Discovery Channel, looking to top Nik Wallenda‘s made-for-TV tightrope walk across the Grand Canyon, has signed Joby Ogwyn to attempt the first wing suit flight off the summit of Mount Everest, live on Discovery Channel in May. The jump — a descent of more than 10,000 vertical feet at speeds of over 150 mph — will be telecast live in 224 countries and territories.
Discovery’s had good luck with live daredevil specials. In July, an average of 13 million people watched Wallenda slowly walk a wire across the Colorado River Gorge while conducting a running dialogue with God and Jesus. “Oh, I praise you, Jesus. Lord, help this cable to calm down — command it,” the 34-year-old aerialist suggested a few yards into his quarter-mile Skywire Live With Nik Wallenda. Wallenda was not wearing a harness but had a microphone and two cameras — including one that looked down on the dry Little Colorado River bed and one that was focused dead ahead. Discovery telecast the ratings grab with a 10-second delay in the U.S. and a couple hundred other countries. The two-hour event delivered 8.5 million total viewers — jumping to 13 million during the actual walk. It became the third-highest-rated telecast of all-time in Discovery Channel history and was the most-watched TV program that night, beating everything on the broadcast nets and cable.
In October 2012, Discovery Channel aired the space jump of Austrian extreme-sport athlete Felix Baumgartner; the 120,000 feet marked the highest altitude jump since a record set more than 52 years ago. Space Jump Live was the highest-rated, non-primetime program (9 AM start time) ever in Discovery Channel’s history, averaging 4.21 million viewers and reaching 7.6 million.
As with Wallenda’s walk, NBC’s Peacock Productions will produce the Everest plunge for Discovery. Gretchen Eisele, Colleen Halpin, Benjamin Ringe and Knute Walker will executive producer. Sharon Scott is President and GM of Peacock Productions. Howard Swartz serves as executive producer for Discovery. When Peacock produced the Wallenda walk, NBC News talent “anchored” the event and NBC News got the interview with him the next morning.
Before this new dive, Discovery will telecast two, one-hour pre-shows about training and preparations for the jump. The special will then culminate with a live two-hour jump program.
Joby is no stranger to Everest. He first summited the world’s highest peak at just 24-years-old, becoming the youngest American to make it to the top. In 2008, Joby set the world record for the fastest ascent of Mt. Everest, climbing from the base of the south side route to the summit in just nine and a half hours (it typically takes 3-4 days). Ever since then, he’s searched for the ultimate way to explore the mountain – and now he’s found it.
“This will be the final piece of my dream. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve imagined what it would be like to fly. I can’t think of a more spectacular backdrop than Everest,” said Joby. “Everything that I’ve ever accomplished in my life has just been practice for what I’m about to do.”
Joby will conduct dozens of test jumps in California, Florida, Utah and the Swiss Alps. After extensive preparation, he will then travel to the Himalayas for final training. After six weeks of acclimatization, Joby and his team will be ready to summit Everest.
But many questions will remain unanswered until he arrives. Will the weather cooperate? Did he bring the right equipment? And has Joby’s training actually prepared him for something no human has ever done before?
For most climbers, reaching the summit of Everest is the ultimate dream but for Joby – it’s only the beginning.