BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Discovery Channel's hit "Naked and Afraid" (10 p.m. Sunday) is inspiring a whole new genre of reality shows - VH1 debuts "Dating Naked" at 9 p.m. July 17 - but "Naked & Afraid" producers insist their show is not about being naked, the show's attention-getting title notwithstanding.
Discovery Communications group president Eileen O'Neill said Discovery Channel defined the survival genre with past series "Survivorman" and "Man vs. Wild." "Naked and Afraid," which scored the network's most-watched series premiere ratings (4 million viewers) when it debuted last summer, is an attempt to keep the genre fresh.
"Yes, the title may grab your attention at first, but the sheer will and determination of the survivalist is what really makes this show a winner," O'Neill said.
In each episode, one man and one woman who have never before met are stranded in the wild and must survive for 21 days while naked. There's no prize - contestants do get some compensation for their time - other than the satisfaction of knowing they made it through.
The show's stars have their private parts blurred - "They could have made my blurred spot bigger," quipped participant Justin Bullard - and the show airs in the same form worldwide (there is no European version without the blurring).
So why do it naked? Producers and participants said it adds to the challenge to be fully without shelter of any kind, beginning with clothing.
"Clothing protects you from bugs and the sun. It provides so much people don't realize," said participating survivalist Dani Julien. "Taking that away from us adds that much more to the challenge. It makes it harder."
Executive producer Steve Rankin said there's also a psychological reason: It makes participants feel vulnerable, adding difficulty to surviving in the wild.
To prepare for the adventure, some participants walk around barefoot for a month; others purposefully gain weight.
Married participant Jeff Zaucsh said his first naked encounter with co-star Eva Rupert, who is single and from Flagstaff, Ariz., was as awkward as it looked on TV. But quickly participants get over their nakedness and the camera crew filming them and get on with the task of surviving.
"We never intend to be exploitative," said executive producer David Garfinkle. "This is a family show because it's not about the nudity. It's about the surviving. It's a relationship show between a man and a woman."
But it's not a romantic relationship show.
"You're out there to survive, and you have bigger things to worry about than batting your eyes at each other and being all lovey-dovey," Rupert said. "You do work together like a family or a marital relationship, but there's nothing like a dinner-and-a-movie-type situation."
Zausch said sharing the "Naked and Afraid" experience did create a life-long bond and friendship between Rupert and him, but that was it.
"Everybody (who has been on the show) who we've talked to said the same thing," he said. "After a few days you're stinky, dirty and nasty. I know how much of a grouch my wife gets from not eating after a few hours. Imagine us not eating after a few days."
National Geographic Channel has embarked on a string of brainy, smart nonfiction series, most notably "Brain Games."
Now the network is "Going Deep With David Rees" (7:30 p.m. Monday).
In "Going Deep," Rees, author of "How to Sharpen Pencils" ($15.95, Melville), explores the hows and whys of everyday experiences, including how to tie a perfectly symmetrical shoelace. It's a show about how to do the things you think you already know how to do.
"There's a couple of criteria for a good episode," Rees said. "If someone sees it on their DVR, they have to think to themselves, there's no way I could learn anything about how to open a door. This must be a joke.
"It has to be something where you think there's nothing to learn. The point of the show is to celebrate and examine the everyday, the mundane.
"It has to be something I am genuinely interested in," Rees continued. "And then it depends on can we find interesting experts?"
For an episode on how to make a paper airplane - it's not the design you knew as a child - Rees interviewed a NASA scientist.
Coming in November, National Geographic Channel explores the science of sleep in "Sleepless in America."
Described as a silent epidemic, lack of sleep gets a prime-time documentary film this fall from producer John Hoffman (HBO's "The Weight of the Nation").
The film includes commentary from Dr. Daniel Buysse of the University of Pittsburgh's Sleep Medicine Institute.
"Technological invasions into the bedroom at night, longer commutes in the morning - the things people short change most in modern life is sleep," said Matthew Walker, director of the Sleep & Neuroimaging Lab at University of California Berkeley, during a Net Geo panel. "The elastic band can only stretch so far before it snaps. I should also note, human beings are the only species that will deliberately deprive themselves of sleep. The rest of the animal kingdom is more wise.
"The idea of 'I'll sleep when I'm dead' is unfortunate. You'll be dead a lot quicker if you're not sleeping and the quality of life you'll have while you're alive will be significantly worse," he concluded.
Hoffman said the film will include Buysse's suggestions for treatments of insomnia.
"Research is indicating some real advances. Behavioral therapies show superior results to medication in the treatment of insomnia," Hoffman said. "The rules he's worked up are very simple to follow and are very effective."
It's no surprise that CBS' "The Millers" is getting a makeover of sorts, What's more surprising is that the makeover is not more substantial.
The comedy, which was renewed for a second season, had some real creative problems in its first season, despite a stand-out cast. Mostly, it just wasn't all that funny.
Not sure the addition of a new cast member will help matters, but Sean Hayes ("Will & Grace") is joining the cast after the failure of last fall's "Sean Saves the World."
He will play a new best friend to Miller family patriarch Carol (Margo Martindale) and an annoyance to Nathan (Will Arnett).
So far the show hasn't shipped out some other cast members, particularly Nathan's sister and family, who added little to the series.
On Oct. 1, Hallmark Movie Channel becomes Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, with a greater emphasis on films in the mystery genre.
Discovery Fit & Health will be renamed Discovery Life Channel on Jan. 15, merging the most popular Fit & Health shows with new programs that "explore life's unexpected challenges and the moments that really matter," according to a network press release.
The broader approach will retain existing shows "Mystery Diagnosis," "Medical Detectives" and "Untold Stories of the ER" while adding new programs, including these in development: "Families on the Brink," "Tales from the Maternity Ward" and "Ripped Kids," about pre-teens who work out.
At a Hallmark Channel party Tuesday night there was much talk of the success of already renewed original series "Cedar Cove" (back for season two at 8 p.m. July 19) and "When Calls the Heart." But less was said about a third series "Signed, Sealed Delivered," although the network has ordered a Christmas movie based on the "Signed" to air later this year. ... Woo-woo! Destination America renewed "Railroad Alaska" - or as my 4-year-old calls it, "Real Trains in the Snow" - for a 10-episode second season to debut this fall.
(Email Rob Owen at firstname.lastname@example.org.)