NEW YORK - Unlike some channels, Animal Planet trades on a message beyond "Watch us."
So says Marjorie Kaplan, group president of Animal Planet and TLC.
"We believe that there is a value to a planet filled with life, and that every living creature has value," she says. "That's an ethos that underlies what we do."
This undated image released by Animal Planet shows retired Chinese professional basketball player Yao Ming with a baby elephant. Ming sets off to help save Africa's elephants and rhinos from extinction by changing a 1,000-year-old Chinese tradition and ending the trade of illegal ivory and rhino horn in his native China in an Animal Planet special airing in the fall.
On Thursday, Kaplan will officially unleash for advertisers the channel's programming for the coming year. Its stable of stars will range from puppies and kitties to killer whales, endangered rhinos and a family of snow wolves.
Geography and climate are also characters on Animal Planet, from the North Pole to Zambia's Luangwa Valley as it suffers a seemingly interminable dry season.
One other important player on Animal Planet's stage: humans.
"We not only recognize that humans are animals, too, but that their connection to the wild, natural world is part of what makes us richly human," Kaplan says.
Animal Planet is bringing back a number of established series including "Finding Bigfoot," ''My Cat From Hell," ''Pit Bulls & Parolees," ''River Monsters" and "Treehouse Masters."
For a third year, the channel will celebrate the globe's (and your neighborhood's) most fearsome creatures during its popular Monster Week event. And, of course, Puppy Bowl XI will provide a canine alternative to pigskin next Super Bowl Sunday.
New series to be announced include:
- "Deadly Islands." Large predator expert Dave Salmoni visits some of the world's most remote islands to investigate how their native inhabitants have been successful at surviving some of Mother Nature's fiercest predators.
- "Ice Lake Rebels." A handful of survivalists hunt for food, drill for water, trade for necessities and guard their turf far off the grid on a lawless frozen body of water in the Northwest Territories in Canada.
- "Pool Master." No, this has nothing to with snooker. Designer-sculptor Anthony Archer-Wills creates swimming pools for his clients that fit into their domestic environment as though formed by Mother Nature eons ago.
- "Redwood Kings." Twin brothers Ron and John Daniels (and their 40-person crew) create works of art from ancient, reclaimed redwood trees. Their projects include a rustic roadside mall and a 22-room, interactive theme-park experience at San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf.
- "Rocky Mountain Bounty Hunters." Fugitive retrieval agents go in hot pursuit of armed and unpredictable outlaws who have skipped bail, preferring the treacherous terrain of the Rocky Mountains to facing justice behind bars.
- "My Tiny Terror." Small dog trainer Jacqueline Wilson goes nose-to-snout with some of the naughtiest and tiniest dogs as they cause mayhem in their owners' homes.
Among the specials on tap: "Revenge of the Whale" is a two-hour dramatic film starring Martin Sheen, who, as Old Thomas Nickerson, relates a tale of his life as a cabin boy on the ill-fated voyage of a whaling ship, an adventure presaging Herman Melville's "Moby Dick."
Other specials find polar explorer Eric Larsen embarking on a 49-day adventure across the ice to the North Pole on "Last North" and writer-photographer Levison Wood "Walking the Nile" on a 4,250-mile trek to become the first person to successfully walk the entire length of the Nile River, through rainforest, desert, savannah and swamp.
And on yet another special, former NBA basketball star Yao Ming sets off to help save Africa's elephants and rhinos from extinction by changing a 1,000-year-old Chinese tradition and ending the trade of illegal ivory and rhino horn in his native China. This project is a Discovery Global initiative that works with him and the WildAid organization to expose the workings of this multimillion-dollar underground trade.
Kaplan says Animal Planet finished 2013 as the 16th-ranking network for men and secured a top-10 network spot for three weeks during the year, its best ever.
"In every show," she says, "we're looking for ways to make you feel the physical world, to bring out in us the thing that's our deepest kind of humanity - our connection to ourselves."
All that, and adorable puppies, too.