Discovery readies its own 'Universe'

Physicist Hawking to guide three-part special

Discovery Channel announced Thursday a new project that aims to conquer the cosmos like "Planet Earth" reinvented the nature documentary.

"Stephen Hawking's Universe" is a multimillion-dollar three-part special that will use the physicist's theories and CGI to explore the mysteries of our galaxy and beyond.

"You got the greatest living mind on the universe, and we're taking his knowledge and presenting it to people with fabulous computer graphics," Discovery president and GM John Ford said. "We start at beginning of time, then go into whether time travel is possible, whether we are alone and some of the great questions, done with spectacular special effects."

Discovery is aiming for a 2010 release, with Darlow Smithson Prods. producing. The project follows History's successful similar program, also called "Universe," which is in its third season.

" 'Universe' is a good show, but it's a weekly series on a weekly series budget," Ford said. "We're doing a multimillion investment … we plan it to be truly an immersible experience. When we take you to Mercury, you're going to feel like you're on Mercury."

Discovery's HD "Universe" will combine CGI, live-action and archive images. An actor who has played the author of "A Brief History of Time" in other productions will serve as narrator.

"This ambitious series explores some of the most fascinating aspects of cosmology, and I am pleased to bring these theories to a new audience," Hawking said. "I hope these visions of the universe will evoke a sense of wonder for everyone, and maybe inspire a new generation of cosmologists." (partialdiff)