TCA: National Geographic, Nat Geo Wild unveil winter factual slates

Disney-owned cable net National Geographic and Nat Geo Wild revealed new and returning titles from its winter slate at the network’s winter Television Critics Association press tour session in Pasadena, ...
January 20, 2020

Disney-owned cable net National Geographic and Nat Geo Wild revealed new and returning titles from its winter slate at the network’s winter Television Critics Association press tour session in Pasadena, California on Friday (Jan. 17).

For Earth Day, Nat Geo has two special programs slated to simulcast on National Geographic and Nat Geo Wild: Born Wild: Earth Day Live and the previously-announced Jane Goodall: The HopeBorn Wild: Earth Day Live will include full-day programming events culled from the company’s full portfolio, including PSAs and featurettes, followed by Jane Goodall: The Hope at 9 p.m. ET/PT, a two-hour documentary about celebrity primatologist and conservationist Jane Goodall.

Born Wild: Earth Day Live (produced in partnership with ABC News) and Jane Goodall: The Hope (produced by Lucky 8) are both part of a company-wide Earth Day celebration being planned by National Geographic and The Walt Disney Company.

Also among new programming is a spin-off of successful sub-zero format Life Below Zero. The original series, which has just been picked up for two more seasons, follows people who have left traditional society behind to live in the remote regions of Alaska.

Life Below Zero: Next Generation (pictured) turns its eye to a new and younger cast who can speak to a growing dissatisfaction the current generation has with the technologies ubiquitous in modern life. Nat Geo is working with BBC Studios to produce the new version of the format, with a three-season commitment deal that expands the Life Below Zero brand in the U.S., Canada and Caribbean Basin. Executive producers for BBC Studios are Travis Shakespeare and Joseph Litzinger. For National Geographic, the executive producer is Kevin Tao Moh.

The new spin-off will premiere on National Geographic in 2021, while existing spin-off Life Below Zero: Port Protection has also been renewed for another season.

Other returning series at Nat Geo include the Magical Elves-produced Brain Games, with host Keegan-Michael Key, which has been renewed for a second season ahead of its season one debut. Popular format Running Wild with Bear Grylls also been renewed ahead of its season finale. And finally, Nat Geo revealed that the second season of hit culinary travel show Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted will bow May 10 at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

Elsewhere, Nat Geo has greenlit the six-part, short-form docuseries #impact from executive producers Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) and Jaron Varsano (My Dearest Fidel).

The series, directed by Academy Award-winning Vanessa Roth (Freehold), will tell the stories of women living in communities marred by genocide, gang violence, poverty, discrimination and oppression who, against all odds, “dare to dream, stand out, speak up and lead.”

The documentary shorts will first release digitally and then culminate in a full-length documentary special to premiere on National Geographic Channel.

#impact is produced by Pilot Wave Motion Pictures, eOne and RPC Films. Gadot and Varsano are EPs for Pilot Wave Motion Pictures. For eOne, Tara Long serves as EP with Roth. For RPC Films, Ryan Pallota serves as EP for the series and director for the pilot episode; Ana De Diego is EP.  Eric Levin, global chief content officer of Spark, is EP. Ryan Harrington is EP for National Geographic.

Nat Geo is also gearing up for the third season of its Cosmos docuseries, Cosmos: Possible Worlds.

The 13-episode season follows Carl Sagan’s 1980 series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage and the 2014 Neil deGrasse Tyson-fronted Cosmos: A Spacetime OdysseyCosmos: Possible Worlds is helmed by Sagan’s collaborator Ann Druyan. Executive producing partners include Seth MacFarlane and Jason Clark. Kara Vallow is co-executive producer; Joe Micucci is producer. Tyson returns as host and executive science editor. The series premieres March 9 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.


Elsewhere, Nat Geo Wild will celebrate its 10th year on air with a 2020 programming slate consisting of new series and specials for animal lovers.

Following the success of network stalwarts like Wild’s longest-running series The Incredible Dr. Pol, which returns this summer for another 10 x 60-minute season, veterinary-focused docuseries have developed into franchise series.

Anchoring the net’s 2020 slate are Heartland Docs, DVM (6 x 60 minutes; premiering Jan. 25 at 10 p.m. ET/PT), which follows Drs. Erin and Ben Schroeder as they look to service animals in need at their rural Nebraska veterinary practice; Critter Fixers: Country Vets (6 x 60 minutes; debuting March 7 at 10 p.m. ET/PT), which documents lifelong friends Dr. Vernard Hodges and Dr. Terrence Ferguson and their Georgia-set practice Critter Fixer Veterinary Hospital; and Dr. Ole (working title; 8 x 60 minutes; airing Summer 2020), which traces Dr. Ole Alcumbrac and his White Mountain Animal Hospital, a full-service animal clinic in Pinetop, Arizona, that cares for everything from domestic animals to exotics and large creatures.

Zoo programming on Nat Geo Wild, meanwhile, will include an Australian spin-off of Secrets of the Zoo and the tentatively titled World’s Biggest Zoo.

Produced by McAvoy Media, Secrets of the Zoo: Down Under (10 x 60 minutes) will offer an in-depth look at what it takes to run one of the world’s most prominent zoos. Set on the Sydney Harbour, the series will spotlight the Taronga Zoo’s 240 keepers and vets who care for the more than 5,000 animals in the park. The series broadcasts on March 1 at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

World’s Biggest Zoo (8 x 60 minutes) from Double Act TV will turn its lens on the largest zoo in the world. The North Carolina Zoo is home to more than 212 species and a diverse range of landscapes – swamps, prairies, rivers, forests and a desert – across its 2,600 acres. The series will feature a variety of stories, including emergency and routine animal procedures and animal husbandry to rescue, rehabilitation and release. World’s Biggest Zoo is slated to premiere this fall.

Elsewhere, the Walt Disney Co.-owned company will continue to spotlight efforts across animal rescue and conservation with new premieres for Symbio Studios’ Alaska Animal Rescue (6 x 60 minutes; April 11 at 9 p.m. ET/PT), following wildlife heroes from three renowned conservation centers as they respond to animals in need; and Double Act TV’s Jungle Animal Rescue (6 x 60 minutes; April 18 at 10 p.m. ET/PT), which documents a team of conservationists and vets on their mission to rescue animals in distress deep in India’s jungles.

The Real Black Panther, meanwhile, will serve as an hour-long character-driven natural history special that chronicles Saya, the only black panther in South India’s Kabini Forest; while the two-hour special March of the Polar Bears from Earth Touch USA will trace a team of polar bear guides as they attempt to follow polar bears traversing the sea ice of Hudson Bay for the first-time ever. Both specials are expected to air this winter.

In other news, the network has set a premiere date for the previously-announced natural history docuseries The Hidden Kingdoms of China, to be narrated by actor Michelle Yeoh (Crazy Rich Asians; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon).

The series’ two-hour premiere airs Feb. 22 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. The Hidden Kingdoms of China has an extended five-episode run on Nat Geo Wild and is stripped across five nights of premieres at 9 p.m. ET/PT beginning March 23. For Brian Leith Productions, Brian Leith is executive producer and Mandy Leith is head of production. Ashley Hoppin is executive producer for National Geographic.

Returning series to Nat Geo Wild’s airwaves include Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet (8 x 60 minutes;Lucky Dog Productions), which premieres March 21 at 8 p.m. ET/PT; Dr. K’s Exotic Animal ER (6 x 60 minutes; Remedy), which broadcasts May 31 at 9 p.m. ET/PT; The Incredible Dr. Pol (10 x 60 minutes; National Geographic Studios), which returns this summer; Secrets of the Zoo (6 x 60 minutes; Remedy), airing Feb. 23 at 9 p.m. ET/PT; Secrets of the Zoo: Tampa (6 x 60 minutes; Remedy), launching this summer; and the three-week event series Savage Kingdom (Icon Films), which rolls out this winter.


Nat Geo also unveiled its Field Ready Program, which aims to support a new, diverse generation of people interested in working behind the camera in global TV production, at the Pasadena event.

The two-phased training program endorses entry-level individuals as production assistants. Partnering with National Geographic Society, the company will choose 10 individuals per year to complete an online technical training followed by a one-week, intensive production boot camp at Nat Geo HQ in Washington, D.C., led by National Geographic producers, videographers and explorers.

Upon graduation, the Field Ready production assistants will be announced to the wider production community in hopes of being placed on National Geographic productions around the world Nat Geo hopes to launch the first class into the field by fall 2020. Janet Han Vissering, SVP of development and production at Nat Geo Wild, is spearheading the program.

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