From science and nature to history and travel, there's a lot to watch on TV this month. We break it down by categories:
For animal and nature lovers
Nothing will stop The Sea Shepherd from its mission to stop Japanese whaling in the waters of Antarctica, not even the sidelining of Capt. Paul Watson. The seventh season of "Whale Wars" documents their undaunted efforts, beginning with a three-hour special that premieres Jan. 2 on Animal Planet.
Southwestern Africa's Namib Desert is one of the driest places on Earth, but it's home to all sorts of wildlife, as diverse as penguins, flamingoes, ostriches, jackals and hyenas. Nat Geo Wild turns its lens on this spectacular environment in "Africa's Most Extreme," premiering Jan. 4.
Wild Transport is not your average animal-moving company. As the name suggests, it specializes in exotic and dangerous critters, from big cats to cobras, and it’s now the subject of an eponymous eight-episode series. "Wild Transport" premieres on A&E Jan. 6.
From the red deer on the grounds of Fontainebleau to wolves in the foothills of the Alps and the grouper off the coast of Corsica, France is teeming with wildlife, including many endangered species that have bounced back from the brink of extinction. PBS "Nature" explores "Wild France" in the documentary, premiering Jan. 7.
For animal lovers who think dogs and cats are just too conventional will appreciate "Preposterous Pets," which follows people around the world who live with exotic fauna, like crocodiles, scorpions, bears, and bison. It premieres on Animal Planet Jan. 10.
How did Dr. Jan Pol become the go-to guy for the care of livestock and pets? Following the sixth season premiere of "The Incredible Dr. Pol," the biographical special "Incredible! The Story of Dr. Pol" traces the veterinarian's life from the Netherlands to the American heartland and his thriving practice. Both premiere on Nat Geo Wild Jan.10.
Following the life of a young chimp named Oscar, "Chimpanzee" is the first of six Disneynature wildlife documentaries to air on Nat Geo Wild. It has its network TV premiere on Jan. 11.
Evolving in isolation, 90 percent of the species on the island of Madagascar exist nowhere else on earth. On Jan. 11, Nat Geo Wild introduces the lemurs, aye-ayes, fossas and other exotic creatures that inhabit "Wild Madagascar," offering a glimpse into a world few people ever see.
From movie and TV canines to hero mutts, The CW celebrates man's best friend with the inaugural "World Dog Awards" on Jan. 15. Hosted by George Lopez, the special features such dog-loving celebs as Beth Behrs, Ian Somerhalder, Andy Cohen, Lance Bass and JB Smoove.
In Western Kentucky, there's a network of dedicated volunteers who rescue and rehabilitate wild animals and where possible, return them to the wild. Their work with raccoons, owls and other creatures is the subject of the Nat Geo Wild series "Bandit Patrol," which premieres Jan. 17.
Costa Rica is a tropical Eden where the rainforests, rivers and coastline are home to giant crocodiles, howler monkeys and a diversity of land and sea life. It's the subject of "Wild Costa Rica," premiering Jan. 25 on Nat Geo Wild.
The most popular tourist destination in Antarctica is the world's southernmost post office in Port Lockroy, a remote British outpost where cruise ships stop in summer so tourists observe its main attraction: the Gentoo penguins that nest there. It's the subject of the PBS special "Penguin Post Office," premiering Jan. 28 on "Nature."
Gentoo penguins nest outside Port Lockroy. (Photo: Ruth Peacey)
Those who love challenging environments
TV's endless fascination with the 49th state continues with three January premieres, starting with the return of the grueling team competition "Ultimate Survival Alaska" on Nat Geo Jan. 4. Discovery's new series "Alaska: Battle on the Bay" focuses on a different kind of competition: high stakes salmon fishing. It premieres Jan. 8. Nat Geo Wild takes a different approach in "Extreme Alaska," focusing on Mt. Denali and the wildlife that has adapted to its frigid environment. It premieres Jan. 18.
Way off-the-grid mountain man Mick Dodge returns to Nat Geo in "The Legend of Mick Dodge" with an episode about Native American healing practices, appropriately titled "Native Medicine." It premieres Jan. 6.
In the latest twist on the average-guy, extreme survival series, Nat Geo's "Remote Survival" drops radio and camera-wired subjects into wilderness locations, and survival experts talk them through whatever is necessary to get out alive, from rappelling down a cliff to skinning a snake for dinner. It premieres Jan. 11.
