It takes more than Atlanta Braves games and Andy Griffith
reruns to remain the most-watched cable network in a crowded and
competitive cable environment.
Increasingly TBS, which is the most-watched cable network, has
relied on original documentary films, broadcasting seven of the
10 highest-rated cable documentaries during 1995.
The most visible and popular source of those documentaries has
been National Geographic Explorer , cable's highest-rated
magazine series, as well as its most honored (29 Emmys, 11 Cable
ACE awards and two Academy Award nominations).
Now, in an effort to highlight its documentary programming, TBS
is reserving Sunday nights for a four-hour block of original
documentaries, with National Geographic Explorer occupying the
first two hours and a documentary anthology TOPX occupying the
The new approach, dubbed Destination Sunday by TBS, gets off to
an impressive start at 7 tonight with a 10th anniversary special
titled National Geographic Explorer: Ten Incredible Years ,
followed by a new one-hour documentary film, Biker Women , and
then a repeat of Harley-Davidson: The American Motorcycle , the
highest-rated original program in TBS history.
To put together Ten Incredible Years, executive producer
Michael Rosenfeld and his staff sifted through more than 342
hours of programming. The result is a swiftly paced collection
of highlights that remind us that while nature can be
fascinating and breathtakingly beautiful, it is often not
benign. In the course of a few minutes, we watch as predators
kill a rabbit, three wildebeests, an impala, two penguins, at
least four seal pups and eight other sea creatures.
The most stunning moment occurs during a segment from a
documentary on sharks. As photographer Nick Calyanis, alone in
the water, follows a shark, it is provoked by a fisherman who
doesn't see Calyanis. The angry shark then turns on the
cameraman. While the viewer can't see what is happening to
Calyanis, the way the camera spins out of control and then
drifts down to the ocean floor makes it clear that what's
happening isn't good.
Fortunately, Calyanis, while badly mauled, survived. In fact,
he returned to shark-infested waters to pursue his job.
Rather matter-of-factly, he explains that he enjoys the
challenge of existing in a world filled with predators. "It
would be boring if all there were were trout," he quips.
Not all of the special deals with nature, however. Undersea
explorer/photographer Michael Ballard takes Explorer along on
expeditions to find the Titanic, the Bismarck, the Lusitania and
the numerous ships that went down in the straights off
Guadalcanal called Ironbottom Sound.
There are clips from a special on nurses who served in Vietnam,
on a couple who spent their lives exploring volcanos (eventually
dying, though not on camera, as a result) and on a pair of
daredevils -- one an expert climber, the other an expert
parachutist -- who scale and then leap from a sheer cliff more
than 20,000 feet high.
One of the most moving segments comes from a special on Norman
Vaughan, who, in his late 20s, had been part of an expedition to
Antarctica led by Admiral Byrd. Byrd named an Antarctic mountain
after Vaughan and almost 70 years later, Vaughan, at the age of
88, finally got to go back and climb the mountain that bore his