Touted as a TV ‘event,’ History is premiering the eight-episode Expedition Africa: Stanley and Livingstone series this weekend, produced with adventure television master, Mark Burnett. History’s SVP development and programming, David McKillop, gives realscreen an insider’s look at the series before its splashy May 31 debut.
McKillop says that History’s executives, including executive VP and general manager Nancy Dubuc, had heard many exploration-oriented pitches but felt that the network should get into the area from a historical angle.
‘We felt like if we were going to do this, we had one shot at it and that really there was one man that could pull this off in a way that we’d feel comfortable with,’ says McKillop. ‘That person, who is a master of adventure television, is Mark Burnett.’
A year ago, they approached Burnett and his team in L.A. with the concept and it went over well. Within a week or so, the outlines of the show concept were developed and it was greenlit.
In the series, four highly-experienced explorers – adventurer and geophysicist Pasquale Scaturro, wildlife correspondent and anthropologist Mireya Mayor, author and filmmaker Benedict Allen (who once had to eat his own dog to survive his first expedition) and war correspondent Kevin Sites – retrace the route that Henry Morton Stanley took in 1871 to find Dr. David Livingstone in Tanzania.
‘It’s a good combination of something that’s very strong to our brand, in the hands of a producer who has a proven track record with this kind of adventure series. It goes back to Mark’s roots with the Eco-Challenge:[The Expedition Race],’ says McKillop. ‘If the right pieces come at the right time, you’ve got a good shot at a winner.’
This is the biggest and most expensive initiative from History. McKillop says the investment is warranted by the fact that the series is pure History. ‘This is a show that allows people in the present day to experience history,’ he says. ‘It’s big, it’s epic and at the same time its happening in the present. Yet all of it can be choreographed from diaries from a hundred years ago.’
History ensured that this series didn’t come across as Survivor: The Explorer Edition by having what McKillop called ‘very frank conversations’ with Burnett. Nobody gets voted off, it isn’t a competition, and instead of dropping a cast of the uninitiated into the wilderness, the group is made up of four seasoned explorers and adventurers with the challenge of going where their forefathers went. ‘It’s not a game, nobody wins anything. It’s the real thing,’ he says.
McKillop and History will be doing more projects with Burnett in the future, and are already talking about some ideas of where to go next. ‘I love the show,’ McKillop enthuses. ‘It’s one of the most important things I’ve ever worked on, and it’s one that I’m most proud to have come out of this shop in the last two years.’