National Geographic, Nat Geo Wild unveil programming slates for 2020-21

National Geographic released the slate of premium science, adventure and exploration content scheduled for the network’s 2020-21 upfront season Thursday (May 21). The lineup includes the six-part landmark docuseries 9/11 from ...
May 21, 2020

National Geographic released the slate of premium science, adventure and exploration content scheduled for the network’s 2020-21 upfront season Thursday (May 21).

The lineup includes the six-part landmark docuseries 9/11 from award-winning executive producers Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin (Undefeated) and 72 Films (Inside North Korea’s Dynasty).

9/11 has been in production for more than two years, and will offer a “comprehensive” account of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks using archival footage and interviews with eyewitnesses.

Nat Geo has also slated Breaking Bobby Bones (w/t), a 16-part series from BBC Studios. In each half episode, radio personality Bobby Bones travels to far-flung destinations across the U.S. to meet “local heroes” who challenge him to conquer the “tricks of their trades.”

Produced in partnership with ABC News and Lincoln Square Productions, the Explorer series first launched in 1985.

The newly re-imagined version of the flagship series will be a multi-platform content initiative, in partnership with National Geographic magazine and ABC news. Each single topic, hour-long episode takes viewers inside unfolding expeditions around the globe and to the frontlines of scientific, technological and historical discoveries.

Elsewhere, the eight-part series Race to the Center of the Earth (The New Media Collective, Plum Pictures) will premiere this fall.

The “adrenaline-fueled” competition from the producers behind The Amazing Race pits four teams against one another in a nonstop sprint across the globe for a $1 million prize.

Slated for January 2021, the Muck Media-produced eight-part series Trafficked with Mariana van Zeller explores the complex and dangerous inner workings of smuggling networks and black and informal markets.

Each investigation embeds van Zeller, a Peabody- and duPont Award-winning journalist, on a mission to understand a specific black market and the lives of the smugglers and outlaws who run it.

To mark Earth Day 2021, Nat Geo will premiere the four-part event series Planet of the Whales (pictured) from National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry, and Brian Armstrong and Shannon Malone-DeBenedictis of Red Rock Films.

Filmed over three years and across 24 locations, Planet of the Whales explores the communication skills and intricate social structures of five different whale species.

Among the network’s nature documentary broadcast premieres, Blood on the Wall is set to bow this fall.

From Academy Award-nominated director Sebastian Junger and Emmy-winning producer Nick Quested, Blood on the Wall explores the depths of corruption plaguing Mexico and Central American.

Rebuilding Paradise, meanwhile, tells the story of the devastating firestorm that engulfed Paradise, California on Nov. 8, 2018. The film from Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer will debut in fall 2020 following a summer theatrical release.

Saudi Runaway will have its broadcast debut this fall following a summer theatrical release. The documentary follows Muna, a young woman from Saudi Arabia reckoning with strict social norms, an upcoming arranged marriage and a life controlled by her domineering father.

Finally, Nat Geo will premiere Torn in winter 2021. From producer Chris Murphy and award-winning producers Simon Chinn and Jonathan Chinn, Torn sees National Geographic explorer Max Lowe “turn the lens on his own family” nearly two decades after the death of his father, climber Alex Lowe.

The film offers an intimate look at the family, capturing their “intense” personal journey toward understanding Alex, and the “emotionally and physically harrowing” trek to Shishapangma, where they will finally put him to rest.

“People’s understanding of the world around them has been shaken. And they are coming to National Geographic in record numbers, I believe, because particularly in times of uncertainty, people flock to brands that they trust. And National Geographic is one of the most trusted and beloved brands in the world,” said Courteney Monroe, National Geographic Global Television Networks president, in a statement. “When it comes to our television programming, we are doubling down on what we do best, which is to deliver premium, creatively ambitious programming that connects audiences to the world around them, satisfies their curiosity and transports them to places they may otherwise never go.”


As the animal lover network celebrates it’s 10th year, Nat Geo Wild unveiled an upfront season full of new series with Cesar Millan and Secrets of the Zoo: North Carolina, as well as an event special following National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore.

Newly announced series include Leepson Bounds Entertainment’s Cesar’s Way, a 10-part series premiering next spring that brings The Dog Whisperer’s Millan back to show pet owners how to overcome all obstacles, beginning with their disgruntled, furry friends; and Secrets of the Zoo: North Carolina, an eight-part series from Double Act TV that follows the activities at the North Carolina Zoo, one of the largest zoos in the world. Secrets of the Zoo: North Carolina premieres next fall.

In addition, Megalomedia will serve up The Puppy Draft, a special event premiering next spring that “drafts” the rescue puppies with star athletes in the midst of transitioning to a new team and hometown; and the two-hour event special Photo Ark, from WGBH, which follows National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore’s quest to photograph every species in the world. The latter project is slated for fall 2020.

Two events specials, meanwhile, will feature Dr. Jan Pol of The Incredible Dr. Pol fame: 12 Days of Pol and Pol-ympics. Both from Nat Geo’s in-house studios, the Dr. Pol marathons will air in the winter 2020 and summer 2021, respectively.

Returning series include season four of Secrets of the Zoo from Remedy TV, set to bow in fall 2020; seasons 18 and 19 of The Incredible Dr. Pol, with 10-part seasons set for winter and summer 2021; season two of Dog: Impossible from High Noon Entertainment, slated for winter 2021; season three of Heartland Docs, DVM from Glass Entertainment, which is slated for spring 2021; season two of Critter Fixers from Hit + Run, set for spring 2021; and season seven of Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet from Lucky Dog Films, which is scheduled for spring 2021.

“At a time when families find themselves spending more time together, the need for inspiring programming the entire family can enjoy is ever more pronounced,” added Monroe. “Nat Geo WILD has become the leading destination for programming about animals and the people who love them, offering extraordinary and heartwarming stories that entertain, inspire and educate viewers of all ages. It’s no wonder Nat Geo WILD has experienced record ratings during this period.”

About The Author
Andrew Tracy joined Realscreen as associate editor in 2021, following 17 years as managing editor of the award-winning international film magazine Cinema Scope. From 2010 to 2020 he also held the position of senior editor at the Toronto International Film Festival, where he oversaw the flagship publication for the organization’s year-round Cinematheque programming and edited its first original monograph in a decade, Steve Gravestock’s A History of Icelandic Film. He was a scriptwriter and consultant on the first season of the Vice TV series The Vice Guide to Film, and his writing and reporting have been featured in such outlets as Cinema Scope, Reverse Shot, Sight & Sound, Cineaste, Film Comment, MUBI Notebook, POV, and Montage.