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Lisa Ling Changes Channels
Almost two years ago, Lisa Ling, 31, stepped in to host the National Geographic landmark series Explorer. So how has she come along? Ling tells how Colombian drug lords and impenetrable jungles compare to working with Barbara Walters and Starr Jones, and shares some of her best experiences so far on the show to kick off Explorer's January 9 move to its new home—exclusively on the National Geographic Channel (NGC). By Lynne Sanford
  Photo: Lisa Ling


How different was it filling Boyd Matson's shoes on Explorer versus those of Debi Matenopolous on The View?

Not as different as you might think. Both jobs are challenging. Sitting next to Barbara Walters, one of the most formidable women in news and representing one of the most formidable brands in the world are tremendously stressful jobs. But at The View, there are four very competing women who could bear the brunt of the pressure. At Explorer, I'm on my own. I'm the face that people most closely associate with the show. I'm here to bring the world home.


Was going from the studio to the field a challenge for you?

The main difference is that The View is a 9 to 5 studio-based job in front of a live audience. I was appreciated for offering the younger perspective. But I had fewer opportunities to really divulge my talents. At Explorer, they looked at my seven years' journalism experience before The View when I spent time in hostile areas like Iraq, Iran, and Algeria. Also, here, we work weeks—if not months—exploring one topic. Having a discussion about Tom Cruise's backside versus jumping out of cranes and rolling around on the ground in the midst of forest fires—while both are thoroughly engaging, there's no question which story is meatier.


But doesn't membership in the women's club have its privileges?

It's funny you ask. I just opened a letter from Barbara nominating me for the Council on Foreign Relations. She said, "I think they need young blood." And I recently got my invitation to Starr Jones's wedding.


You've been practically everywhere in the world. If you could choose a vacation spot, what would it be?

Before I got the job at Explorer, I was living in New York seven days a week. Now I'm out of the country every month: I was in China in February, Mexico in March, Japan and Korea in April, and Israel and Russia in May and June. Vacation? I guess I'd spend a few weeks in Havana. Cuba combines beach scenery and the cultural component. That's my ultimate travel destination.


Being the consummate traveler, any packing advice?

Never leave home without antibacterial wipes, sunblock, and flip-flops. Also, I have to be ready to go at any moment, so I travel light and simple. If you notice on the show, I'm often wearing the same clothes—maybe they change colors. And I keep three big black duffel bags—one in my office, one at home, one in my car—each with slightly different items depending on where I'm headed.


If you were on assignment for Adventure, what would you do?

I don't know if I'm the kind of person that's as physically adventurous as your readers. I would go to North Korea. It's so isolated and we know so little about it. It's just such a rogue nation. It would be amazing to penetrate their society.


What's been your most challenging experience in the field?

Getting shot at during a cocaine bust in Colombia when I was trying to interview the president there. I hid behind a concrete building. You just don't have guaranteed protection. On the other end, you see thousands of baby girls abandoned in China. One is physically challenging; the other, emotional.


If you were lost in the wilderness, do you think you could survive?

Without my BlackBerry and a sat phone? Hmm. I know that I'd make it a lot further with mosquito repellent. When I was in Costa Rica, I got 45 bites on each leg. The scars are still there.


What's the most embarrassing thing ever to happen to you in the outdoors?

When I was in Colombia interviewing FARC rebels, I jumped out of the Jeep and my back pocket got caught on something, ripping a hole in my pants. I totally flashed my derriere to the FARC rebels! They were pretty nice about it, but I'm sure they laughed afterward. One was sweet enough to give me his jacket. But I felt a draft the whole day.


What does the future hold?

If I ever do decide to settle down, I'd like to start writing, or maybe do an interview show like Charlie Rose or Larry King. I want to talk to everyone from Ariel Sharon to Tom Cruise. . . . You can tell I have a soft spot for Tom Cruise, huh.

Additional Excerpts
From the print edition, December 2004/January 2005

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Explorer Comes to NGC

A new kind of terrorist is on the rise: female suicide bombers. More difficult to spot, and in many ways more difficult to understand, these women are the new face of terror. From Russia, to Sri Lanka, to the Middle East, women are increasingly turning their bodies into bombs, blowing up theaters, markets, schools, even jetliners. Who are these women, and why are they dying to kill? Are they driven by different motives than men? National Geographic Channel's Lisa Ling journeys to the war-torn streets of Chechnya, and Israel's occupied territories to investigate. What she uncovers are surprising pieces of a complex puzzle, revealed in a powerful new show, Explorer Special Edition: "Female Suicide Bombers," premiering Monday, December 13, at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel.

And look for a new season of Explorer on NGC Sundays at 8 p.m. ET/PT beginning January 9.

Bring the NGC into your home by logging on to www.nationalgeographic.com/channel.

December 2004/January 2005

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