Animal Planet unveils a wild new season of human drama

| Friday, April 5, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

Animal Planet wants to help you tap into your inner wild.

That's the network's message as it unveils 11 new shows along with 20 returning favorites in the season ahead.

Never fear: Super Bowl Sunday's wildly popular “Puppy Bowl” is right where it belongs on the network's slate (to be officially announced to advertisers on Thursday).

And there will be more awww-some cuteness on “Animal BFFs,” a new series that will document the love of odd-couple animal chums.

On the other hand, “Polar Bear Crossing” will transport viewers to Manitoba, Canada, where the human population of the tiny town of Churchill is outnumbered by its not-always-so-neighborly cohabitants: polar bears.

“Underworld” dives into underwater caves around the world, where mysteries lurk and where danger is as prevalent as wonders.

And don't forget Billy and Ami Brown, who, with their seven children, have taken residence deep in Alaska's wilderness. For this “Alaska Bush Family,” a harsh environment, dangerous critters and a challenging terrain are just part of everyday life.

Going wild is the latest step for Animal Planet.

“There is no animal planet and human planet — it's all one planet,” says Marjorie Kaplan, network president and general manager. “So we decided to tell the human stories that happen at that intersection.”

It worked. In 2012, the network grew by 17 percent among viewers in the 25-to-54 demographic, and by 23 percent among men 25 to 54. It was the network's most-watched year among total viewers.

“But then we asked ourselves, is there more elbow room in this brand?” Kaplan says. “The intersection of human and animal is really about the connection of humans to the wild. We're not getting rid of our animals, but there are places we can explore that are about how we, as humans, live on this wild planet.”

Example: “Catch and Release,” a back-to-nature game show that makes “Survivor” seem as tame as a round of “Jeopardy.”

On this show, a group of five of what are billed as “the world's most elite, thrill-seeking survivalists” choose one among them, then blindfold and dispatch him to a remote location to fend for himself. He has 100 hours to find his way back to civilization.

“It's a hero's journey,” says Kaplan, “but we also want to show the camaraderie of his friends, who are monitoring him on video.”

Other new shows:

“Top Hooker”: Ten expert fishermen compete in a series of challenges with a $30,000 prize waiting to be snagged.

“Eel of Fortune”: The show tracks the hectic Maine fishing season for elver eels, an Asian delicacy that sells for $2,600 per pound and can bring in nightly hauls worth up to $40,000.

“Clipped”: Arkansas-based Angela Kumpe is an “extreme groomer” who can make a dog look like a bumblebee or a buffalo.

“My Tiny Terror”: A spinoff of “My Cat From Hell” has Animal Planet's small-dog trainer roaming the country to cut unruly little dogs down to size.

“Ice Cold Gold”: A team of miners is among the first Americans to prospect for precious metals and gems in a part of Greenland where humans have never set foot before. It premieres April 21.

“Treehouse Masters”: “Tree whisperer” Pete Nelson and his team mastermind luxury treehouses for back-to-nature living at its leafiest. Premieres May 31.

Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press.

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