With Wonderstruck, BBC America wants to give you a break from the news

Posted at 11:53 PM, Nov 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-02 00:53:43-04

(CNN) -- Turn on the BBC America cable channel on any given Saturday from now on, and you'll see natural history programs like "Blue Planet."

The channel is adopting a new name, Wonderstruck, on Saturdays only, and "counter-programming the world with the world," Sarah Barnett says.

Barnett, the president of both the AMC Networks Entertainment Group and AMC Studios, calls Wonderstruck a "mini-network" and likens it to Adult Swim, the network that takes over the Cartoon Network at night.

Wonderstruck is billed as a 24-hour dose of "wildlife and wonder." Barnett told CNN Business that nature programming provides a "much yearned for sense of communal watching." She argued that it's also good for people's "emotional health."

"As you and your viewers know better than anyone, the division, the atomization, the polarization in our world hasn't gone away. In fact, it's exacerbated," she said.

The nature documentaries serve as a break from the news cycle.

It's a clever marketing strategy from BBC America, which is a joint venture between the UK's BBC and AMC Networks. The channel is the exclusive TV home of the "Planet Earth" collection in the US, and other series from BBC Studios' Natural History Unit.

Other programmers are also seizing on the newfound potential of in the natural history content. Discovery is planning to launch a streaming service with nature shows and films. And Netflix is investing in similar programming.

These are the kinds of shows that can play passively in the background or be watched actively, Barnett observed.

"You can let it wash over you," and "you can also learn a ton from this stuff. But I think that it's content that doesn't feel like broccoli," she said. "It doesn't feel like it's good for you. It feels like absolute pleasure and it's good for you."

She also asserted that concerns about climate change and "our changing world" also have something to do with interest in natural history TV.

"I think that the general ways in which people are feeling so rocked by our changing world, so overtaken by the speed in which technology, politics, climate change, urbanization, you know, a host of other things -- are confusing, unsettling, upsetting people in profound, conscious and unconscious ways," she said. "There is proof, there is data around the fact that this kind of content makes you feel connected to something bigger."

The BBC filmmakers who make much of the programming that will appear on Wonderstruck have an "implicit belief" that "you fall in love with the world and then you want to save the world," Barnett said. The filmmakers' front-seat view of "the fragility of our planet is certainly there."

Wonderstruck will kick off on Saturday with a preview of "Seven Worlds, One Planet," a forthcoming series narrated by David Attenborough.

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