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Upfronts: Nat Geo Will Revive ‘Explorer,’ Test Comedy

Explorers for the adventure-and-science organization National Geographic have long traveled to new places. Now the cable network that is aligned with the 127-year old society wants to do more of the same.

The National Geographic Channel, owned in tandem with 21st Century Fox, said it would test a comedic series in 2016 while rebooting its signature “Explorer” program by returning it to the schedule for the first time in five years, all as part of the network’s efforts in the upfront, the annual process through which U.S. TV outlets try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory.

Speaking at a lunch held Wednesday, Nat Geo CEO Courteney Monroe said the network wanted to place more emphasis on its affiliation with the nonprofit educational institution while trying bolder programming concepts that may push the boundaries of the organization’s signature yellow rectangle.

One of the more eyebrow-raising concepts introduced was a comedic miniseries, “History of the World…For Now.” Billed as an “event series” slated for 2016, the show will use comedy, animation and documentary storytelling to discuss the formation of the world and society. The series will debut globally, and the network will provide casting updates in the next few months. Producers include people involved in programs like HBO’s “Silicon Valley” and Fox’s “King of the Hill.”

Yet Nat Geo will also play up tradition. In the fall, one of its best-known series, “Explorer,” will return as a monthly program that also calls attention to stories being published in National Geographic magazine. Each episode will tackle a story ripped from the periodical’s pages, including the search for Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ; the evolution of the eye; the threat posed by oil companies on the Congo’s Virunga National Park; and the naturalist legacy of Teddy Roosevelt.

Nat Geo has started pre-production on a scripted miniseries, “Saints & Strangers,” which will tell the story of the founding of America. The four-hour event is produced by Sony Pictures Television with Little Engine Productions and will chronicle the trials of the 101 men and women who arrived in the country that would be come to known as the United States using the ship known as the Mayflower. The program is slated to appear in the fall.

In another move, the network will, in conjunction with General Electric, present “Breakthrough,” a series of hourlong episodes examining innovation and the scientists who produced them. The show is exec produced by Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Steve Michaels, Jonathan Koch and Mark Dowley and produced by Imagine Entertainment and Asylum Entertainment. Each episode is directed by a well-known actor or director, including Paul Giamatti, Ron Howard, Bret Ratner, Peter Berg, Akiva Goldsman and Angela Bassett.


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