Nat Geo to Reboot ‘Brain Games’ With Host Keegan-Michael Key, Orders ‘Race to the Center of the Earth’ From ‘Amazing Race’ Team

Upfronts 2019: New Gordon Ramsay series “Uncharted” gets an additional eight-episode order ahead of July debut

Keegan-Michael Key
Getty Images

National Geographic unveiled its programming lineup for the 2019-20 season Tuesday, which features a celebrity-centric reboot of “Brain Games” hosted by Keegan-Michael Key, a competition series from the producers of the “Amazing Race,” called “Race to the Center of the Earth,” and the arrival of “Running Wild With Bear Grylls,” which switched over to Nat Geo from NBC for its new season.

Additionally, Nat Geo announced its ordered an eight-episode second season of Gordon Ramsay’s new show “Uncharted” ahead of the series’ July debut.

The first five famous faces you’ll see on the new “Brain Games,” which premieres Dec. 1, are Kristin Bell, Dax Shepard, Drew Brees, Rebel Wilson and Anthony Anderson. The Key-hosted reboot is produced by Magical Elves and Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz’s Alfred Street Industries.

“I’ve always loved science, and when National Geographic called, I jumped at the chance to be part of this really amazing series,” Key said. “I’m going to be bringing some friends along, and together we are going to explore some really fascinating aspects of the human brain. I can’t wait to get started!”

Bear Grylls will bring even more celebrities to the cable channel, with Brie Larson and Armie Hammer set as the first competitors on the next season of “Running Wild,” which premieres Nov. 5.

And for all you competitive types there’s “Race to the Center of the Earth” coming in summer 2020, which is described as “an adrenaline-fueled global competition that pits four teams against one another in a nonstop sprint across the globe for a $1 million prize”

Per Nat Geo, “the eight-part series, created by the producers behind the hit show ‘The Amazing Race,’ is an extreme nonelimination competition that follows four groups of adventurers, each starting from different corners of the earth as they race to a buoy holding a $1 million prize. Each team is challenged with navigating through its route, offering unique terrains, climates and cultures as the team makes its way to a central location. The teams will face untamed jungles, frozen arctic, arid deserts, bustling cities, treacherous mountains and vast oceans to reach the location where all four routes intersect. The first team to arrive at the buoy claims it all.”

The cable channel’s upcoming slate, which was revealed ahead of Disney’s upfront presentation to advertisers Tuesday, also includes the following: the next season of anthology series “Genius,” which is focused on Aretha Franklin; “Trafficked With Mariana Van Zeller” and “Lost Cities With Albert Lin,” two unscripted shows “showcasing up-and-coming National Geographic talent”; new specials “China’s Hidden Kingdoms” and “Alaska Live”; returning series “Life Below Zero,” “Drain the Oceans” and “Wicked Tuna”; and a new primetime weekly event block dubbed “Explorer Sundays,” which features “specials that capture the heart of exploration, further deepening viewers’ understanding of the world through provocative storytelling.”

“For the past three years, our focus has been on quality and distinctiveness above all else and on building the most creatively ambitious, most entertaining National Geographic television network in history,” National Geographic Global Television Networks president Courteney Monroe said.

“This year’s upfront slate continues that ambition with highly entertaining programming from the best creative talent in the business,” she continued. “Big, bold premium programming that lives up to the promise and expectations of the National Geographic brand, including the reboot of our highly rated family-friendly series ‘Brain Games;’ the next season of our multiple-Emmy-winning anthology series ‘Genius,’ profiling the life of the ‘Queen of Soul,’ Aretha Franklin; and two inside access series, featuring incredible new talent Mariana van Zeller and Albert Lin.”

See Nat Geo’s 2019-20 programming lineup and the descriptions for the new and returning series below. Readers can check out the Nat Geo Wild 2019-20 slate, which TheWrap previously revealed exclusively, here.



Eight-Part Series Premieres December 2019 (Magical Elves, Alfred Street Industries)

This fall, a reimagined BRAIN GAMES adds a Hollywood twist to the classic mind-bending format. Shot in front of a live studio audience, BRAIN GAMES challenges some of the world’s biggest celebrities to realize their special brain power through fun and highly entertaining interactive games, illusions and social experiments that will reveal the “why” behind the “wow.” The in-studio audience and the viewers at home can play along, comparing their mental abilities against those of the A-listers. Join in on the fun as BRAIN GAMES reveals the incredible science of what makes our brains tick! BRAIN GAMES is executive produced by Toby Gorman, Casey Kriley, James Rowley and Lauren Williams for Magical Elves and by Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz for Alfred Street Industries.


Eight-Part Series Premieres Summer 2020 (Plum Pictures, Profile Pictures)

RACE TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH is an adrenaline-fueled global competition that pits four teams against one another in a nonstop sprint across the globe for a $1 million prize. The eight-part series, created by the producers behind the hit show “The Amazing Race,” is an extreme nonelimination competition that follows four groups of adventurers, each starting from different corners of the earth as they race to a buoy holding a $1 million prize. Each team is challenged with navigating through its route, offering unique terrains, climates and cultures as the team makes its way to a central location. The teams will face untamed jungles, frozen arctic, arid deserts, bustling cities, treacherous mountains and vast oceans to reach the location where all four routes intersect. The first team to arrive at the buoy claims it all.


