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Nat Geo Slate Includes Ron Howard-Brian Grazer Science Series ‘Breakthrough’

Upfronts 2015: Miniseries ”Saints & Sinners“ follows 101 men, women and children that sailed over on the Mayflower

National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo Wild unveiled their 2015-2016 slates Wednesday at the company’s upfront event.

Highlights include Ron Howard and Brian Grazer‘s new anthology series “Breakthrough,” which is produced by Imagine Entertainment and Asylum Entertainment and explores science innovations, and miniseries “Saints & Sinners,” which Nat Geo describes as “the epic, untold story behind the founding of America and the men, women and children in search of a new life in an unexplored land.”

Both new series will run on the main network.

“This year’s upfront slate is a testament to our programming commitment to rise above the clutter, to keep true to our core and to deliver on the authenticity that our viewers crave and rely on,” said Tim Pastore, National Geographic Channel president of Original Programming and Production. “We’re making programming decisions that will continue to stretch that yellow border, finding innovative ways to entertain our viewers, ultimately inspiring them and generating curiosity, creativity and awe.”

“Breakthrough,” which will also be executive produced by Steve Michaels, Jonathan Koch and Mark Dowley, follows leading scientists whose cutting-edge innovations and advancements will change our lives in the immediate future and beyond. The series intends to bring to life the stories, people and technology behind these breakthroughs and show how they are changing our world.

Each hour-long episode will be directed by a known Hollywood quantity, with Howard, Angela Bassett, Peter Berg, Paul Giamatti, Akiva Goldsman and Brett Ratner handling the first half dozen.

The initial episodes, now in production, explore brain science (Ratner), longevity (Howard), water (Bassett), energy (Goldman), pandemics (Berg) and cyborg technology (Giamatti).

Four-hour pilgrim miniseries “Saints & Strangers” will be produced for National Geographic Channels US by Sony Pictures Television. For Little Engine Productions, executive producers are Grant Scharbo and Gina Matthews; Teri Weinberg is executive producer; Eric Overmyer is executive producer/writer; Seth Fisher is writer.

The original script was written by Chip Johannessen with revisions by Walon Green. For Sony Pictures Television, executive in charge of production is Helen Verno. For National Geographic Channels, president of original programming and production is Tim Pastore; vice president of production is Matt Renner.

“Given our early success with our scripted fare, further strengthened by the recent record ratings of ‘Killing Jesus,’ we wanted to find our next brand-definitional scripted television event. And we found that in ‘Saints & Strangers,’ which is the ultimate story of adventure and exploration,” said Courteney Monroe, chief executive officer, National Geographic Channels. “We couldn’t be more thrilled to join with Sony Pictures Television and Little Engine Productions to help weave the storytelling of these courageous people who sailed on the Mayflower seeking a better life in a completely unknown land.”

National Geographic Channel 2015-2016 Slate:


BREAKTHROUGH: A unique partnership between GE and National Geographic Channel (Imagine Entertainment and Asylum Entertainment, Global)

Executive produced by Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Steve Michaels, Jonathan Koch and Mark Dowley, Breakthrough is an anthology of leading scientists and how their cutting-edge innovations and advancements will change our lives in the immediate future and beyond. The series intends to bring to life the stories, people and technology behind these breakthroughs, and show how they are changing our world. Each hourlong episode will be directed by a Hollywood visionary, with Angela Bassett, Peter Berg, Paul Giamatti, Akiva Goldsman, Ron Howard and Brett Ratner as the first six directors. The first episodes will explore remarkable breakthroughs in brain science, longevity, water, energy, pandemics and cyborg technology. Presented by National Geographic and GE — brands long dedicated to innovation, science and exploration — the series unites our commitment to inspire and showcase the most curious minds the world over.

50 STATES OF SURVIVAL (National Geographic Studios, Global)

Is it better to have dozens of tools or just one you can use dozens of ways? A survival savant, an alternative engineer and a gadget guru show us how to make a lot out of a little as they compete against each other in location-based challenges across the U.S. Each task showcases self-reliance and modern ingenuity at their best. Don’t be surprised if you learn a thing or two from this fun-loving trio!

PRIMAL SURVIVAL (Icon Films, Global)

Hazen Audel is completing a series of solo survival missions in some of the world’s most remote places by using only the tribal training passed down to him through the elders he meets along the way. Harnessing the skills these tribal ancestors perfected, Hazen shows what it really means to fight for your life in the most extreme conditions.

THE GREAT HUMAN RACE (National Geographic Studios, Global)

Follow two adventurers, Bill Schindler and Cat Bigney, for 35,000 miles — from the cradle of civilization to the New World — as they complete challenges. While retracing the migratory route of our ancestors, our competitors must overcome some of the same oppressive deserts, frozen tundra and intimidating jungles. Along the way, they face the same challenges early humans did: building weapons out of stone, starting fires, hunting for food, communicating with local tribes and more. It’s a journey of a lifetime — of all of our lifetimes.