For history buffs
In 1896, the discovery of gold in the Yukon Territory set off a stampede of 100,000 prospectors to the boomtown of Dawson City, but less than a third made it and only 2000 struck it rich. Experts and historical accounts tell their story in "The Klondike Gold Rush," premiering on PBS Jan. 6.
On Jan. 14, PBS's "Genealogy Road Show" hits the road for its second season, stopping in St. Louis and New Orleans to help people unlock clues to their ancestry, including folks who think they’re related to Laura Ingalls Wilder, Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, and Blackbeard the pirate.
Although he invented the electric light, phonograph and motion pictures, most people know little else about Thomas Edison. That will change for viewers of "American Experience: Edison," premiering on PBS Jan. 20. Personal letters, papers and drawings, coupled with historian interviews, paint a richly detailed portrait of the man behind the genius.
More than a decade before the Declaration of Independence, the fires of the American Revolution were smoldering, ignited by Britain’s attempt to control the colonies with increasingly severe taxes and laws. Set in Boston and following well-known figures Sam Adams, John Adams, Paul Revere and John Hancock in the early days of the rebellion, the History Channel scripted miniseries "Sons of Liberty" brings an important part of our history to life. Airing on three successive nights, it premieres Jan. 25.
When World War II ended in 1945, Allied forces liberated Nazi concentration camps and found survivors clinging to life and horrific evidence of Hitler's Final Solution. Documented on film at the time, the rare footage is the basis, along with eyewitness testimony, of the documentary "Night Will Fall," which has its premiere on HBO Jan. 26.
In 1997, hundreds of human and animal bones were found in the basement of a London townhouse where Benjamin Franklin once lived. Was serial murder afoot? There's actually a plausible explanation that only tangentially involves Franklin, but the PBS "Secrets of the Dead" special "Ben Franklin's Bones" is fascinating nonetheless. It premieres Jan. 28.
For armchair explorers
Josh Gates from "Destination Truth" takes viewers along as he travels the globe in search of the story behind such iconic mysteries as the disappearance of Amelia Earhart's plane in the Travel Channel series "Expedition Unknown," premiering Jan. 8.
Combining delectable dishes with the cities that made them famous, the Travel Channel series "Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations" follows peripatetic foodie Andrew Zimmern as he eats his way around the world. Premiering Jan. 19, the first two half hours take him to Athens and Paris, with London, Hong Kong, Munich and New Orleans to come.
For the science-minded
"MythBusters" Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage return to Discovery Channel for their explosive 17th season on Jan. 10 with an episode devoted to "The Simpsons." The animated series's creator Al Jean guests.
Aiming to make particle physics a bit less inscrutable, PBS's "Nova" interviews experts in the field in "The Big Bang Machine," premiering Jan. 14.
Hosted by Jason Silva, "Brain Games" returns to National Geographic Channel for its fourth season of interactive experiments on Jan. 19. It kicks off with two back-to-back episodes that question participants' "Common Sense" and the validity of brain hemisphere domination in "Left vs. Right."
The cruise ship Costa Concordia crashed into the Italian coast in January 2012, killing 32 and threatening the ecosystem with toxic oil and waste. The mammoth undertaking to upright and raise her was two-year, multibillion-dollar effort that's chronicled in detail in the PBS "Nova" special "Sunken Ship Rescue," premiering Jan. 21.
Crews work to salvage the cruise ship Costa Concordia as depicted in "Sunken Ship Rescue." (Photo: Windfall Films)
It's one of the scariest natural disasters: without warning, the earth gives way and swallows houses, cars and people. From Florida to Spain and Siberia, communities are on shaky ground because of sinkholes. Experts explain why they happen in the "Nova" special "Sinkholes: Buried Alive," premiering on PBS Jan. 28.
Pete Nelson returns for a third season of Animal Planet's "Treehouse Masters," constructing "The Coolest Treehouse Ever Built" in Portland, Maine in the Jan. 9 premiere.
"Irish Mike" Craughwell became a YouTube sensation crafting life-size replicas of weapons from video games and sci-fi movies. Now he's forging his metal masterpieces in a Discovery Channel series, aptly titled "Big Giant Swords." It premieres Jan. 13.
History meets mystery
The "Finding Bigfoot" team heads to Blighty to meet a primatologist at Oxford In the "British Bigfoot" edition, where they explore Sasquatch sightings in England and Scotland. It premieres Jan. 4 on Animal Planet.
Related on MNN: