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Animal Planet rebranding, adding more animal-themed reality shows


By Christopher Rocchio, 02/04/2008 

After spending its first 12 years of existence focused on more traditional wildlife observational programming, Animal Planet is relaunching and rebranding itself around a new more adult-targeted programming schedule that will include animal-themed reality shows and additional Meerkat Manor-like anthropomorphic series.

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"We're not looking to be a natural history channel. We're looking to be an entertainment destination," Marjorie Kaplan, the president of Discovery Communications-owned cable network, told The New York Times last month.

"It made us unimportant to everyone," Kaplan told The Times about the network's previous "something for everyone" programming format. 

Animal Planet's new programming will attempt to "tap into the instincts that drive us all -- fear, hunger, pleasure, [and] nurture," via several new series that are scheduled to debut in the coming months.

"We feel a little too human, a little too soft, a little too all-family and not powerful enough," Kaplan told Broadcasting & Cable last month. "We're being more aggressive and tapping into the instinctual nature of compelling animal content."

One of the new shows will be Lemur Kingdom, a new anthropomorphic series similar to Meerkat Manor and Orangutan Island -- the top-rated Animal Planet shows which already reflect the network's new programming strategy.

"[Before Meerkat Manor] there were these unspoken rules that you didn't put names on animals and you didn't give them human characteristics," Animal Planet marketing executive Vicki Lowell told The Times.

Lemur Kingdom will follow the lives of two rival groups of ring-tailed lemurs living in the protective reserve of Berenty on the island of Madagascar off the coast of Africa, and is scheduled to premiere Friday, February 8 at 8PM ET/PT.  The show's 15 half-hour episodes were filmed over the course of a year and captures unprecedented footage of lemurs' behavior.

Escape to Chimp Eden, another of the network's new shows, will follow Eugene Cussons, the managing director of Chimpanzee Eden, a South African wildlife sanctuary that rescues and rehabilitates chimpanzees from war-torn countries like Sudan and Angola. Escape to Chimp Eden will premiere Friday, February 8 at 9:30PM ET/PT and air regularly at 9PM ET/PT beginning February 15. 

Animal Planet is also developing three new more pet-centered reality shows -- Groomer Has It, Clinically Wild Alaska and Petfinder -- as part of its rebranding effort.

Groomer Has It is a reality competition series that will follow 15 groomers from across the country as they converge on Los Angeles with their canines and pit their pups against one another in various challenges.  Groomer Has It, which began production recently, is being produced by 3 Ball Productions, whose previous credits include Age of Love, Beauty and the Geek, The Biggest Loser, and Endurance.

Clinically Wild Alaska will follow the staff of Anchorage, AK's Pet Emergency Treatment 24-hour hospital, where the patients range from bald eagles, porcupines and moose to dogs and cats.  The show is scheduled to premiere Friday, February 8 at 10:30PM ET/PT before moving to its regular time slot of Fridays at 9:30PM ET/PT beginning February 22.

Each half-hour episode of Petfinder will tell the true story of previously homeless pets being matched with a new owner via the New Jersey-based pet adoption website petfinder.com.  In addition, the show will also encourage viewers to adopt pets of their own.  The 13-episode series is scheduled to premiere Saturday, February 9 at 9PM ET/PT.

"It's inspirational without being a total tear-fest," Petfinder executive producer Dina Wanner recently told New Jersey's The Star-Ledger.  "If anything, viewers may shed tears of joy."

Animal Planet is also planning to launch three additional new unscripted shows -- Whale Wars, A Year with Lions, and  After the Attack -- as part of its relaunch.

Whale Wars will follow the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's effort to eradicate illegal whaling operations by using radical methods, such as disabling or sinking whaling ships and disrupting whale carcass processing.

A Year with Lions -- a spin-off of the network's Into the Lion's Den documentary -- will have viewers following large predator expert Dave Salmoni as he lives among lions for a year in Africa.

After the Attack will feature Salmoni interviewing survivors of deadly animal attacks.  Aided by a team of animal and behavioral experts, Salmoni will help the survivors heal and gain the confidence to come face to face with the animals that attacked them.  After the Attack will premiere Tuesday, March 4 at 9PM ET/PT.

In addition to its new regular series, Animal Planet's rebranding efforts -- which also include an emphasize on more predation wildlife documentary programming (ie. animals hunting and killing other animals) -- will also feature a new network logo; a new "Same planet, different world" slogan," and new music.

"In an increasingly technological, rational, pressured, thoughtful and well-socialized environment, there is an enormous desire for unmediated, intensely felt, visceral, in-the-moment experiences," said Kaplan.  "And animals -- in real life and in great, archetypical stories -- are a short cut to those instinctual feelings.  In a world of intellectual or clever television or lightweight entertainment, Animal Planet is television that gets you where you live -- literally -- in your gut."

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