Explorer celebrates 25 years with an extroardinary two-hour retread | None | Uncle Barky's Bytes

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Explorer celebrates 25 years with an extroardinary two-hour retread

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Some of the far-ranging faces of Explorer. National Geographic photos

Explorer gets around. By its count it's been to 120 countries, to every content and on five networks during a quarter-century of pathfinding.

That amounts to 2,000-some films in this storied program's eventful, adventure-filled life. The celebratory Explorer: 25 Years (Monday, April 19th, 8 p.m. central on National Geographic Channel) revisits many of the program's greatest hits in a two-hour spellbinder hosted by correspondent Lisa Ling.

Explorer, long one of television's most under-appreciated Most Valuable Players, originated on Nickelodeon in 1985 before successively migrating to TBS, CNBC, MSNBC and finally, the National Geographic Channel in 2004. Over those years, it's evolved from a 60 Minutes-like magazine format to single topic, one-hour documentaries.

There is much to meet the eye in Monday's commemorative special, which engrosses and enthralls with highlights from a very impressive body of work.

Explorer perhaps is best known for its 1987 "Secrets of the Titanic" program, in which Dr. Robert Ballard presided over what was then the most-watched documentary program in cable history.

Over the years, Explorer also has helped to right wrongs, put seemingly "primitive" societies into context and brought viewers both exhilarating and heart-rending looks at wildlife in their natural habitats. Dr. Michael Fay's incredible 15-month, 1,000-mile trek through the African jungle, reprised by Explorer in 2001, remains almost impossibly daunting to contemplate. A mother hippo's loss of her baby son, killed by a male of the same species, is still indelible.

Explorer also made news in 2002 with its ultimately successful search for the grown Afghan woman whose haunting eyes and countenance originally appeared on the cover of a 1985 edition of National Geographic magazine.

Monday's program ends with this expedition, which took a major wrong turn before Sharbat Gula was finally located in the mountains near Tora Bora.

Explorer has won 57 Emmys over the years, and retains a devoted but relatively small following. On Monday, many can see what they've been missing. This is terrific television every step of the way, with more big footsteps to come.