NEW YORK — George Page, host and narrator of "Nature," is one of the few people at the Public Broadcasting Service who doesn't mind talking about ratings. That's because "Nature" has been the most popular series on PBS since it started five seasons ago.
Most of the time, Page says, "Nature" outdraws "Masterpiece Theater," which it precedes on most stations on Sunday nights, and it is doing even better this season than last.
Page thinks that's partly because CBS' popular whodunit "Murder She Wrote," which is on at the same hour, has slipped a little.
"And I guess our programs are a little bit stronger this season. In the New York area, almost one out of eight people watched our December show on domestic cats."
"Nature" was Page's idea.
"About 1980, I was asked to develop some science programming for public TV that would be produced at our station (WNET)," he says. "We had a weekly science series coming out of the Boston station, 'Nova,' and we had done one major miniseries, 'Cosmos,' out of Los Angeles."
Page decided there should be a series called "Nature" about flora and fauna.
"We knew when 'Nova' did a natural history film, ratings would go up," he says.
Except for the National Geographic specials, Page says, "American TV had no regularly scheduled natural history series that was a serious--hopefully, not boring--look at the environment and the natural world.
" 'Wild Kingdom' wasn't what I would call a scientific approach. It was more the personal exploits of dear old Marlin Perkins. It made for fascinating TV; I don't mean to knock it. Some of the Disney programs were conceived as pure entertainment. We decided 'Nature' wasn't going to treat animals like cuddly little human beings."
Originally, a true scientist was to host "Nature," but Page says he didn't come across as a television personality. Page, a journalist, was told that there wasn't time to find a replacement, so he would have to do it.