Exclusive: National Geographic to launch Ebola doc special “Going Viral”

National Geographic has greenlit a companion documentary project to its forthcoming limited scripted series The Hot Zone ahead of its TCA Winter session this Sunday (Feb. 10). The National Geographic Studios produced ...
February 8, 2019

National Geographic has greenlit a companion documentary project to its forthcoming limited scripted series The Hot Zone ahead of its TCA Winter session this Sunday (Feb. 10).

The National Geographic Studios produced Going Viral will chronicle the origins and incidents involving the ebola viruses while exposing stories of those on the front lines who were tracking, researching and fighting the deadly virus.

The hour-long factual companion piece is based on Richard Preston’s 1995 best-selling non-fiction thriller The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story and will follow assorted scientific researchers, Ebola survivors, policy and decision makers, as well as Dr. Nancy and Jerry Jaax, the real-life subjects of The Hot Zone.

Also featured in the documentary will be interviews with Preston; Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, a front-line physician providing care to Ebola patients in Sierra Leone; Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Dr. Pardis Sabeti, who discovered Ebola mutations; and Dr. Ian Crozier, a 2014 Ebola survivor; among others.

Nat Geo’s Betsy Forhan serves as executive producer. Kevin Tao Mohs is VP of production and Geoff Daniels is EVP of unscripted entertainment.

Going Viral is scheduled to premiere across National Geographic this May.

Nat Geo’s six-part limited scripted series The Hot Zone is set to premiere on May 27, and will air over three nights.

In other TCA-timed news, Nat Geo has unveiled that it has added three natural history global series and specials to its programming line-up, alongside the renewal of last summer’s successful four-day live event Yellowstone Live (pictured).

Anchoring the network’s natural history slate is the six-part America, which will serve as a “startling” contemporary portrait of the flora and fauna that inhabit and shape the U.S. landscape.

The series is expected to premiere in 2021 and is from Mark Linfield (Earth, Elephant Eden); Vanessa Berlowitz (Planet Earth 1 & 2, One Strange Rock); Myles Connolly (The Living Sea); Dan Rees (Frozen Planet); Hugh Pearson (The Blue Planet); and Tom Stephens (Wild Yellowstone).

The two-hour event special Photo Ark, meanwhile, will detail Nat Geo photographer Joel Sartore’s 25-year documentary project to save species from habitat loss, climate change and poaching. Photo Ark is produced by Sartore and WGBH-Boston, and is expected to air in 2020.

National Geographic’s Ashley Hoppin also serves as an executive producer of America and Photo Ark.

Planet of the Whales, meanwhile, will be filmed for more than two and a half years, in 24 locations, to reveal the family networks and relationships of five different whale species from a “whale’s-eye view”.

The landmark four-part series is expected to debut in 2021. It is produced by Nat Geo photographer Brian Skerry, and Red Rock Films’ Brian Armstrong and Shannon Malone-DeBenedictis. Nat Geo’s Pam Caragol is executive producer for the network.

The programs will air globally in 172 countries and 43 languages on National Geographic and Nat Geo Wild.

Camera crews, meanwhile, will head back to Yellowstone National Park to capture the best of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in real time for a second run of Yellowstone Live. The four-night live event, which will broadcast in the most remote locations across the 34,000-square mile park, premieres in June 2019 and is produced by Plimsoll Productions and Berman Productions.

Also, Nat Geo has announced that Plimsoll Productions’ Hostile Planet, a docuseries that provides an intimate look at how animals have adapted to survive in some of the world’s most extreme environments, will launch on April 1 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

Nat Geo’s Kevin Tao Mohs is executive producer of Yellowstone Live and Hostile Planet.

“National Geographic has been the gold standard of storytelling about the natural world since its inception 131 years ago, consistently evolving the genre over the years to tell these important stories across our media portfolio to a huge global audience of almost 500 million, in relevant and inventive ways,” said Courteney Monroe, president of National Geographic Global Television Networks, in a statement. “Audiences are hungry for knowledge about our world — whether it be themes of conservationism or capturing the diverse wildlife in places they’ve never before been — and we continue to be the most trusted brand to deliver these stories in entertaining, authentic and unique ways across all of our platforms.”

Elsewhere, Nat Geo is preparing a multi-platform storytelling venture and six part docuseries titled Activate, which will explore extreme poverty and global challenges linked to income inequality.

Each episode features a celebrity activist — including Hugh Jackman, Uzo Aduba, Common, Pharell Williams and Rachel Brosnan — tackling a different social issue connected to the causes of extreme poverty. Topics include clean drinking water and sanitation, racial bias and criminalization of poverty, girls’ education, responsible sourcing, plastic waste and disaster relief.

The multi-platform project includes a 12-page custom print section in the September issue of National Geographic magazine, custom story stretches for each episode, custom digital articles and social media moments for each Procter & Gamble brand aligned with Activate and a digital headquarters for a deeper dive into the issue depicted in the series.

Activate, which will premiere in the fall, is produced by Nat Geo, in partnership with Procter & Gamble, and co-produced by Global Citizen and RadicalMedia.

Lastly, E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin’s Academy Award-nominated feature-length climbing documentary Free Solo, meanwhile,will make its global broadcast debut on March 3 at 9 p.m. ET/PT, premiering commercial free on the National Geographic channel in the United States, followed by a global roll-out.

With files from Frederick Blichert

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.