Thursday, November 20, 2008

What I'm Watching: National Geographic Channel

When National Geographic Channel started posting content on Hulu a while back, I got pretty excited. They are one of the few name brands that mean something in the world of cable television, which lives and dies by the mantra "grab eyeballs at any cost."

When I watch something from NGC, I know I can expect great production values, superb photography, and at least a surface understanding of some interesting aspect of science or history.

So I watched everything NGC had up on Hulu, which included a handful of full length specials and a handful of clips. Their additions have been pretty meager and sporadic until last week, when they released a bunch of new content to educate and amaze us.

Now I'm working my way through a slew of new content, and for once, I don't feel a pang of guilt for feasting on crappy television programming.

One quibble I have is their organization. Most shows have their stuff divided into "clips" and "episodes." National Geographic, on the other hand, has stuff divided by topic, although their topics are, how you say, meaningless?

The first grouping is "Spotlight," and contains a variety of full shows, clips, and some short "films" that are anywhere from 2-8 minutes long. There is no rhyme or reason to the topic choices. That's not to denigrate the content in any way, however. My absolute favorite was a two-part piece on Hannibal, the gutsy military commander who crossed the Alps with an army of elephants and brought Rome to its knees. It's like watching Braveheart, except it really happened. Here's Part 1 if you're interested:

Their next grouping is "Hit Shows," which is not mutually exclusive with Spotlight in any way that I can tell. It consists almost entirely of 45 minute programs on everything from Bridges of NYC to Cultural Faith Healers, as well as a slew of shorter clips. There are lots of interesting, serious topics, but here's a lighthearted point of interest. In this "web exclusive" about bras, I was shocked to recognize Tony Soprano's crazy european girlfriend as one of the models. Small world!

Okay, so we've got a spotlight, we've got some hit shows. What would make sense for a third and final category? Would you believe, "Wild," which has some wildlife-themed programming? Yeah, that makes no sense. But here's an amazing program about a man who has been harassing bears in the wild for 12 years. Actually, he primarily harasses a bear that he hand-raised, but that makes the situation more dangerous, not less dangerous. She has bitten him at least a couple of times, but so far he has managed to escape serious damage. I predict that Timothy Treadwell will soon be the second-most-recent amateur science enthusiast who has ended up studying bears from the inside:

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