August 18, 2008

‘Unknown’ Promises Mysteries Unraveled

By Gary Strauss

Exploration and adventure series are so common on cable, many TV viewers get a sense of deja vu when channel-surfing.

But Discovery Channel programming executives think there is room for one more. That's why they're kicking off Into the Unknown With Josh Bernstein tonight (10 ET/PT).

The genre's viewers know Bernstein -- author, adventurer and wilderness educator -- from his three-season gig hosting History Channel's popular archaeological series, Digging for the Truth. Others may know the Cornell-educated CEO of Colorado's Boulder Outdoor Survival School for his 2007 listing in People's "Sexiest Men Alive" issue.

Discovery hopes Unknown's theme and Bernstein's macho appeal can resonate with a broad audience, particularly in a time slot that has been occupied by reality-TV kingpin Thom Beers' varmint-chasing series, Verminators.

"This is more than sit-back-and-watch TV. This is lean-forward-and-get-immersed TV," says Bernstein, 37. "I want people to be engaged."

Says Discovery programming executive John Ford: "Josh is the genuine article. He brings an authenticity to a show that goes to difficult locations and is rich with detail. We think this will appeal to our core audience, who like information to be credible, but in an entertaining package."

Tonight's premiere opens in Rome, then goes to Turkey and Tunisia, where Bernstein dispels Hollywood myths surrounding ancient gladiators with the help of gladiator-school specialists, archaeologists and forensic experts who examine warrior training, diet, weaponry and celebrity status in the Roman Empire.

Since filming began Dec. 1, Bernstein has spent 200 days traveling to 15 countries for the eight-episode series.

"As an explorer and someone who loves to travel, this show is the perfect vehicle for me," he says. "You wouldn't have to pay me to do this. I would do it without TV cameras."

Bernstein says Into the Unknown's format appealed to him because it offered bigger budgets and more time to explore stories than the archaeological-centered Digging for the Truth.

"After three years, it felt a bit constricted. We wanted to be as ambitious as possible with Into the Unknown, (covering) the past, present and future," he says.

"We wanted stories with a central mystery I could sink my teeth into."

Upcoming episodes

*Aug. 25: Investigating a theory about the Bible's Great Flood.

* Sept. 1: Searching for the "City of Gold" in Timbuktu.

*Sept. 8: Why the Chachapoya civilization vanished from Northern Peru.

*Not yet scheduled: Why elephant attacks are rising in East Africa; the Anga tribe's mummies in Papua New Guinea. (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>