[Inside Air Force One, Jan 28, 8pm, National Geographic Channel]

Generally there’s so much material to digest in a 60-minute piece on National Geographic Channel, it’s funny what sticks.

After a special screening of the network’s On Board Air Force One last week (with about half of the 250-person Air Force One squad at the National Geographic Society’s DC headquarters), the bit I recall easiest is that President Obama likes his burger medium. With Dijon mustard. And salad. And don’t even think about skipping the fries.

That information came courtesy of an exchange Obama had with the aircraft’s chief steward as the plane took the then-president-elect from Chicago to Washington, his first official trip on the aircraft. Nat Geo’s cameras were there to capture that moment.

But there’s so much more food—heck, the plane has a galley that operates 24/7 and hosts 5 chefs, there’s even a computer system that lets stewards know how regulars like their coffee—and food for thought during this excellent program, which Nat Geo is running again this evening at 8, after it grabbed record ratings for its Sunday evening premiere on Jan 25.

In fact, on the strength of the special, National Geographic was #1 in prime time among ad-supported cable nets in households and in its target demo of 25-54, averaging a 1.88 HH and 1.24 for 25-54s from 8 – 11 p.m that night. Air Force One  pulled a 2.38 HH.

When you attend a special screening, especially one where many of the people in the audience are also up on the screen, it’s tempting to think the show is better than it really is. Apparently my enthusiasm was confirmed by Nielsen. It’s nice to see that quality programming sometimes can get ratings, too.

For vigilant cable watchers, I believe I know what you’re thinking—‘I saw a great special about Air Force One on History.’ I saw it, too (as did every Air Force One crew member I spoke to at Nat Geo’s screening), and it was terrific. I’m guessing the Nat Geo people saw it also. Fortunately they’ve covered different material on this show. And while I often whack marketing departments for the titles they slap on shows, this time the name fits. If the viewer gets nothing else from this special, he/she does get a good impression of what’s inside this special aircraft (actually 2 aircraft, there’s always a backup available).

While History’s special provided a wealth of data about the plane and how it’s maintained, Nat Geo’s special deals more with the crew and its main customer. In fact, former President Bush is on camera for several interviews.

The best part of the piece, and what has stuck with me beyond Mr Obama’s culinary preferences, is the material about the 2003 surprise visit to Baghdad that President Bush made; the commentary about the preparations and execution of that trip from Air Force One personnel is excellent. Although we know how it turned out, it’s still a great piece of storytelling and worth your time.

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