Nat Geo explores food, social psychology with Upfront slate

Heather Moran, EVP of programming for National Geographic Channel, tells realscreen about new programs on the way for 2014-2015, including Tigress Productions' Crowd Control and Relativity Television's Meat Heads.
March 19, 2014

National Geographic Channel (NGC) is continuing to broaden its scope with its upfront slate while staying true to Nat Geo’s “smartertainment” mandate, says EVP of programming and strategy Heather Moran.

The slate, revealed this afternoon during NGC’s upfront event at New York City’s Highline Hotel, features such new shows as Tigress Productions’ exploration of social psychology, Crowd Control; Relativity Television’s meat-centric American road trip series Meat Heads; Authentic Entertainment’s look at “body hacks,” You Can’t Lick Your Elbow, hosted by Tony Gonzalez; and specials such as Stephen David Entertainment’s American Genius, and the global programming events, Killing Jesus from Scott Free Productions and Eat: The Story of Food, produced by National Geographic Television.

NGC’s top brass says the new programming is firmly ensconced in the network’s three pillars of programming: “smartertainment,” action/adventure, and exploratory events and specials.
“This year’s diverse upfront slate demonstrates our strong creative efforts to leverage our brand DNA and stand out from the competition,” said NGC president Howard T. Owens in a statement. “We don’t want viewers just to watch. We want viewers to engage with our programming, be active and to own their world.”

“We continue to experience huge milestones in network growth driven by programming that is authentic and visually striking combined with the powerful storytelling inherent with our legacy,” added National Geographic Channels CEO David Lyle.

Part of that growth certainly stems from the success of Brain Games, the network’s top show, hosted by Jason Silva. With six of the past year’s series making their way into the top 10 series in network history, the new slate is geared towards providing more of the same smart yet fun content while also entering some areas the network has been keen to venture into.

“I don’t think you can underestimate the power of Brain Games,” Moran tells realscreen. “It reinforces everything we thought about our viewer – they love really smart stuff. So the success of that show gave us more of an ability to play in this smart, fun and eccentric space. We spend a lot of time with our development teams and the outside production community on ideas, and the producers love to develop in this space, because there aren’t that many people doing it. Plus, it’s challenging and fun.”

Tigress’ Crowd Control uses hidden cameras to see how ordinary people react to social psychology-based experiments, such as staircases that look like pianos, garbage cans that make sounds when used, and mysterious voices on elevators calling their riders “lazy” for not using the stairs.

“The idea is, how do you use social psychology and the science of persuasion to help people make better choices?” says Moran of the program. It will roll out globally via National Geographic Channels International.

Authentic’s You Can’t Lick Your Elbow sees host Tony Gonzalez show viewers numerous “body hacks” designed to illustrate little-known abilities of the human body, such as being able to hold one’s breath for several minutes, or seeing in the dark.

On the action/adventure tip, Meat Heads from Relativity Television follows chef Eric Greenspan as he explores the U.S. in search of tantalizing meat recipes. That series, and the miniseries Eat: The Story of Food, see the network tackling food programming, as seen through the Nat Geo lens.

“One of the successes we had this past year was with Building Wild, which was our first real stab at the DIY space,” Moran explains. “We’ve been trying to figure out how to get into the food space, and when we saw tape of Eric Greenspan, the host of the show, we instantly fell in love with him. So the idea that we could have a great American road trip, looking for the greatest meat recipes across the nation, felt really right for us.”

The miniseries, meanwhile, will air in conjunction with National Geographic magazine’s year-long initiative to explore the world of food.

Another upcoming series, Eyeworks USA’s Remote Survival, puts a new twist into the survival genre – currently enjoying a resurgence – as the participants will be guided by an outdoor survival expert via a two-way headset.

Also on tap for 2015 is the latest installment in the Bill O’Reilly Killing book adaptations, Killing Jesus from Scott Free.

“What makes it different and special for us is that it takes a very historical look at what happened, in a time that we are all familiar with,” says Moran. “Figuring out how to show viewers what life was like at the time and the political ramifications of being a religious leader then, is a very interesting approach for us.”

While no live stunt programming was announced in the upfront, Moran says she hopes to be able to talk about more projects in that vein soon. As for NGC’s Live From Space, which aired last Friday (March 14) on NGC, Moran says “it was one of the most exciting nights for the channel.”

Returning series for National Geographic Channel include Brain Games, None of the Above, Wicked Tuna, The Legend of Mick Dodge, Ultimate Survival Alaska, Drugs, Inc., Alaska State Troopers, Life Below Zero and Building Wild.

Other new series in the upfront slate include Cabin Fever from Stiletto Television and The Primitives from National Geographic Television, while other new specials include Driving America from Silent Crow Arts and The Great American Sleep Project from The Public Good Projects.

For Nat Geo Wild, the wildlife-centric channel in the Nat Geo stable, new series include Dr. K: Exotic Pet Vet (w/t) from Spectrum Productions, and the cleverly-titled Pond Stars from Warm Springs Productions. Events include a weekend of dog-friendly programming under the ‘Dogs Rule’ banner, and the return of ‘Big Cat Week’ and ‘Sharkfest’.

About The Author
Andrew Jeffrey joined Realscreen in 2021 as its news editor. Here, he helps to oversee assignment, reporting and editing for Realscreen's daily newsletter. Prior to his work covering documentary and non-fiction film and TV, he worked as a reporter and associate producer for CBC Edmonton, and as a reporter for The Star Calgary, where he covered daily news on beats such as local and provincial politics, health care and harm reduction, sports and education. His work has appeared in other Canadian news outlets such as TVO, the Edmonton Journal and Avenue Magazine.