History launches original series, specials

Cable net unveils aggressive lineup of new programming

History has greenlighted six new series and several specials in what the network is calling its most substantial original programming investment.

Among the new series is the 12-part "America: The Story of Us," a look at keystone moments in the forging of the U.S. It's produced by Nutopia, the new production company of former Discovery Channel president Jane Root.

Nancy Dubuc, executive vp and GM of History, called "Story of Us" the biggest project the network has undertaken.

"We're in historic times right now, and there's a need to understand how we got here and where we might be going," she said.

Another new show, "Pawning History" from Leftfield Pictures, is a 13-episode docusoap set in a family-owned Las Vegas pawn shop. Also ordered is "Madhouse" (working title), a docusoap produced by Triage Entertainment and set at a North Carolina racetrack.

"These are not souped-up NASCAR cars, these are people who spend every last penny of their paycheck on their cars," Dubuc said of "Madhouse." "Then they essentially destroy what they built during races on the weekends, just to beat that other guy across town."

The projects join upcoming highlights for History including Mark Burnett's new series "Expedition Africa."

The network ended 2008 with its best year ever among adults 25-54 and adults 18-49 and is up about 8% in both demos since the start of the year.

The network's other greenlighted series are "WWII in HD," which restores thousands of hours of archival footage into HD; "MysteryQuest," in which modern science tackles ancient myths; and the prophecy investigation show "Nostradamus Effect."

"WWII in HD" could potentially break out for the network, which relied on World War II docs during its early years. Converting rare and familiar 35mm war footage to HD could give the net a way to tell stories about a popular subject in a fresh way.

"It was a very intensive archive process," Dubuc said. "It's a completely different experience of World War II."