Nat Geo Programming Chief Defends ‘Brain Surgery Live': It’s Not a ‘Gore-Fest’

“If you’re looking for… a life-or-death scenario, this is not the show for you,” network programming president Tim Pastore tells TheWrap

Last Updated: October 25, 2015 @ 10:26 PM

TV isn’t brain surgery — unless you’re Tim Pastore at National Geographic Channel.

The network programming president’s latest attempt to capture same-day tune-in is Sunday’s “Brain Surgery Live,” which is exactly what it sounds like.

“If you’re looking for a blood-fest or a gore-fest or a life-or-death scenario, this is not the show for you,” he told TheWrap. “It’s a pure celebration of the most amazing organ in the human body.”

A Nat Geo producer and two camera operators will enter an operating room at Cleveland’s University Hospitals Case Medical Center to record a deep-brain stimulation (DBS) surgery on 49-year-old retired Navy Chief Petty Officer Greg Grindley, who suffers from tremors due to early-onset Parkinson’s disease.

During the surgery, Grindley will be fully awake and able to speak — and viewers will be able to take it all in live. Bryant Gumbel will host the special.

Pastore insisted that his team will handle the surgery with sensitivity, adding that this particular procedure carries a “minor degree of risk.” Those entering the OR will scrub in like the doctors and their equipment will be sterilized.

The network deferred to the doctors’ comfort level in bringing the elective surgery to live TV. “We take their lead,” he said.

The programmer is so confident in how smoothly the TV experiment will go that he was comfortable enough to pull out a pun, calling the greenlighting of the special “a no-brainer.”

As an added precaution, the special will air with a five-second delay. And there is a contingency plan in place, as with any live event. Should Nat Geo need to cut away for any reason, Pastore promised that the network will keep viewers updated on social media.

Pastore described the a live televised brain surgery as a “programming choice” rather than a stunt. “In the current marketplace … to capture an audience and to create [a] conversation — live is the moment for us to create a must-see TV event,” he said.

Another goal, he said, was “demystifying, decoding and … hopefully removing the stigma” surrounding the procedure, he said.

While Pastore’s crew will film the entire procedure, only the crucial final two hours will be aired live on six handheld cameras and four robotic ones. The doctors will take breaks and sub in and out as they normally would. They’ll also talk to NGC on the side.

The logistical challenges don’t end there, though: The cable channel plans on going live in several different countries, complete with real-time translation. And a follow-up special with the patient is also in the works.

“Brain Surgery Live” airs live Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on National Geographic Channel.