TCA '09: Nat Geo Specials Take to Air, Sea


Complete MCN TCA Coverage

Los Angeles—Research firsts, including the first video footage of a blue whale calf and the necropsy of a 37,000-year-old baby mammoth, are the topics of two of nature specials upcoming on National Geographic Channel.

Another first, President-elect Barack Obama's introduction to his flight crew on Air Force One, will be contained in On Board Air Force One, to air Jan. 20, just after the inauguration. This special will also include President George Bush's last ride on the jet.

Producers used innovative technology, such as a "critter cam" attached to a whale, to get unprecedented footage for the research specials.

Panelists discussing Waking the Baby Mammoth at the meeting of the Television Critics Association said researchers are seeking information on what actually happened in the Ice Age. Examination of Lyuba, which was one-month old at the time of her death, didn't give answers about the era, but revealed information about the species. For instance, the infant—nearly perfectly preserved—showed signs of adult feces in her systems, indicating the waste was ingested possibly to strengthen the infant's immune system, researchers said.

This special is currently in production for an April debut.

Kingdom of the Blue Whale, narrated by Tom Selleck, chases the breed out into the deep water where they breed. Most whales breed in more shallow water. Researchers said they can't chase the whales merely for the sake of television as it must be done as part of a scientific expedition.

The channel will also shed light on that lightening rod of controversy: the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. A NatGeo crew spent three weeks at the center, after one year of negotiations with the government for access. The government reviewed all footage to ensure no images would violate security, NatGeo officials said, such as the depiction of the location of security cameras. Filmmaker Jon Else said the government deleted images of shackling procedures.

The program, shot last August, will provide a snapshot of the facility in that moment of time; if he had his wishes, he would have liked to film during the eight years the detention center was operated, Else said.

The discussion about the value of Guantanamo among panelists, which included retired Lt. Commander Charles Swift, who defended Ahmed Hamdan, the former driver for Osama bin Laden; and former assistant secretary of defense for international security policy Frank Gaffney Jr., became acrimonious. The latter advocated the imprisonment of the detainees as Islamic radicals bent on our destruction; and Swift's view that there is no "monolithic," single view held by the prisoners in Guantanamo.

The episode of National Geographic Explorer documents the interaction between the detainees and the servicemen who operate the center. It also debuts in April.