Eight-Part Series Premieres April 2020 (Muck Media)

Armed with National Geographic’s trademark inside access, TRAFFICKED explores the complex and often dangerous inner workings of the global underworld — smuggling networks, and black and informal markets. Each investigation embeds with Peabody and duPont Award-winning journalist Mariana van Zeller on a mission to track the chain of custody of trafficked goods; understand how to obtain the contraband; or see the 360-degree view of the trafficking world from the point of view of the smugglers, law enforcement and those caught in the crossfire. As she meets the willing players and unwitting individuals who make, buy, sell and move goods, services and ideas, Mariana attempts — with characteristic boldness and empathy — to unearth the geopolitical circumstances and context that create the world’s multitrillion-dollar shadow economy.


Six-Part Series Premieres October 2019 (Blakeway Productions and Arrow Media)

LOST CITIES features host and National Geographic Explorer Albert Lin on a high-tech adventure that will revolutionize archaeology across the globe. Utilizing ground-penetrating radar, LiDar and 3D scanning, Lin will work with boots-on-the-ground archaeologists to discover and re-create unexcavated worlds still hidden beneath the earth. The ambitious approach will use high-tech imagery to uncover and resolve mysteries of the past in the most extraordinary sites of antiquity, including the Knights Templar in Israel, the Lost Kingdom of the Pacific in Micronesia, and the city behind the legend of El Dorado: City of Gold in Colombia. Lost Cities With Albert Lin promises to both redefine history and make history.


Debut Season Premieres July 2019; Eight Additional Episodes Premiere Summer 2020 (Studio Ramsay)

National Geographic expands its partnership with Gordon Ramsay by greenlighting additional episodes of Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted ahead of this summer’s season one premiere. The all-new episodes will feature Gordon Ramsay continuing his journey across the globe, embarking on exhilarating missions to unearth world cultures through food and adventure, familiar ground for Ramsay following his hit U.K. series “Gordon’s Great Escapes.” The debut season of GORDON RAMSAY: UNCHARTED, produced by Studio Ramsay, is set to launch summer 2019 and production on the new episodes is set to begin this fall.


10-Part Series Premieres Fall 2019 (Electus, a Propagate Company and Bear Grylls Ventures)

National Geographic is now the new home of the wildly popular hit series RUNNING WILD WITH BEAR GRYLLS, which is currently in production and slated to premiere this fall. The new season, which includes a new celebrity lineup of adventurers, will transport viewers across remote locations in the U.S. and around the world, including the jagged cliffs of Sardinia, a massive glacier in Iceland, the deep jungles and remote islands of Panama, and the deserts and canyons of Arizona. Celebrities will push beyond their limits to see if they can endure the harsh landscapes in their high-octane, action-based, fear-tackling journeys. The intrepid cast members will face their deepest fears and confront everything from wild animals to rock repelling as they journey through some of the world’s most unforgiving wildernesses. 


GENIUS: ARETHA (Imagine Entertainment’s Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, Clive Davis, Fox 21 Television Studios, MWM Studios and EUE/Sokolow)

Suzan-Lori Parks, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of “Topdog/Underdog,” will be executive producer and showrunner for this upcoming season of the first-ever, definitive scripted miniseries on the life of Aretha Franklin, the universally acclaimed “Queen of Soul.” The anthology series will explore Franklin’s musical genius, incomparable career, and the immeasurable impact and lasting influence she had around the world. Grammy Award winner Franklin was a gospel prodigy and outspoken civil rights champion and is widely considered to be the greatest singer of her generation, receiving countless honors throughout her career. Without knowing how to read music, Franklin taught herself to play the piano, began to record songs and sang on gospel tours with her father. She signed her first record deal at age 18 with Columbia Records before moving to Atlantic Records and then Arista, where she was united with founder Davis and began a more than 40-year partnership with him. The legendary singer is one of the world’s best-selling musical artists of all time, with more than 75 million records sold globally during her career. Her voice was identified as a “natural resource” by her home state of Michigan.



Five-Part Series Premieres January 2020 (Brian Leith Productions)

CHINA’S HIDDEN KINGDOMS takes audiences into the secret wilds of China to reveal the beauty of its hidden kingdoms. With unique access to locations across the country, viewers go on a journey through these magical realms, exploring five very different worlds –high mountains, tropical jungles, bamboo forests, great plains and temperate forests. “Stars” of these kingdoms include iconic and charismatic animals — the snow leopard, the giant panda, the Tibetan fox, the golden snub-nosed monkey and a stunning kaleidoscope of jungle creatures. All these animals live within their own unique hidden kingdoms of habitats and landscapes, sharing their worlds with other fascinating creatures. Using high-specification drones, camera traps and the latest 4K camera technology to engage with these special animals, the series brings China’s hidden kingdoms to life in the most dramatic ways possible.



