Top brass at National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo Wild are touting a rekindled spirit of creativity as the backbone of their slates for 2012-2013, which feature new production partners, specials designed to generate buzz and a keen emphasis on the “authentically entertaining.”
The upfront slate for NGC is comprised of five new series, seven returning series, and several major specials and programming events, bringing new production partners such as Firecracker Films, Leftfield Pictures and Nutopia into the mix, among others.
“The kind of programming we’re doing is wider, fresher, newer and a new emphasis on series that represent what National Geographic does best – extraordinary worlds that are surprisingly relatable,” says NGC executive vice president of programming Michael Cascio of the slate, a sentiment echoed by National Geographic Channels CEO David Lyle.
“Being authentic and entertaining – that’s really our sweet spot,” Lyle says.
New series on the way for the network include entries into the artifact space, via Firecracker Films (Big Fat Gypsy Weddings) and Leftfield Pictures (Pawn Stars). Firecracker is behind Jersey Combat (10 x 60 minutes, airing globally), which follows the action in the world’s largest military warehouse, located in New Jersey; while Leftfield is producing Bid & Destroy (12x 30 minutes, U.S. only), which documents the activities of the Danley Demolition Company, which looks for hidden treasures in demolition sites.
Also on the way for NGC is a competition series from Original Productions, Are You Tougher Than a Boy Scout? (6 x 60 minutes, U.S. only). Here, adult “civilians” will compete with actual boy scouts in challenges pulled from the Scouts handbook.
Brain Games, which debuted as a three-part special in 2011, returns with its mix of interactive experiments and brain teasing challenges as a 12 x 30-minute series, produced by National Geographic Television (NGT), and airing globally.
The fifth new series on the slate is American Chainsaw, produced by K Sirrah Productions for NGT (8 x 30 minutes, global), and featuring chainsaw sculptor and hard rock frontman Jesse “The Machine” Green.
National Geographic Channels president Howard T. Owens, coming aboard following his run as lead managing director of Reveille, also invokes the “authentic and entertaining” tag line when discussing the challenges of crafting a slate with an aim towards growing the net’s audience while not alienating its core viewers.
“We think National Geographic has for many years been considered authentically entertaining and we want to embrace the authenticity while ratcheting up the entertaining factor,” he says. “We like the challenge and are inspired by it.”
Returning series include the channel’s highest-rated series of 2011, Alaska State Troopers, produced by PSG Motion Pictures; Border Wars, produced by NGT; last year’s breakout hit Doomsday Preppers, produced by Sharp Entertainment; Hard Time, produced by Part 2 Pictures; Locked Up Abroad, produced by RAW TV; its highest-rated new series of 2011, Rocket City Rednecks, produced by Flight 33 Productions; and Taboo, from Beyond Productions.
Specials include the 120-minute Deepsea Challenge, which follows filmmaker and adventurer James Cameron (pictured) as he takes the plunge 6.8 miles to the bottom of the Mariana Trench in a single-pilot submersible – a voyage he successfully completed Sunday night. It’s produced by National Geographic Cinema Ventures and Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment.
“The combination of fabulous exploration and someone who knows something about making movies – we really think that will be exceptional,” says Lyle.
Two specials about America’s most recent armed conflicts, the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War, are also on the slate. Brook Lapping’s America vs. Iraq features interviews with Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld and other pivotal figures in the Iraq War, while Towers Productions’ Inside the Afghanistan War features ground-level footage taken during the conflict. Both specials are 120 minutes.
Other specials on tap include a celebration marking the 125th anniversary of the National Geographic Society; Impossible Pictures’ Dragon Wars: Fire and Fury; Maya Underworld: The Real Doomsday; NGT’s The Secret Life of Predators, which will also air on Nat Geo Wild; the return of the National Geographic Bee, hosted by Alex Trebek and produced by M&M Productions and NGT; and two from Pioneer Productions, Sex – How it Works and When Earth Attacks.
Event programming on the way for NGC includes a multi-episode history of the modern world as seen through the lens of the 1980s, in Nutopia’s The 80s: The Decade that Made Us. The series will examine the impact of innovations that came to light in that decade, such as cell phones, personal computing and more.
Ridley and Tony Scott will serve as exec producers for Scott Free Productions on the previously announced Killing Lincoln, based on Bill O’Reilly’s best-selling book.
Also look for ‘Treasure Week,’ designed to document the exploits of explorers and archaeologists, and ‘Secret Access Week,’ which promises “unprecedented access to everything you never knew existed.”
Meanwhile, the slate for Nat Geo Wild also features new production partners for the two-year-old net, and senior vice president Geoff Daniels says the same line of thinking that informed NGC’s programming decisions for its 2012/13 slate –bringing in fresh blood to help take the network into new territory – was front and center in Wild’s development process.
“We want to be thrilling, we want characters and talent that are credible, passionate and charismatic, and that can really connect emotionally with our audience,” he explains. “These [producers] are people who have real experience in what I’d describe as a reality entertainment field, but bringing that sensibility into our traditional space is an excellent way to grow the audience and the relevance of what this channel can do going forward.”
New series for the wildlife-focused network include Alpha Dogs (16 x 30 minutes), which documents the training of dogs to enter the elite K-9 special forces and is exec produced by Jack Osbourne and Rob Worsoff for Schweet Entertainment; and Animal Intervention (6 x 60 minutes), which follows wildlife expert Donald Schultz and actor/director Alison Eastwood as they travel across America in search of people attempting to care for exotic animals but who may need an “intervention” to bring the animals to a safer sanctuary. It’s produced by Bienstock Young Media.
Cesar Millan is starring in a new series for Wild, the 12 x 60-minute Leader of the Pack. The series sees the “Dog Whisperer” himself try to rehabilitate dogs considered poor candidates for adoption. The series is produced by POWWOW Productions.
The fourth new series on the slate comes from Natural History New Zealand. The 10 x 60-minute Ultimate Animal Countdown looks at the animal kingdom in its entirety and sizes up how different species fare at different challenges to “crown” a new king of the jungle.
Returning series for Wild include Man v. Monster, The Incredible Dr. Pol, and Wild Case Files; while specials coming to the network in 2012-2013 include Fight for Life from BBC Americas, Kingdom of the Oceans from Galatee Films, Wild Alaska from Red Rock Films, and three from NGT – The Wild West, Unlikely Animal Friends and the aforementioned Secret Life of Predators. Events will include the return of ‘Big Cat Week’ and ‘Croc Around the Clock.’
Lyle says the upcoming slate should provide ample evidence to producers that both NGC and Nat Geo Wild are extending their reaches and adopting a “nothing is out of bounds” attitude.
“We’re looking at all forms of modern storytelling,” he summarizes. “What we want to do is grab an audience with great characters that can lead the shows, and we’re looking at things as far afield as a panel show, or something that might start its life in a studio. So we don’t limit ourselves to any one type [of program]. We want to find the best producers with the best access, characters, and who are tremendous story-tellers.”