TV SUMMER RECAP: Top 20 Specials and New Series

Courtesy of Animal Planet

The summer is fading fast, but the memories from the boob tube continue to linger. Here’s our Top 20 list of the best TV specials (and a few new series) that premiered this summer.

1. Mermaids: The Body Found (Animal Planet)

If audience members go into Animal Planet’s new TV movie about mermaids with an open mind and sense of adventure, they will find so much to enjoy in the two-hour special. Balancing fact and fiction in that nebulous area known as speculation, Mermaids: The Body Found is one of the best TV shows of the year. It plays like a cinematic cousin to The Blair Witch Projectand Paranormal Activity, and it never ceases to impress with stunning CGI, clever storytelling and a few tantalizing morsels of indisputable fact.

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2. Untamed Americas (National Geographic Channel)

Sometimes the most impressive sights and most interesting stories can be found in one’s backyard. In National Geographic Channel’s four-part miniseries, Untamed Americas, cinematographers turn their creative eyes on the “Mountains,” “Deserts,” “Forests” and “Coasts” of North America, Central America and South America. The television event is the first wildlife program of its kind, and has kept series producer Karen Bass busy for a number of years.

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The north Pacific Ocean in ‘Great White Highway’ — Photo courtesy of Discovery Channel / Scot Anderson

3. Great White Highway (Discovery Channel’s Shark Week)

“Great White Highway” was the best program of the week, focusing in on the migratory patterns of great whites in the Pacific Ocean. Not only did it present the scientific information in an easy-to-understand, interesting manner, but many new revelations surfaced. This was the most research-based of the programs, and the homework paid off. By the time the hour was over, “Shark Week’s 25 Best Bites” served as mere icing on the cake.

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4. Deadly Seas (Discovery Channel)

When Discovery Channel premieres the North Atlantic episode in its new Deadly Seas series on Friday, June 22, fisherman Eddie Welch will probably be watching. His mother may not be.

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5. Finding Amelia Earhart: Mystery Solved? (Discovery Channel)

Discovery Channel’s new documentary, Finding Amelia Earhart: Mystery Solved?, is a tremendously interesting update on the search for Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra aircraft. The one-hour program, which aired Sunday night, Aug. 19, follows a team of investigators as they leave Honolulu and head for the remote island of Nikumaroro, once known as Gardner Island. The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, headed by Executive Director Ric Gillespie, has developed a sound theory that Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan landed on Nikumaroro after failing to find their fueling target in the Pacific Ocean.

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James Roberts from ‘Yukon Men’ – Photo courtesy of Discovery Channel

6. Yukon Men (Discovery Channel)

“Adventurous living” reality TV has become ubiquitous. We’ve entered the world of ice road truckers, Bering Sea fishermen, mountain men and one unforgettable Turtleman. Now Discovery Channel has given us a portrait of a community that lives 60 miles from the Arctic Circle in Tanana, Alaska.

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7. Off the Hook: Extreme Catches (Animal Planet)

Showtime Eric Young, the professional wrestler who has body-slammed his way to the top, has taken an unexpected career turn. Although he continues to administer pain for Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, the Canadian native has teamed with Animal Planet for a new reality show about extreme fishing.

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8. Ivory Wars (Discovery Channel)

There are some who look at the majestic beauty of African elephants with a peaceful, introspective eye. They observe them in the savanna, teaching their young and dowsing their backs with cool water. Their trunks hang low as their ears flop around their wrinkled, old-man faces. Others look at these same elephants and think two things: blood and money.

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9. Adrift: 47 Days with Sharks (Discovery Channel’s Shark Week)

“Adrift: 47 Days with Sharks” returned the programming to its worthy excellence. The reenactment special told the real WWII story of three soldiers stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, with only the sharks and enemy bullets to keep them company. It was an engaging history lesson, and the reenactment scenes were well-acted.

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‘Million Dollar Neighborhood’ — Photo courtesy of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network

10. Million Dollar Neighborhood (OWN)

In the face of sustained economic woes, the cameras have been turned on to bear witness to this unique time in history. Million Dollar Neighborhood, the new show on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, continues that trend and promises to find the balance between entertaining audiences and educating them on their financial options.

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11. One Car Too Far (Discovery Channel)

Gary Humphrey, former British Special Forces soldier, and Bill Wu, a southern California car enthusiast, are billed as reality’s odd couple. And after watching the series premiere of One Car Too Far, their new Discovery Channel show, it’s an accurate description.

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Ben McGee, Erin Ryder and James Fox of Nat Geo’s ‘Chasing UFOs’ — Photo courtesy of National Geographic Channels / Dean Bradshaw

12. Chasing UFOs (National Geographic Channel)

Some people look through a microscope to learn about our world’s strangest phenomena. For Erin Ryder, star of National Geographic Channel’s new series Chasing UFOs, looking up at the sky can deliver many more answers on humanity’s largest question marks.

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13. School Spirits (Syfy)

The kids are now out of school, and summer is about to heat up. But the Syfy Network is banking on our interest to stay in school for a little bit longer.

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14. Fast N’ Loud (Discovery Channel)

Richard Rawlings, star of Discovery Channel’s Fast N’ Loud,doesn’t just love cars. When he looks at an old junker, he sees great potential and the possibility to bring out the best in the old automotive. Each week, Rawlings and his business partner Aaron Kaufman scope out the most abysmal vehicles in the United States and within a few days are able to turn around a stylized, fully-operational gem — many times at a substantial profit.

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‘Barter Kings’ airs Tuesday nights on A&E — Photo courtesy of Smallz and Raskind

15. Barter Kings (A&E)

In Barter Kings, A&E’s latest reality show, there’s almost no cash exchanged. For Steve McHugh and Antonio Palazzola, it’s all about trading up or shutting up.

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16. Fast Food Mania (Destination America)

There are many professions in the world that children aspire to hold one day. From police officers and firefighters to astronauts and ballerinas, many of these dreams remain childhood fantasies, never to be realized as an adult. Jon Hein, creator of and a frequent radio presence on SiriusXM’s The Howard Stern Show, has scored perhaps the best job in the United States.

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17. Abandoned (National Geographic Channel)

Jay Chaikin wants to look at the junk you have lying around the house. The star of National Geographic Channel’s new reality series Abandoned makes an unusual living out of traveling around the United States and scoping out dilapidated buildings that may hold a treasure trove of antiques and collectibles.

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18. America’s Lost Treasures (National Geographic Channel)

Sometimes there’s more than just cobwebs and old report cards hanging out in one’s basement. Amid the dust and dirt could be a small fortune, and National Geographic Channel’s new series, America’s Lost Treasures, wants to find them and learn their history.

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Todd Fisher, right, from Destination America’s ‘United States of Food’ — Photo courtesy of Destination America

19. United States of Food (Destination America)

Chef Todd Fisher knows what America wants to eat, and now he has a national outlet to showcase his guiltiest culinary pleasures. On Destination America’s new series, United States of Food, Fisher tours the country on the lookout for places that any meat lover would die to experience.

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20. Picked Off (The History Channel)

The History Channel is banking on our collective interest of turning forgotten collectibles into cold hard cash with its new series, Picked Off.

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By John Soltes / Publisher /

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at, among other publications. E-mail him at

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