Live Series Premieres 2020 (Plimsoll Productions)

Following the unprecedented live events Yellowstone Live and Earth Live, National Geographic takes viewers live to Alaska, America’s last frontier, in all its wild glory. With more than 25 cameras and 180 crew members, the series follows charismatic animal characters and scientists on the hunt for bears, wolves, whales, eagles and more. Our cameras will go live from Kenai Fjords National Park, Prince William Sound, Katmai National Park, Bristol Bay and Tongass National Forest. Along the way, we’ll uncover the threats the animals face and delve into their incredible survival skills.


With the continued long-standing tradition of transporting viewers to the front lines of captivating scientific, technological and historical discoveries embodied by the critically acclaimed series EXPLORER, National Geographic will premiere original specials as part of a new prime-time weekly event block, EXPLORER SUNDAYS. EXPLORER SUNDAYS will expand on National Geographic’s legacy of compelling storytelling by unlocking mysteries, shedding light on hidden parts of the world and investigating unbelievable events with unprecedented access to some of the world’s most exclusive, interesting people and places. A highlight of the specials that will premiere Sundays throughout September 2019-February 2020 include:


One-Hour Documentary Premieres Fall 2019 (National Geographic)

This summer, National Geographic Explorer-At-Large Dr. Robert Ballard, best known for his 1985 discovery of the Titanic shipwreck, is planning an expedition to solve the mystery of the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. FINDING AMELIA follows the clues that have led Ballard to a remote island in the Pacific and delves into Earhart herself, especially how she became one of the most intriguing and inspirational figures in history. Earhart is a true woman of impact whose loss was so profound it has been felt for decades, spawning countless theories about how and where she disappeared. Ballard and his team, equipped with the very latest in technology and scientific expertise, plan to explore the surrounding waters using remotely operated underwater vehicles and autonomous surface vessels. They plan to investigate Earhart’s potential campsite using bone-sniffing dogs, DNA sampling and good old-fashioned archaeological digging. The program will include surprising and rarely told stories about the legendary aviator, offering an unparalleled look into her life and death.


One-Hour Documentary Special (Goldcrest Films)

From Academy Award nominee and best-selling author, journalist and filmmaker Sebastian Junger and his producing partner Nick Quested comes HELL ON EARTH: MEXICO, following the duPont-winning feature documentary Hell on Earth: The Rise of ISIS and The Fall of Syria. U.S.-Mexican policies of the past two decades have left Mexico reliant on the United States, shattered a stable but undemocratic political order and sent the country spiraling into the 21st century drenched in blood and disorder. Through immersive access to characters across a swath of Mexican society, the documentary shows how narco-traffickers, corrupt politicians and well-positioned business interests have seized power and wealth and left Mexican citizens desperately fighting or fleeing elsewhere for a better life.

Additional specials during the EXPLORER SUNDAY block include One Day on Mars, Viking Warrior Queen, Ancient Astronomers and Mission Titanic. Each installment will be presented by various world-renowned National Geographic Explorers, journalists, authors, filmmakers, scientists and researchers.



19-Part Series Premieres October 2019 (BBC Worldwide)

Multiple Emmy award-winning series LIFE BELOW ZERO follows the lives of rugged individuals living subsistence lifestyles in remote areas of Alaska as they brave the frigid winter temperatures and the ensuing spring breakup. Each day brings unexpected conditions, forcing even the most seasoned bush dwellers to adapt to their changing environment. With resources dwindling and daylight shifting, they must risk it all to defend their chosen life in the wilds of the Alaskan bush.


10-Part Series Premieres March 2020 (Mallinson Sadler Productions)

DRAIN THE OCEANS returns for a third season. A global hit franchise, the series reveals the full scope of the shipwrecks, treasure, sunken cities, geology and technology at play on the floor of lakes, seas and oceans around the world, solving underwater riddles that have mystified generations. Ghostly shapes beneath the waves are exposed in all their stunning glory, as the water is removed from the picture to tell stories that explain natural wonders and man-made catastrophes. Combining the latest scientific data from underwater scanning systems with state-of-the-art digital recreations, this series crisscrosses the globe in search of slaves, pirates, American revolutionaries, heroic explorers, ancient cultures and world-changing battles; and it delves deep into the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the icy waters of the Baltic, the terrifying icescapes of the Arctic, the shoreline of one of America’s premier cities, the mysterious Nile delta, and the underwater graveyards of the American Civil War in its quest for answers.


15-Part Series Premieres March 2020 (Pilgrim Media Group)


13-Part Series Premieres July 2020 (Pilgrim Media Group)

National Geographic’s hit series Wicked Tuna is back with an all-new season of drama on the high seas. Follow a group of salty commercial fishermen from the nation’s oldest seaport, Gloucester, Massachusetts, as they make their living through rod-and-reel fishing in pursuit of the prized bluefin tuna. And later this year, the popular spinoff Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks returns. Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks follows a Southern cast of top captains along with the returning Northern cast, all battling to catch bluefin in the dangerous waters off the coast of North Carolina. In addition to unpredictable, treacherous conditions, the captains must contend with one another as well as experienced locals who will stop at nothing to beat them to the catch.