THE YARD (Original Productions, Global)

The engineers, mechanics and carpenters at some of our country’s largest shipbuilding operations rush to complete repairs and hustle to get as many boats in the water as possible by deadline. From struggling to fill an order of 40 ferry boats to dealing with the unique challenges of a remote Alaskan location, we show what it takes to get seaworthy ships deconstructed, reconstructed and ready for launch.


LIFE BELOW ZERO (Adjacent Productions, US Only)

It takes a certain kind of person to live miles north of the Arctic Circle, where frostbite feeds on hesitation and nature’s feral creatures won’t hesitate to feed on you. Follow the jaw-dropping lives of Sue Aikens and these brave Alaskans who prove that you need thick skin to walk on thin ice.

DRUGS, INC. (Wall to Wall Media Ltd., Global)

The multibillion-dollar drug industry is a global phenomenon. Whether it’s legal or lawless, the drug business will always evolve. Get ready for another highly addictive season, where farmers parade their stashes, smugglers reveal their secrets, addicts expose their souls and the law remains in hot pursuit.

WICKED TUNA (Pilgrim Studios, Global)

Brutal conditions, hot tempers and rough waters can only mean our fearless captains are back to rock the boat for a fifth season. Get hooked watching these smart, tough and fearless warriors navigate the deep blue water of Gloucester in hopes of catching their high-priced bluefin bounty.

LIVE FREE OR DIE (National Geographic Studios, Global)

Live Free or Die explores one of America’s most remote subcultures, following six people who have left the modern world behind to live in backwoods and swamps. They hunt their own food, build their own shelters and survive only on what they can produce with their own two hands and sharp intuition.

BRAIN GAMES (National Geographic Studios, Global)

The Emmy-nominated series is back with all-new episodes — and returns to its roots as an hourlong program. Using a series of experiments, illusions and demonstrations, host Jason Silva and guest experts unlock the science behind the mysteries of why we say, see, eat, feel and act as we do. Hailed by critics as “tremendous fun” that “makes science entertaining,” Brain Games turns your mind’s eye inward for a fascinating journey into the 3 ½ pounds of tissue that makes you, well, you.

STARTALK (Curved Light Productions and National Geographic Studios, Global)

Even before the show premieres next week, Nat Geo has announced that Neil deGrasse Tyson will be back this fall to host 10 more episodes, bringing together celebrities, scientists and comedians to explore a variety of cosmic topics and colliding pop culture with science in a way that late-night television has never seen before. Weekly topics range from popular science fiction, space travel, extraterrestrial life and the Big Bang to the future of Earth and the environment.

EXPLORER (National Geographic Studios, Global)

The longest-running documentary series in cable television, honored with nearly 60 Emmys, returns this year with 12 new episodes investigating stories of science, nature and culture. In this new iteration, fans gain deeper access and insight to the most provocative topics covered in National Geographic Magazine, including the evolution of the eye, the ongoing conflict inside the Congo’s Virunga National Park and a new look at Mary the mother of Jesus — all opening a window on hidden parts of the world.


SAINTS & STRANGERS (Sony Pictures Television with Little Engine Productions, US Only)

Saints & Strangers is a story that goes beyond the familiar historical version of the founding of America, revealing the trials and tribulations of the first American settlers: 101 men, women and children who sailed on a chartered a ship called the Mayflower for a place no one had ever seen. Half of these “pilgrims” were religious separatists who had abandoned their prior lives for religious freedom and an opportunity to create a new social order built on their values. The other half, “adventurers,” were mostly single males seeking financial opportunity and a rapid acquisition of wealth in a new land, or trying to escape their old identities or criminal pasts. And intertwined with their complex inner struggles is the relationship with the Native Americans, and the conflicting allegiances among these groups, culminating in trials of assimilation, faith and compromise that to this day define our country.

AMERICA’S NATIONAL PARKS (Studio Hamburg Doclights/ NDR Naturfilm, Global)

In a spectacular yearlong event, National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo WILD, in partnership with the National Parks System, celebrate the 100th birthday of America’s best idea. This premium blue-chip event premieres two new hours of the most breathtaking landscapes in the world per quarter. It features stories of our nation’s most beloved animal characters along with some new faces you may have never seen. From sea to shining sea, this is where you will experience North America’s natural wonders and iconic wildlife as never before.

HISTORY OF THE WORLD … FOR NOW (Altschuler & Krinsky Works and National Geographic Studios, Global)

From the writers of HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” History of the World … For Now takes viewers on an irreverent romp through time, from the Big Bang to The Notorious B.I.G. Animation, stop-motion, original sketches and audaciously hilarious storytelling from the best comedians in Hollywood turn dull history on its head in this four-hour gut-busting event.

Nat Geo Wild 2015-2016 Upfront Slate


THE INCREDIBLE DR. POL (National Geographic Studios, U.S. only)

The lovable, house-call-making Dr. Pol keeps us wondering, what else can this senior citizen do? Nat Geo WILD’s No. 1 series returns for another season as everyone’s favorite veterinarian wields his superpowers to deliver oversized calves and diagnose lethargic llamas, goats and pigs.

