyal viewers of The Oprah Winfrey Show, where Ling said she has an upcoming appearance slated.

On the other side of balcony eatery Metrazar, Nat Geo president Laureen Ong, executive vice president of programming John Ford and executive vice president of marketing Steve Schiffman had some chuckles in a photo, posing in ancient Roman garb in front of a backdrop for an upcoming special on Spartacus.

Later, they feigned fear when the backdrop was changed to depict an ensuing tornado.

The Bidding’s Open for a Dream Auction

Ever dreamed of attending such high-profile events as the Kentucky Derby or the Golden Globes? Then start saving up: Cable Positive has partnered with TV Guide Channel to auction “experience packages,” including tickets, lodging and airfare as part of “TV Guide’s Positively Red Carpet Charity Auction.”

Package components and destinations will be announced April 3 at the National Show in San Francisco by TV Guide Channel’s Melissa Rivers. (Don’t worry about being singled out for a fashion faux pas; Rivers said her mother Joan will not be able to make it to the gig).

“I believe really strongly in what Cable Positive is doing,” said Rivers in an interview from her home. The younger half of the red carpet duo noted that she’s spent a lot of her personal time doing charity work. For instance, she stuck it out on reality show I’m a Celebrity, Now Get Me Out of Here! in order to earn $100,000 for the Make a Wish Foundation.

“I think this will be a good boost for awareness. AIDS is still a very significant problem, especially in the entertainment industry,” she said.

The auction of the experience packages will be conducted online, with bids taken from April 3 through May 13 (at Cable Positive is still looking for companies interested in supporting the auction with more packages. Contact Thomas Henning at 212-459-1606

Contributors: Linda Moss, Mike Reynolds.