National Geographic Channel is going fishing and chasing merit badges
"Wicked Tuna," a new series from the cable network -- which is part of a joint venture between Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and the National Geographic Society -- will debut this spring. It follows the lives of commercial tuna fishermen in Gloucester, Mass.
Shows about people with unusual or difficult jobs can be ratings gold for cable channels. Discovery found success with "Deadliest Catch," about Alaskan crabbing boats, and the History channel has a big hit with its series "Ice Road Truckers."
National Geographic Channel also plans to launch "Are You Tougher Than a Boy Scout?" -- a competition show between adults and Boy Scouts.
In addition, the network has acquired the rights to Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly's book "Killing Lincoln" and has signed directors Ridley and Tony Scott's Scott Free Productions to turn it into a two-hour documentary, complete with re-enactments.
The two new series are the first since the arrival of Howard Owens, who joined the network last fall as its president after leaving the production company Reveille.
The original programming push is part of Owens' mandate to make the 11-year-old National Geographic Channel more competitive with History, TLC and Discovery in the ratings.The channel, which in the past has relied more on specials and documentaries, wants to beef up its series programming.
Owens was brought in not long after David Lyle, a News Corp. veteran, was tapped to be chief executive of the joint venture. Steve Schiffman, who had been president of National Geographic Channel, left shortly after Lyle took over.
"Wicked Tuna" is something of a passion project for Owens, who said he was driven to do the series in part because of his love of the movie "The Perfect Storm," about a crew of fishermen -- also from Gloucester, Mass. -- who perish tragically on the high seas.
"Are You Tougher than a Boy Scout?" will be lighter in tone. Owens and programming chief Michael Cascio said they would try to tap athletes and celebrities as well as regular civilians in looking for people to compete with the scouts.
-- Joe Flint
Photo: "Wicked Tuna" follows the lives of commercial tuna fishermen. Credit: National Geographic Channel