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Animal Planet to air 15-hour tribute to Steve Irwin

The network, which credits him for boosting its profile, showcases some memorable shows.

September 13, 2006|Lynn Smith | Times Staff Writer

A stingray ended Steve Irwin's life, but Animal Planet is ensuring the enthusiastic Crocodile Hunter's legacy will live on in hours of tributes, memorials and specials on the cable network that became identified with his adventures.

Animal Planet, owned by Discovery Networks, will air a 15-hour package "Croc Rules! Remembering Steve Irwin" from noon to 3 a.m. Sunday featuring the best of Irwin's programs as well as interviews with celebrities and crew members who knew Irwin and promotions for his Wildlife Warriors conservation fund. The fund supports study and protection of endangered animal species around the world.

"It's very important that the message he was trying to get out stay out there. We feel one thing we can do to keep his legacy alive is to keep the show on the air," said Dan Russell, vice president of programming for Animal Planet.

John Stainton, Irwin's longtime friend, producer and director, is also planning a one-hour tribute that will air in a few months, Russell said.

Irwin died on Sept. 4 when he was fatally wounded by a stingray while filming an underwater segment off Australia's Great Barrier Reef for a Discovery Kids pilot that was to feature his daughter, Bindi. Production of that show has been put on hold.

The network is committed to finishing another show Irwin had been in the midst of making, "Ocean's Deadliest Predators," Russell said. An air date has not yet been decided.

Russell said response to shows selected to air since Irwin's death has been "phenomenal," nearly double the ratings of his regularly scheduled programs. Some, like "Steve's Story" -- a biography of the well-known host -- were chosen not only for mourning fans but also to introduce him to those who didn't know him.

"The world has definitely lost a very special person," Russell said. "He was so pure about what his mission was" that his constantly boisterous nature was sometimes mistaken for an act, he said, but in fact Irwin was the same on screen as off. "That's how he was, 24/7," Russell said.

Irwin "put Animal Planet on the map," Russell said, by giving a face and personality to the network in its formative years. "We have no plans to take him off."

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