RSW ’13: Nat Geo’s Owens eyes comedy, food, quiz shows

National Geographic Channels president Howard T. Owens (pictured) laid out an ambitious vision of genre expansion at Realscreen West, telling delegates he was eyeing moves into comedy, food and quiz shows.
June 6, 2013

National Geographic Channels president Howard T. Owens (pictured) laid out an ambitious vision of genre expansion at Realscreen West yesterday (June 5), telling delegates the U.S. network was eyeing moves into comedy, quiz shows and food programming.

Speaking in conversation with radio and TV host Billy Bush at Santa Monica’s Fairmont Hotel, Owens said that since joining Nat Geo in 2011, he has tried “to embrace the brand but also evolve it.”

He explained that while Nat Geo will always be true to its original mission of exploration, “I often say, this is not your dad’s National Geographic. I want to explore comedy, I want to explore quiz shows – I’d like to see what a quiz show would look like on Nat Geo.”

When asked by Bush what kind of comedy might work on the channel, Owens immediately identified A&E’s ratings-winner Duck Dynasty. Asked jokingly if he would take the show for Nat Geo given the chance, Owens said: “I would love to have that on Nat Geo.”

He also identified History’s Mountain Men and Discovery’s Deadliest Catch as other rival shows he is a fan of, along with the work of CNN host and celeb chef Anthony Bourdain.

Owens told attendees he is a big fan of the latter, explaining that while “we haven’t attacked food yet” on the channel, it might be something that could be explored via foraging.

Elsewhere at the session, Bush also quizzed the Nat Geo exec on the relationship between the National Geographic Society and the channel, and the conversations that take place regarding the direction the channel is moving in.

Owens admitted that with his ambitions for the network, “sometimes I have to be reined in, there’s no question about that.” However, he said the discussions were always cordial and positive.

“I think the pressure, frankly, is kind of good,” he explained. “The pressure from the Nat Geo Society is: ‘don’t forget who we are.’ You have to remember, they don’t have subscribers, they have members, and I like being reminded of that.”

Owens also discussed the importance of “maintaining belief and confidence in your ideas,” and explained that he constantly tries to “figure out a way to like an idea,” rather than saying ‘no’ all the time.

“It’s so much easier to say no to everything and not take risks,” he reflected.


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