After more than one-dozen years on TBS Superstation, National
Geographic Explorer will move to CNBC in September, and network officials are hoping
that the show will prop up its weekend ratings.
The documentary series,hosted by Boyd Matson, will
premiere on CNBC Sept. 5 at 8 p.m. It will air from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays and
Sundays on CNBC, repeating both nights from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.
CNBC's parent, NBC, plans to put its full
cross-promotional power behind Explorer, according to officials from both CNBC and
National Geographic Television.
To create awareness of the show's move to CNBC, for
example, the NBC broadcast network will air an Explorer special with Today host
Matt Lauer Saturday, Sept. 4 -- the day before Explorer premieres on CNBC.
At first blush, Explorer would seem to be an odd
programming fit for a financial-news channel such as CNBC. But CNBC vice president of
primetime programming Bob Reichblum said the show could help to solve the network's
problem of finding appropriate fare for weekends, when the financial markets are closed.
"At its core, CBNC is a financial-news channel,"
Reichblum said. "The big conundrum has been: What do you do in nonmarket hours?"
Explorer,which just received 12 Emmy Award
nominations (more than 60 Minutes), will appeal to the upscale viewers that CNBC
already caters to, according to Reichblum.
"We're looking to expand our audience, as well as
to satisfy our core audience," he said. "The audience for business news is a
pretty diverse group. We don't look at it as a finite, small group of traders. As
long as you're presenting high-quality programming, you're meeting their needs,
and Explorer is obviously high-end. We think it will be a good magnet for us."
At last month's Television Critics Association summer
tour, Reichblum told the assembled writers that the goal for Explorer at CNBC is
"to remedy and energize what has really been an underperforming time period for the
network" -- weekends.
"The backbone of our weekend schedule primarily has
been reruns of our weekday programs," he said at the TCA tour. "And one of the
problems is that it has put a mask on some of the other good programming that's going
on during weekends."
He added that some of CNBC's current weekend
programming -- which includes an hour-long Tim Russert interview show and a Saturday
Olympic Games show at 7 p.m. that is being produced by NBC Sports -- is just not getting
enough support or sampling from viewers.
According to both Reichblum and Andrew Wilk, executive vice
president of programming and production for NGT, NBC News president Andrew Lack was the
executive who really pursued Explorer for CNBC.
The series had been airing on TBS since 1986, and it would
have entered its 14th season on the network this fall.
"CNBC is a far better fit for us," Wilk said.
"We have nothing but praise for Ted Turner and Turner Broadcasting [System Inc.].
Turner had been a huge supporter. But our contract was about to turn over, and the
question was: Who would put up more money? Explorer is an expensive enterprise. NBC
offered us more money on CNBC and a better deal."
Wilk added, "Andy Lack was interested, and NBC had
been our strategic partner in other things." Said Reichblum: "Andy Lack
recognized it as a valuable programming franchise."
A TBS spokeswoman said her network has been expanding into
fictional original programming, such as telepics, and Explorer didn't really
fit into that strategy.
Explorer will help CNBC to define its weekend schedule,
Wilk said, adding that he expects the show to eventually also air Friday nights on CNBC. Explorer's
strongest demographic is men 50 and older, "and that's a very solid demo for
CNBC," according to Wilk.
Explorer has a new executive producer, David Royle, and
he told TCA attendees that the show will be "more timely, more responsive than ever
before" in its incarnation on CNBC.
"Just as viewers turn to CNBC for the latest in
business news, we want to make sure that viewers always turn to Explorer for the
latest news in the world of natural history, exploration, adventure -- pretty much every
aspect of what happens on our very finite earth," Royle told the TV critics.
NBC and NGT intend to use their synergies to promote Explorer.For example, the two partners plan to break NGT and Explorer stories on NBC
outlets such as NBC Nightly News, as well as on MSNBC and CNBC. NGT has a history
of contributing stories to Dateline, NBC Nightly News and Today.
In addition, officials are looking into opportunities to
drive viewers to CNBC via hot links between the Web sites of National Geographic, Explorer,
MSNBC and CNBC.
NGT will also announce Explorer'snew
home on CNBC through a wrapper on National Geographic magazine, which reaches 40
"It's probably going to take a few minutes for
the audience to find us, but the real advantage here is that the NBC machine is behind us,
so there is the cross-promotion," Matson said at the TCA tour.
NBC and NGT have been partners in National Geographic
Worldwide, which has been distributing National Geographic Channel to 54 countries. In
May, the two companies announced that they were teaming up with News Corp. to launch a
U.S. version of NGC.
If that channel does launch domestically, Reichblum was
asked if NGT would eventually want to air Explorer on NGC, rather than on CNBC.
"We regard National Geographic as a programming
partner for us," he said, "but they're just figuring out the distribution
puzzle right now [for the domestic NGC]. We're in 70 million homes. This is just a
smart place for Explorer to be."
According to Wilk, "It's safe to assume that Explorer
will remain on CNBC for at least five years."