Jon Stewart, who knows a thing or two about irony, will create a two-hour special on a perfect target—the U.S. naturalization process—for History Channel, to air in the fourth quarter.
Stewart's show, The Naturalized, is among the highlights of History's most substantial programming investment ever. The network's robust slate of specials and series, to be announced May 14 at History's upfront presentation, ranges from a sweeping 12-part series about the creation of America, to a critical examination of holiday traditions (and the anxiety they engender) by comedian Lewis Black.
The projects are among 16 new series and 13 new specials greenlit or in development for the 2009-2010 season.
The Naturalized, to be produced by Busboy, Stewart's company, follows eight individuals through the bureaucratic morass of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The special will also include interviews with undocumented and deported illegal immigrants.
“It's a look at that process that is very much in Jon's tone and manner,” says Nancy Dubuc, History's executive VP and general manager. “The early stuff we're seeing is quite funny but really poignant and relevant.”
Stewart will serve as an executive producer, and there is a possibility he'll appear. “He's been very open,” Dubuc says. “This is a topic that he appreciates.”
In Surviving the Holidays With Lewis Black, the acerbic comedian asks if the deluge of office parties and extravagant displays of conspicuous consumption aren't perverting the true intent of the holidays. The special is timed to premiere during the '09 holiday season.
And America: The Story of Us marks the most significant series investment for the network. Slated for second quarter 2010, it will examine the sweep of American history from Jamestown to Obama, and how industrialization, geography, and political and cultural developments influenced the American story.
“Regardless of what side of the fence you're on in terms of your beliefs,” Dubuc says, “there is a palpable sense of wonderment, sense of imagination and in some instances sense of fear about how we got here and how we're going to progress as a nation.”
The charter for The Story of Us, which is produced by former Discovery programming chief Jane Root's Multi Chrome Ltd., will be to look behind the curtain at defining moments and make them relatable to 21st century touch points. For instance, the Transcontinental Railroad will be presented as the Internet of the 19th century, altering the way people worked and lived in no less profound ways.
“Our challenge will be to visually surprise audiences with those revelatory moments that people forget had to have happened to get us here,” Dubuc says.
The development dollars for such a programming investment are a direct result of History's record-breaking ratings year in 2008, momentum that has continued in the first quarter of '09.
“We talk a lot about doing an epic project,” she says. “You can't do epic on a basic budget. We needed some proof that this could come to life visually in a compelling way.”
The Story of Us will include a substantial multi-platform and educational outreach component that will benefit from the re-launch of History's Website this fall.
The network's digital team, with help from design firm Huge, has been working for more than a year on the new site, according to Dubuc, who wants it “to be the video Wikipedia for all things history.” Every historical event and person covered will have a page with varying degrees of depth, including current articles, interactive video or games.