Setting out to balance old and new, National Geographic Channel is taking swings with comedy and more scripted programming while bringing back iconic doc strand Explorer this fall.
The U.S. cable network’s “power of brand” and authenticity were the focus of a Saturday (April 11) keynote at MIPDoc in Cannes by Tim Pastore (pictured, right), president of original programming and production for National Geographic Channels U.S.
“‘Authentic’ for us means that our brand must maintain a point-of-view and have authorship,” said Pastore, kicking off the session with an archival clip of National Geographic Channel’s first network TV show, the 1965 series Americans on Everest. “We can’t be swept away by trends or fear of failure, or being trapped by our own expectations.”
The exec pointed to the revival of Emmy Award-winning docuseries Explorer – which aired on Nat Geo for 25 years before being pulled five years back – as a return to form, but also discussed a willingness to experiment with different genres.
As previously reported, the network is entering the comedy arena with the 4 x 60-minute series History of the World…For Now, which Pastore bills as a “big swing” for the net, and a way of “opening the door” to new genres and viewership.
“History of the World is going to be a romp through the ages,” Pastore told realscreen following the keynote. “It’s going to be mixed media in a tour through, literally, the history of the world. Each episode is thematically based and will include sketch, puppetry, animation as well as archive.”
Pastore also discussed Killing Jesus - the third scripted miniseries for the broadcaster following Killing Lincoln and Killing Kennedy – and the possibility of a bolstered scripted slate in the near future.
“We’ll always maintain our factual roots,” said the exec. “We’re always going to stay a factual network, but for us, with the markets changing, we’re looking to delve into a couple of [scripted] projects a year. So that may be mini-events, movies in general, but also opening up to potential series.”
When asked by moderator Stewart Clarke (pictured, left) – an editor with UK trade publication TBI Vision - whether National Geographic Channel is at risk of alienating audiences who come to the broadcaster to escape scripted programming, Pastore said it “depends on the drama.”
“With Killing Kennedy, Killing Lincoln and Killing Jesus, we proved that the audience does want to come to us at times for scripted and if we serve up the correct scripted that feels ‘on brand,’” he said. “It depends on where we want to take scripted and what the space is, and also in terms of history and what stories we want to tell.”
When asked by Clarke whether Killing Jesus is part of Pastore’s mission to “broaden the appeal” and make Nat Geo a bigger and wider proposition, the exec said the network is ultimately trying to debunk the perception of being an “older brand.”
“Every day we’re trying to combat that and bring our brand more modern and current,” he said. “Our mission is to lower our median age and bring in a whole new fan base and audience base for the future.”
Finally, Pastore pointed out that he is continuously looking for blue-chip properties within the doc space.
“The Going Clears and The Jinxs, they’re not necessarily on the market in droves, and for us acquisitions sometimes also has been about trying to fit programming into a square, yellow border and retrofit it for our brand,” he said. “So for us the real intention is how do we get on the ground floor with blue-chip docs so we can build them from the ground up.”