Upfronts ’15: Nat Geo, Ron Howard team for “Breakthrough”

National Geographic Channel's 2015-2016 upfront slate includes the Ron Howard and Brian Grazer-produced science anthology series Breakthrough (pictured), new survival shows and a rebooted Explorer.
April 16, 2015

A science anthology series from exec producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer is in the works at National Geographic Channel.

Each episode of Breakthrough (pictured) will be helmed by a different Hollywood director and focus on the stories, people and technology behind innovations in the areas of brain science, longevity, water, energy, pandemics and cyborg technology.

Angela Bassett, Peter Berg, Paul Giamatti, Akiva Goldsman, Brett Ratner and Howard have signed on to direct the six-episode, hour-long series, which is being coproduced by Imagine Entertainment and Asylum Entertainment and backed by GE.

Breakthrough was announced alongside four other new series during the U.S. cable network’s 2015-2016 upfront presentation in New York City on Wednesday (April 15). Sister network Nat Geo Wild also announced two new series.

Other new unscripted titles coming soon to NGC are 50 States of Survival, a location-based competition show from National Geographic Studios; and the Icon Films-produced Primal Survival, in which adventurer Hazen Audel uses tribal training to survive in remote locales.

National Geographic Studios is also producing The Great Human Race, which follows adventurers Bill Schindler and Cat Bigney as they trace the migratory route of human ancestors over 35,000 miles. Lastly, The Yard is an Original Productions series about engineers, mechanics and carpenters working for a remote Alaskan shipbuilding operation.

As previously reported, the network is also rebooting long-running science and natural history documentary series Explorer for a 12-episode run. Topics to be covered include the evolution of the eye, the ongoing conflict inside the Congo’s Virunga National Park and Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Returning series include Life Below Zero, Drugs, Inc., Wicked Tuna, Live Free or Die, Brain Games and the Neil deGrasse Tyson-hosted talk show Star Talk, which returns in the fall for a 10-episode second season.

The channel will also air a scripted miniseries about America’s founding settlers called Saints & Strangers, as well as America’s National Parks, a blue-chip special produced in partnership with Nat Geo Wild and the U.S. National Parks System that looks at North America’s natural wonders.

The specials join previously announced hybrid-comedy miniseries History of the World… For Now, from Altschuler & Krinsky Works and National Geographic Studios, and summer specials American Genius and The 2000s: A New Reality, which will air on June 1 and July 12-13, respectively.

Earlier this week, the channel’s president of original programming and production Tim Pastore told an audience at MIPTV in Cannes that he is on a mission to broaden the network’s appeal and debunk the perception of being an “older brand” with a mixture of factual programming and scripted dramas such as recent hit Killing Jesus.

“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.”

Meanwhile, Nat Geo Wild has a slew of veterinarian-focused docuseries on the way.

The channel picked up Vet School from Thinkfactory Media, which follows students studying in Cornell University’s veterinary teaching hospital; and Animal Storm Squad from BCII focuses on a group of emergency rescuers who specialize in saving pets injured in natural disasters.

Dog trainer Cesar Milan will return to Nat Geo Wild for a third season of Cesar 911. Other renewals include The Incredible Dr. Pol, Dr. Oakley Yukon Vet and Dr. K’s Exotic Animal ER.

Upcoming natural history specials include Wild Yellowstone from Brain Farm; Wild Sri Lanka from Terra Mater Factual Studios; Wild Atlantic from BBC Natural History; Wild South Africa from Studio Hamburg Doclights/NDR; and Wings of Life, Deep Blue and Oceans, all from Disneynature.

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