- The Washington Times - Monday, March 16, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) - No immunity idols helped TV producer Mark Burnett’s latest crew of adventurers, who retraced journalist Henry Stanley’s 19th century search in Africa for missing explorer David Livingstone.

The TV series that came out of the trip, “Expedition Africa: Stanley & Livingstone,” will unfold as an eight-part series on the History channel, starting in June.

History channel chief Abbe Raven said Monday she hoped it was the start of a franchise.

Burnett picked four people who had never met to make the nearly 1,000-mile trip through forbidding terrain, armed with a compass and old maps. They were hoping to duplicate in 30 days the trip made by newspaper reporter Stanley in 1871 to find Livingstone.

“David Livingstone was like the Bono of his day, and he’d gotten lost,” Burnett said.

The four adventurers Burnett cast all had TV experience: British adventurer series host Benedict Allen; war correspondent Kevin Sites; “National Geographic Explorer” correspondent Mireya Mayor; and Pasquale Scaturro, who followed the Nile River to its source for an Imax film “Mystery of the Nile.”

The four battled elements like poisonous snakes and unsafe water during their journey. Burnett said 10 people in his 120-member crew contracted malaria.

And, as viewers of Burnett’s CBS “Survivor” series might expect, they battled each other at times.

Burnett said he doesn’t cast series guessing in advance people will fight. “Just choose people who are so sure of themselves,” he said. “They can’t all lead, can they?”

“These are the three big brothers that you always wanted,” Mayor said Monday. “Sometimes I thought they were the three big brothers I never wanted.”

One of the four cast members became so ill during the journey as to come near death, Burnett said. He wouldn’t reveal which one.

It’s the biggest investment History has ever made in an original series, said Raven, the History channel’s president and chief executive officer.

Her hope is that “Expedition” can become a franchise for History, one which sends the same four cast members on other adventures. Burnett is already pushing for a series that follows the 13th century journeys of Marco Polo.

To do that, “Expedition” will have to draw a significantly higher audience than the network’s regular programming, she said.

“It has to reach millions of people, no question about it,” she said. “We believe it will.”

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