Making (Over) History

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The History Channel, looking to create appointment viewing with more variety and jazzier topics, is launching five series that run the gamut from prehistoric dinosaur slugfests to martial-arts adventures from around the world.

The new primetime programming slate represents Nancy Dubuc’s first major move to put her mark on The History Channel, where she has been executive vice president and general manager since December. The shows represent an evolution away from the anthology-oriented series and specials that have been History’s programming staples in the past.

EMOTIONAL CONNECTIONS

For example, in Human Weapon, hosts Jason Chambers, a mixed martial artist and professional fighter, and Bill Duff, a former football player and wrestler, travel to exotic locales on a quest to find the masters of different martial arts. Jurassic Fight Club depicts how prehistoric beasts hunted their prey, dissecting these battles and uncovering a predatory world far more calculated and complex than originally thought.

“These shows have personality to them — whether that be the format of the show, or whether that be literally the presenting characters — which create an emotional connection to viewers that will bring them back week after week,” said Dubuc, former senior vice president of nonfiction programming for A&E Television Networks. “It gives viewers a reason to come to the network and to embrace the programming outside of the academic world of history.”

In addition to Jurassic Fight Club and Human Weapon, Dubuc has green-lit: Ice Road Truckers, about long-haul truckers who drive their rigs over hundreds of miles on ice roads cut across the surface of frozen lakes; The Universe, which examines how discoveries about space were made and the scientists and explorers who made them; and Tougher In Alaska, which assesses the self-reliance, ingenuity and technology that it takes to survive the challenges of extreme cold and isolation.

Dubuc said that the new series, which are expected to debut this year and in early 2008, reflect the service’s effort to offer more variety in how it approaches history.

“History is such a broad and diverse subject, and what I believe these series do is represent how much of history remains untapped, in terms of the way that we’ve covered it,” she said. “These series give us an opportunity to really dimensionalize history in a way that makes it exciting and also represents that history is what’s happening now. … Our sweet spot going forward will really be the intersection of the past and the present, giving viewers full access to history in an energized, emotionally relevant way.”

ERMEY RE-ENLISTS

The network is looking to continue expanding its audience. “I really think it’s going to be done through appointment-viewing series,” Dubuc said. “We’d had a lot of success with our specials, but those are moments in time. Those are not night after night after night. We’ve had success with series, but more under anthology umbrellas. While they’re important — and while they’ve been a big part of our bread and butter, and while they’ll still to some degree have a place on the network — it’s very hard to eke the kind of growth out of the network that I need on that model.”

In keeping with Dubuc’s strategy, History, which also wants to lower the average age of its viewers to 46 from 51, said last week that it had finalized a multiyear deal with R. Lee Ermey, host of Mail Call, which will expand his presence at the network, both on-air, relative to developing new series and specials, and online.

“He is one of those great, really rare personalities who bring both charisma and credibility to the network simultaneously,” Dubuc said.

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