NatGeo Mars premiere date
Courtesy of National Geographic Channel

National Geographic Channel plans to transform its “Explorer” franchise into a weekly series that blends magazine and talk show elements, hosted by British journalist Richard Bacon.

That was one of a slew of programming announcements unveiled Tuesday at a pre-upfront event hosted by National Geographic Global Networks in New York. The ambitious slate of programming for Nat Geo Channel and Nat Geo Wild underscores the resources available to Nat Geo following 21st Century Fox’s $725 million infusion into the venture after the restructuring last September of its joint venture with the National Geographic Society.

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“By harnessing an unparalleled portfolio of media assets through National Geographic Partners, we’re going to offer true 360-degree experiences, extending our storytelling for both viewers and advertisers across an unrivaled number of platforms,” said National Geographic Global Networks CEO Courteney Monroe.

The new-model “Explorer” is described as a weekly “docu-talk” series that will feature magazine-style field reporting, celebrity guests and talk show segments shot in front of a studio audience. elements. The series will bow on Nat Geo’s 171 channels around the world in the fall.

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“Today’s ‘Explorer’ announcement marks a significant expansion in the scope and ambition of the series and emulates National Geographic’s ongoing commitment to topical, entertaining and, most importantly, vital reporting,” said Tim Pastore, president of original programming and production for National Geographic Channel. “We are investing heavily in creative, entertaining projects that break the rules on how we report on the world and everything in it.”

Lou Wallach, Jeff Hasler and Brian Lovett are exec producing “Explorer” for National Geographic Studios.

Monroe talked up the Nat Geo group’s “unrivaled sense of purpose and mission” and reach that encompasses a staggering 720 million people a month between the magazine and TV channels, with 440 million TV households worldwide. She emphasized that the channels were now pursuing projects with bigger budgets and global scope. Marketing will also increase. The goal is to reach a broader and consistently upscale audience, Monroe said.
The presentation in the Onyx Room of Manhattan’s Park Hyatt Hotel was bathed in pale red light to highlight the ambitious miniseries event “Mars” from Brian Grazer and Ron Howard. Monroe said “Mars” is “emblematic of the scale and scope and level of creative ambition” at Nat Geo. Howard was on hand to sketch out the vision for the six-part series that blends “true-life adventure and the drama of human experience” in a hybrid scripted/docu project that looks at efforts to colonize Mars over the next century.
The revamp of “Explorer” is Nat Geo’s effort to offer a point of view on the week’s news a la John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” and “The Daily Show.” Alumni from “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” are on board the production team. The show will originate from New York.

Among the other new projects unveiled:

  • The six-part docu series “Lawless Oceans” follows investigator Karsten von Hoesslin as he tries to solve the case of a murder at sea that was captured on video. Jeremy Dear and Chris Lent are exec producing for Wall to Wall Media. It’s targeted to premiere in 2017.
  • “Origins” hosted by “Brain Games'” Jason Silva examines how modern humanity took shape, with each episode focusing on a single topic such as fire, tools and transportation.
  • “Chain of Command” involves a deal for Nat Geo to work closely with the Pentagon to cover the activity at the U.S. Afghanistan military mission for a year. The 10-part series is produced by National Geographic Studios.
  • “Earth Live!” is designed to be an event broadcast featuring live feeds of wildlife activity from seven continents. Bunim/Murray Prods. and Berman Prods. are producing the special which has yet to specify a premiere date.
  • “Deep Freeze” is a docu-series look at the life-threatening working conditions for scientists in Antarctica who are studying the effects of climate change.
  • “Parched,” a four-part study of the world’s water crises from Alex Gibney. Nat Geo will also distribute a feature doc by the same name from Gibney’s team.
  • Also at the presentation Nat Geo showed off a photo of David Letterman, sporting a long white beard, who is on assignment in India working on a segment for the new season of “Years of Living Dangerously.”

Nat Geo also talked up its previous announced “Mars” series from Ron Howard and Brian Grazer. It’s a six-part hybrid scripted/unscripted vehicle telling the story of efforts to colonize Mars and send the first manned space mission to the planet in 2032. Mexican filmmaker Everardo Gout will handle direction of the scripted portions of “Mars,” which revolves around the story of twin Asian girls who dream of becoming astronauts, but only one of them winds up making the trek.

The series, which will have a simultaneous roll-out on more than 170 Nat Geo channels worldwide in the fall, hails from Imagine Entertainment and RadicalMedia. Howard, Grazer and Michael Rosenberg are exec producers for Imagine, with Jon Kamen, Justin Wilkes, Dave O’Connor, Dave Sirulnick, Jonathan Silberberg and Gout exec producing for RadicalMedia. Lensing is scheduled to begin in the spring in Budapest and Morocco for a targeted 2016 premiere.

Separately, sibling channel Nat Geo Wild also unveiled three unscripted series: “Animal ER,” set in a Texas veterinary hospital, from Howard Owens’ Propagate Content; “Project Puppy” (Blast Films), following six families as they raise a puppy; and “Pet Talk,” a prime-time talk show to be hosted by two unnamed veterinarians, a wildlife expert and a field reporter. It’s from Leepson Bounds Entertainment.

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