Seeking to create thematic destinations and increase its appeal to younger viewers, The History Channel will roll out several new series and specials this fall within primetime blocks.
These are the first major programming initiatives for the network since former A&E Network general manager Dan Davids took over the network's reins last October from Abbe Raven, who moved over to A&E.
Davids would not reveal specific allocations, but said History will enjoy a modest boost relative to last year's budget.
In an effort to draw more viewers, improve audience flow and provide sponsorship opportunities, Davids said History in early summer will covert its primetime schedule into vertical theme nights.
"History Matters" Mondays will include miniseries on topics relating to today's issues, while "Tech Tuesdays" will offer series on technology's historical impact. Engineering and technical feats will consume Wednesdays. And Thursday programs will illuminate the past while enlightening the present.
Military history will be the focus on Friday, followed by programming that uncovers ancient and present-day mysteries on Saturdays. On Sunday, original series and specials will bow.
Among the new original series set to launch later this year are Extreme History with Roger Daltrey, with The Who's frontman leading viewers through a showcase for history's most challenging scenarios; and Tactical to Practical, featuring everyday items with military roots.
aspires to put today's events and issues into a historical context, while Come Home Alive
tells first-hand stories of international acts of aggression against Americans.
Specials commemorating the 40th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination and the 60th anniversary of D-Day — as well as 30 years of the U.S. manned space program, the Alamo, The War of 1812, the Barbarians and Alexander The Great — are also on tap, according to Davids.
"We're trying to let people know that The History Channel is a lot more than just war," he said. "When you look at the schedule, the specials and the new programming we're introducing, it really lends itself to that. Our vision has always been to bring the past to life."
The new programming initiatives come amid recent ratings struggles. History finished 2002 with a 0.8 primetime household rating average, down 11 % from 2001.
The numbers improved 14% to a 0.9 rating in the first quarter, but April saw the network's ratings tumble 22% to a 0.7 in the face of the U.S.-Iraq war.
"Now that the news ratings are back where they belong, we'd like to believe that our schedule will accelerate [viewers] return," Davids said.
Supporting Davids' theory, the network's May 4 Horrors of Hussein
special turned in a 2.1 rating, one of the highest in the network's history.