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April 4, 2014

Discovery says Wallenda's next walk is in Chicago

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.

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.

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