Realscreen Q&A: Whit Higgins, National Geographic Channel US

Realscreen sits down with National Geographic director of development and coproduction Whit Higgins.
September 3, 2008

Roughly how many coproductions was National Geographic Channel US involved with last year?
Around 80% of our original programming is coproductions. The majority of these are coproductions between NGC-US and National Geographic Channels International (NGCI). We provide a great one-stop shop for producers – we’re constantly talking with each other about new projects and producers so we can move quickly and decisively together. And it makes for a streamlined process through development, business affairs, production management and production.

You mentioned at MIP that you’ve doubled the number of series on the channel. Is that from this time last year? Why has there been such an influx of series?
We doubled our series from 2007 to 2008. I think every network is always looking for strong anchor series, and the reality is that for every series that works there are a few that don’t, so we’re constantly trying new series and incubating potential series.

How many one-offs/specials do you do per year? Is this number increasing or decreasing and why?
We do quite a few one-offs and specials, everything from big event specials like Stonehenge and Six Degrees that Could Change the World to one-offs like Night Shift: Repo Men and Inside a Cult. One-offs work for us – they allow us to feature the kind of big new finds and discoveries that people look to National Geographic for, and they also give us an opportunity to try new ideas that have series potential – if one-offs work, we do more.

You do coproductions with Canada, Japan, the UK…. What are a couple of new copro relationships you’ve recently formed? Is there anyone you’ve just worked with for the first time?
The majority of our coproductions are with NGCI. Beyond these, we work a lot with broadcasters in the UK and Canada, as well as Australia. Of late, we’ve been working much more closely with German, French and Japanese broadcasters – ZDF, France 5 and NHK in particular.

Does your development team still consist of five people?
We have six people in our group working on development, acquisitions and co-production.

What’s your advice to producers looking to work with you in terms maintaining a smooth relationship and production process?
An understanding of what’s on our air and what we’re looking for, a collaborative attitude and copro money always help.

What’s the biggest misconception about National Geographic Channel US?
I think producers sometimes self-censor when they pitch us – National Geographic is an incredibly august institution but it’s also a really dynamic brand. We’d much rather have the opportunity to consider an idea that might not be right for us than never hear about it at all.

Is there a business philosophy/quote that you use as your personal mantra at work?
I’m not really a big mantra person.

About The Author
Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.