Ready for liftoff

Pricey 'Space' for Nat'l Geo

The four-hour, $6 million docudrama “Space Race: 1945 to 1969” will highlight the National Geographic Channel’s upfront presentation for the advertising community today.

In an interview on the eve of the net’s upfront, exec VP of programming John Ford said “Space Race,” a co-production with the BBC, will be the most expensive special ever produced by the channel.

Ford said the BBC is constructing sets and building a full model of the V2 rocket that Wernher von Braun built for the Nazis at the end of WWII. The BBC will hire actors to impersonate the historical personages who dominated the rocket-science establishment from 1945 through man’s first landing on the moon.

The National Geographic Channel is one of Nielsen’s cable success stories of the last year, growing steadily in viewers and subscribers. Now in 52.8 million homes, it was the seventh fastest-growing cable net in the country last year, shooting up by 4.72 million subscribers.

Ford said the web expects to employ lots of computer-generated images in future docs. “CGI can take viewers to places they’ve never gone before, with eye-candy production values,” he said, pointing out that CGI costs have gone down in the last few years, making the technology affordable.

National Geographic will produce another 22 hourlong episodes of its long-running “Explorer” series, hosted by Lisa Ling, former co-host of “The View.”

“Megastructures,” “Naked Science” and “Nature’s Nightmares” are three more series that will return with fresh episodes. “These are our core programs,” Ford said.

Joining them will be rookie series “Beyond the Bible,” which will “unveil hidden truths” about the stories in the good book, buttressed by historical, archaeological and scientific evidence, according to Ford.

Among the forthcoming specials, “Blackbeard: the Legend Revealed” is a two-hour exploration of the 18th century pirate, to be filmed in Malta.

National Geographic does lots of serious work, but it has some showbiz in its soul: Net will schedule “Blackbeard” to coincide with the theatrical release of the sequel to Disney’s B.O. winner “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

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