11:25am PT by Lesley Goldberg
Martin Sheen to Star in Two-Hour Animal Planet Scripted TV Movie
Animal Planet is joining the ranks of cable networks launching into scripted territory.
During its upfront presentation Thursday in New York, the cabler announced that Martin Sheen (The West Wing) will star in its first scripted entry: Revenge of the Whale, a two-hour TV movie based on the story that inspired Moby Dick.
Sheen will portray Thomas Nickerson, who tells a story about his life as a cabin boy on the ill-fated voyage of the whaling ship The Essex. The movie is a co-production with the BBC and reimagines what happened when the most hunted sea creature finally turned on its killers and fought back.
PHOTOS: Broadcast TV's Returning Shows 2014-15
Cable networks have increasingly looked to more short-form fare as a way of testing the waters of pricey original scripted fare. Discovery recently premiered its first foray into scripted programming with miniseries Klondike, while History broke ratings records with miniseries The Bible to launch its first original drama series Vikings.
In addition to Revenge of the Whale, Animal Planet also announced its 2014-15 upfront slate, which included six new series, nine specials, the returns of Holiday Best Fest, Monster Week and The Puppy Bowl programming blocks as well as 11 series.
Returning for additional seasons are: America's Cutest, Finding Bigfoot, Gator Boys, Ice Cold Gold, My Cat From Hell, North Woods Law, Pit Bulls & Parolees, River Monsters, Tanked, Too Cute and Treehouse Masters.
New series include: Deadly Islands, Ice Lake Rebels, Pool Master, Redwood Kings, Rocky Mountain Bounty Hunters and Tiny Terror.
The slate announcement comes as Animal Planet is fresh off its best year ever. The cabler finished 2013 ranking as the No. 16 network for men.
"We always are exploring new stories that both entertain and challenge how we view the natural world and our place in it,” Animal Planet and TLC Group president Marjorie Kaplan said. “Whether captivating audiences season after season with the network’s most-watched series River Monsters, killing it with cuteness with our most buzzed-about, most successful Puppy Bowl ever or delving deep into our humanity with powerful series like Pit Bulls & Parolees, Animal Planet remains committed to offering provocative, entertaining programming while shedding even more light on important global issues.”