Nat Geo readies “Origins,” Bunim/Murray’s “Earth Live!”

A live natural history special (pictured, right) and the Jason Silva-hosted (left) evolution program Origins are among the titles unveiled at a National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo Wild upfront presentation in New York today (March 15).
March 15, 2016

A live natural history special, a rebooted Explorer and series on human evolution and the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan are among National Geographic Channel’s 2016-2017 upfront announcements.

The forthcoming slate - revealed at a presentation in New York City on Tuesday (March 15) – is heavy on natural history, science and feature documentary fare, reinforcing the U.S cable net’s new programming strategy to return to core brand values by spending more money on fewer hours of premium content.

Leading the slate is Earth Live!, a global event produced by Bunim/Murray Productions and Berman Productions that will broadcast wildlife footage live from all seven continents using an array of tech, including full-color night vision cameras, high-definition cameras in space and Nat Geo’s Crittercam.

Brain Games host Jason Silva (pictured) will feature in Origins, about human evolution. Produced by Asylum Entertainment and online video producer melodysheep, the series looks at pivotal moments in the history of humanity by moving backwards in time.

“Each episode starts in the present day and finishes when we arrive at the beginning, the origin of the story,” according to the show’s description, which adds that the series will focus on the influence of such key elements as fire, tools and transportation.

Limited series include the National Geographic Studios-produced Chain of Command, an inside look at the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan over the course of a year; the Wall to Wall Media-produced Lawless Oceans with Karsten von Hoesslin, about the world of law enforcement in international waters; and the National Geographic Studios-produced Deep Freeze, on scientists living on an Antarctic research base.

National Geographic Channels president of programming and production Tim Pastore teased the latter series during a panel at the Realscreen Summit in Washington DC in January.

The network also announced that Mexican filmmaker Everardo Gout (Days of Grace) will direct the previously announced documentary-scripted hybrid series Mars, from Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment and Radical Media.

Other previously announced projects on the slate include Alex Gibney’s miniseries Parched, about the looming global water crisis; the untitled Sebastian Junger-helmed doc on the war in Syria; Brett Morgen’s Jane Goodall doc and the Simon Chinn-exec produced doc on the Los Angeles riots.

After re-launching last fall, Nat Geo will also reboot its science series Explorer as a talk show this fall.

The doc strand is now a one-hour weekly magazine-talk hybrid series anchored in a studio in front of a live audience by host Richard Bacon. The show will mix field packages and interviews with celebrities with experts and correspondents discussing topics such as climate change, natural disasters and the ongoing war with ISIS.

Nat Geo has also renewed the climate change-focused doc series Years of Living Dangerously (The Years Project) for a second season and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s talk show StarTalk for a third season. Both will premiere in the fall. Kevin Ritchie


Nat Geo Wild, meanwhile, unveiled the six-episode, canine-focused series Project Puppy; Animal ER, which premieres this fall; adventure series Safari Brothers; and primetime talk show Pet Talk.

Slated to premiere in 2017, the Blast! Films-made Project Puppy will shadow six new pet parents from across the country during the first 12 weeks of dog ownership, with each episode chronicling the different stages of discovery, discipline and patience as both family and puppy learn to live together.

Propagate Content’s Animal ER will follow staff at the Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialists (GCVS) in Texas as they use cutting-edge technology to diagnose and treat a roster of patients including chimps, giant pythons, bighorn sheep, seals, rams and exotic birds.

Safari Brothers from Symbio Studios will trace the expeditions of brothers Brant and Grant Reed across Botswana’s Okavango Delta as they manage one of the region’s most successful safari companies.

Finally, Leepson Bounds Entertainment will produce a weekly primetime talk show devoted to pets called Pet Talk. The series will be hosted by two veterinarians, a wildlife expert and a field reporter as they provide the latest pet-related news, advice and personal stories.

Nat Geo Wild has also ordered the mini-series event Savage Kingdom from Icon Films in association with Natural History Film Unit Botswana. The docuseries, which is scheduled to broadcast later this year, will focus on the predatory animals roaming the Savute, a 40-square-mile corner of the African savannah, as they hunt such prey as elephant, buffalo and zebra in order to survive.

Other specials set to air over the next year are the seventh annual Big Cat Week, focused on saving big cats in the wild; the third annual BarkFest, a special weekend dedicated to dogs; and SharkFest, a week-long event with in-depth profiles of various shark species.

Returning to the network are The Incredible Dr. Pol (National Geographic Television); Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet (Lucky Dog Films); Dr. K’s Exotic Animal ER (Spectrum Field Productions); and Cesar 911 (Leepson Bounds Entertainment).

Destination Wild natural history specials will also return to the net’s broadcast schedule, with such one-offs as BBC Natural History Unit’s Wild New Zealand, documenting the island country’s wildlife stories; Terra Mater Factual Studios’ Wild Asia, exploring Southeast Asia; National Geographic Studios’ Grizzly Empire, following grizzlies across Hallo Bay on the Alaskan Peninsula; and NHNZ’s Man v. Octopus, detailing the giant Pacific octopus. Daniele Alcinii

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