Ricky Gervais

How did Ricky Gervais' next show, An Idiot Abroad, wind up on The Science Channel? Thank Karl Pilkington.

Fans of Gervais and Stephen Merchant's popular podcast (and subsequent HBO series) already know Pilkington is the pair's friend and longtime punching bag. In An Idiot Abroad — billed by the network as "the most elaborate practical joke-turned-social experiment in television history" — Gervais and Merchant send him to see the Seven Wonders of the world.

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Gervais explained why Pilkington has the makings of a Science Channel star. "Karl sees things very differently from the rest of us," he said via satellite Thursday during the Television Critics Association's winter previews. "He does investigate, he does do what science does and asks, 'Why?' and 'How?' without prejudice."

"[Karl] is my gift to the world," Gervais added. "I treat it like I've found the missing link. There is no one quite like him ... And that's the science. How does it function? How does it live? ... Let's find out."

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On his journey, Pilkington experienced a traditional fire massage in China, had cow feces smeared on his head in a bovine sanctuary in India, and was "kidnapped" as part of defense-against-terrorists training in Jordan.

"It was one of the two funniest minutes of television I've ever been involved with," Gervais said of the kidnapping.

Asked what being pals with Gervais has been like over the last decade, Pilkington said, "People say, 'It must be great being mates with Ricky...' but it isn't. I'll tell you what it's like: It's like when you get a dog, and it seems like a good idea, and you realize it's a pain in the a-- ... ."

An Idiot Abroad premieres Saturday, Jan. 22 at 10/9c on The Science Channel.