Nat'l Geo charters 6 forays into unknown

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The National Geographic Channel has ordered a slate of six new specials centered on such topics as dinosaur fossils, mummies found in China and the mystery of Stonehenge that continue the network's interest in exploration and expeditions into the unknown.

Also among the topics are an investigation of Egypt's Nefertiti and her husband, Akhenaten, and a collection of ancient human remains discovered in the Pacific Ocean that could signal a new species of humans.

Steve Schiffman, the channel's acting GM, said the network has been airing expedition-centric programming since its launch seven years ago but now is giving it even more of an emphasis.

"Expeditions are very much part of our DNA," he said. "Since 1888, the National Geographic Society has funded over 8,000 research projects around the world. For the channel to embrace expedition as part of our programming approach is like breathing. It's who we are."

Michael Cascio, senior vp special programming, noted that the specials deal with diverse subjects.

"Some are historical, some are archeological, some are purely scientific, but they are all really in the sweet spot of National Geographic -- to explore new people and new worlds and bring them to life," he said. "It's very exciting and rewarding to be able to do something substantive; these are not just TV programs, they really are scientific expeditions."

The new specials, all of which are being shot in high definition, are:

-- "Nefertiti and the Lost Dynasty" (9 p.m. Monday), narrated by Alfre Woodard, which investigates what happened to Nefertiti and Akhenaten, the radical king and likely father of King Tut.

-- "Explorer: China Mummies" (9 p.m. Sept. 26), which examines human remains up to 3,000 years old that were found in Northwest China's Tarim Basin to determine where they really came from.

-- "Dino Autopsy" (December), which examines a virtually intact dinosaur mummy. According to National Geographic, the paleontologists involved believe that this could be one of the most important dinosaur discoveries ever.

-- "Dino Death Trap" (December), which examines hundreds of well-preserved dinosaur fossils -- many never seen before -- that were found stacked on top of one another in the Junggar Basin in western China.

-- "Lost Tribes of Palau" (fourth quarter), centering on a find in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, where an expedition has unearthed a collection of ancient human remains that they believe is the discovery of a new species.

-- "Stonehenge Revealed" (2008), which investigates new physical evidence that could unlock the mystery of why Stonehenge was built.

"Nefertiti," "Explorer," "Dino Autopsy," "Dino Deathtrap" and "Stonehenge" are being produced by National Geographic Television; "Lost Tribes" is being produced by Parthenon.

National Geographic is expected to announce the specials Thursday during its portion of the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour at the Beverly Hilton.
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