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Discovery says tightrope walker Nik Wallenda's next walk is in Chicago

Published: Thursday, April 3 2014 1:01 p.m. MDT

This June 23, 2013 file photo released by Discovery shows Nik Wallenda walking across the Little Colorado River Gorge on the Navajo Nation near Cameron, Ariz., for Discovery Channel's This June 23, 2013 file photo released by Discovery shows Nik Wallenda walking across the Little Colorado River Gorge on the Navajo Nation near Cameron, Ariz., for Discovery Channel's "Skywire Live With Nik Wallenda." (Discovery, Tiffany Brown, Associated Press)

NEW YORK — Nik Wallenda is taking his high-wire act to Chicago for a tightrope walk to be televised this fall on Discovery, part of the network's strategy to entice viewers with live events.

Wallenda's walk across the Grand Canyon area of Arizona last year reached more than 10 million viewers live on Discovery, an unusually big number for the cable network. The Chicago encore will probably take place in November, Discovery said Thursday.

"We wanted to make a shift from the natural — the Grand Canyon — to an urban environment," said Eileen O'Neill, Discovery president. "Chicago is a place where Nik's relatives have performed before. It just provides a number of interesting challenges for him."

Discovery isn't saying exactly where Wallenda will be skywalking in Chicago, saying it is still seeking a permit. The city is home to the 1,451-foot Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower), the nation's second-highest building. Discovery quoted Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel as saying the city is thrilled to be chosen.

Preacher Joel Osteen, left, leads a prayer with Nik Wallenda, second from left, his wife Erendira, daughter Evita and son Yanni before Wallenda walked a 2-inch-thick steel cable that took him a quarter mile over the Little Colorado River Gorge in northeastern Arizona on Sunday, June 23, 2013. The daredevil successfully traversed the tightrope strung 1,500 feet above the chasm near the Grand Canyon in just more than 22 minutes, pausing and crouching twice as winds whipped around him and the cable swayed. (Discovery Channel, Tiffany Brown, Associated Press) Preacher Joel Osteen, left, leads a prayer with Nik Wallenda, second from left, his wife Erendira, daughter Evita and son Yanni before Wallenda walked a 2-inch-thick steel cable that took him a quarter mile over the Little Colorado River Gorge in northeastern Arizona on Sunday, June 23, 2013. The daredevil successfully traversed the tightrope strung 1,500 feet above the chasm near the Grand Canyon in just more than 22 minutes, pausing and crouching twice as winds whipped around him and the cable swayed. (Discovery Channel, Tiffany Brown, Associated Press)

Discovery this spring also plans a live telecast of California mountain climber Joby Ogwyn's attempt to jump off the summit of Mount Everest, the world's tallest peak, in a specially-constructed wing suit. This fall, Discovery is organizing a 42-day "Survival Live" event where eight people compete to survive in a remote environment.

Looking further, Discovery and its sister Science Channel will chronicle the Google Lunar XPRIZE, a competition where privately funded teams try to land an unmanned craft on the moon and transmit live pictures back to Earth. A landing is expected sometime next year.

Live events have become particularly important to networks in recent years as they seek ways to draw large number of viewers away from DVRs and on-demand services to watch their programs (and commercials). Without contracts to show major sports events or award shows, Discovery has to create events.

A large crowd watches as high wire performer Nik Wallenda walks across a wire as he practices Tuesday, June 18, 2013 in Sarasota, Fla.  Wallenda, a seventh generation high-wire walker, will attempt to walk across the Grand Canyon on Sunday, June 23, 2013.  (Chris O'Meara, Associated Press) A large crowd watches as high wire performer Nik Wallenda walks across a wire as he practices Tuesday, June 18, 2013 in Sarasota, Fla. Wallenda, a seventh generation high-wire walker, will attempt to walk across the Grand Canyon on Sunday, June 23, 2013. (Chris O'Meara, Associated Press)

"Obviously, they're kind of a DVR-buster," O'Neill said. "This compels you to be in a certain viewing position at a certain time." That's reflected in Discovery's promotional approach to the Everest jump, as viewers will be asked, "Where will you be?"

Wallenda's walk and the Everest jump will be televised on Discovery channels around the world, not just in the United States, she said.

Both the Everest jump and "Survival Live" will present challenges new to the network, if not TV itself. For one thing, Discovery cannot precisely schedule in advance when Ogwyn will make his jump, or even know for certain whether he can.

He's climbed Everest twice, although that doesn't necessarily guarantee he'll make it a third time. Weather conditions limit Everest climbs to about a month each spring, and can delay or scuttle attempts even within that window of opportunity. Discovery is aiming for around May 11, and O'Neill estimated that organizers will have a 75 percent chance of being able to pinpoint a jump time five days in advance.

High wire performer Nik Wallenda practices Tuesday, June 18, 2013 in Sarasota, Fla.  Wallenda, a seventh generation high-wire walker, will attempt to walk across the Grand Canyon on Sunday, June 23, 2013. (Chris O'Meara, Associated Press) High wire performer Nik Wallenda practices Tuesday, June 18, 2013 in Sarasota, Fla. Wallenda, a seventh generation high-wire walker, will attempt to walk across the Grand Canyon on Sunday, June 23, 2013. (Chris O'Meara, Associated Press)

In the days leading up to the attempted jump, Discovery will air live shows beginning at midnight Eastern reporting on preparations by Ogwyn's team.

Discovery has shown programs in the "Survival" genre before, but never in real time as it is planning this fall. During the event, Discovery will have one live show a week and another taped one summing up the week's competition. Fans will be able to follow how their favorite competitors are doing online at all times.

Discovery hasn't named the competitors yet, or said where they will be sent.

Online: http://www.discovery.com

David Bauder can be reached at dbauder@ap.org or on Twitter@dbauder. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/david-bauder

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