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Mipcom: Nat Geo Networks Chief Talks Scripted Strategy, Brand Makeover

Courteney Monroe delivers a keynote at Cannes’ 2017 Mipcom convention

COURTENEY MONROE National Geographic Channel
Stephen Voss for Variety

CANNES — Courteney Monroe, CEO of National Geographic Global Networks, gave an energetic pitch for the cable group’s scripted TV strategy in her keynote address Tuesday at Mipcom.

Monroe told the crowd of producers and buyers that Nat Geo is looking to deliver a select group of scripted offerings each year. The shows need to be rooted in facts — revolving around real people and true events that reflect global themes and urgent issues. She billed it as “entertainment with a purpose.”

As examples, Monroe cited the anthology series “Genius,” which bowed last year with a 10-episode intimate biography of Albert Einstein. Pablo Picasso will be the next subject. Also cited: “The State,” an upcoming story drama about Syrian families enmeshed in the Islamic State, and “The Long Road Home,” the story of how an ambush attack in Afghanistan affects an Army unit.

Monroe acknowledged that the Peak TV flood of scripted series makes it tough to stand out. She cited the 10 Emmy nominations grabbed by “Genius” as a sign that Nat Geo can be a player in the premium arena with the right project.

“We have zero intention to become a fully scripted network,” Monroe said. She said the overarching goal of the network is to deliver “fewer, bigger, bolder programs that are distinctive and worth paying for,” she said.

The scripted push and the refocusing of the Nat Geo brand around high-end factual and documentary series productions such as Morgan Freeman’s upcoming “The Story of Us,” is an effort to ensure that Nat Geo remains a relevant brand in its second century. “There is simply no way to survive without being exceptional,” she said.

Carolyn Bernstein, Nat Geo’s exec VP overseeing scripted development, emphasized the filter that is crucial for Nat Geo projects.

“We’re looking for stories that are globally relevant and shine a light on something that is important,” she said. “We’re always looking for stories where truth is stranger and more fascinating than fiction.”