OAKLEY, YUKON VET (Lucky Dog Films, Global)

We follow experienced veterinarian Dr. Michelle Oakley as she makes house calls across thousands of square miles in the Yukon, helping hundreds of species of animals, including angry muskox, a caribou with a tumor, a defensive mama lynx, a grey owl with an amputated wing and yes, wiener dogs.

K’S EXOTIC ANIMAL ER (Spectrum Field Productions, LLC, Global)

We’re headed south to get up close and personal with iguanas, pythons, prairie dogs and more! Yep, Dr. K, veterinarian to the “exotics,” gives us a front row seat as she works her magic on a colorful array of Florida’s most exotic pets, including a macaw, a chinchilla, a ferret and guinea pigs.

CESAR 911 (ITV Studios Limited, Global)

Our favorite dog trainer, Cesar Millan returns in Cesar 911. Cesar is summoned by co-workers, relatives, friends and neighbors who “blow the whistle” on a four-legged menace that has turned their lives upside down. In season three, Cesar helps comedian Jerry Seinfeld help his dachshund, Foxy, to become less anxious.


VET SCHOOL (Thinkfactory Media, U.S. Only)

Grab your textbook and stethoscope, we’re headed to vet school at Cornell University, known as the home of the top veterinary teaching hospital in the country. We tag along with the cream-of-the-crop students in veterinary medicine. Our cameras follow first- and fourth-year students as they learn to operate on, diagnose and treat animals in need.


Meet Karissa Hadden, a veterinary assistant and the founder of an animal disaster-rescue charity. We follow her and a team of dedicated meteorologists, storm chasers, animal experts and emergency personnel who have banded together to form the ultimate first responder group to rescue trapped and injured pets after natural disaters.



2014’s Big Cat Week had the most buzzworthy show in five years, as big cat tracker Boone Smith literally had a seat at the dinner table with a pride of lions in Man v. Lion. As we continue on with the mighty roar, the Sixth Annual Big Cat Week will showcase the world’s most extraordinary big cat species with a week of programming focusing on majestic big cats, including lions, tigers, cheetahs, cougars and more. An extension of the Big Cats Initiative, Big Cat Week is a long-term commitment by the National Geographic Society to stop poaching, save habitat and sound the call that big steps are needed to save big cats around the world. The first of five world premiere specials making up the week is Man v. Puma. Additional premieres will be announced at a later date.

MAN V. PUMA (Gurney Productions, Global)

In the untamed wilds of Patagonia, a population of pumas has been discovered interacting like never before. Big cat tracker Boone Smith plans to stalk the cats on foot to capture their behavior. And he’ll attempt to get closer than anyone has before as he watches a large group of pumas on a kill just a few feet away, hiding inside an invisible blind.


Who doesn’t love a cuddly puppy? Nat Geo WILD LOVES dogs, which is why we are dedicating another weekend to man’s best friend. These complex and adorable furry friends will have their time to shine in the second BarkFest weekend, which includes the “best of” dog shows in our portfolio. It’s going to be one doggy fun-filled weekend!

Sharkfest (Global)

SHARK!!! It’s one of the most feared animals in the ocean. But we’re leaving the scare tactics and mockumentaries to others. We’ll spend a week celebrating these awesome jaws with wall-to-wall shark action and fun facts about this amazing species. Explore in-depth profiles of individual sharks, including great white, hammerhead and reef sharks. With insights from shark experts, scientists and filmmakers, we get a comprehensive look at what makes sharks rule the waters.


WILD YELLOWSTONE (Brain Farm, Global)

A unique and jaw-dropping location, Yellowstone is paradise. From the producers of the critically acclaimed documentary, “The Art of Flight,” Nat Geo WILD brings you Wild Yellowstone. Our cameras capture the beauty and essence of the land and animals in a place that is like no other in the world, right here in the U.S. This Nat Geo WILD special kicks off a cross-network celebration of the Centennial of America’s National Parks, which will continue on sister network National Geographic Channel with eight hours of premiere park programming throughout the year.

WILD SRI LANKA (Terra Mater Factual Studios, Global)

This tropical island located in the Indian Ocean contains a vast array of environments, including the sea and coast, the plains and lakes and the mountains and forests. This is an intimate look at Sri Lanka and its diverse wildlife throughout the land.

WILD ATLANTIC (BBC Natural History, U.S. Only)

The Atlantic is the world’s youngest ocean. It influences everything it touches, including humpback whales giving birth in the Caribbean and killer whales rounding up giant shoals of herring in the Arctic North. Our journey reveals the mysterious creatures that reside in this waterway and its beautiful underwater plants that are like nothing else on earth.

WILD SOUTH AFRICA (Studio Hamburg Doclights/NDR, Global)

The only country where you can find desert and tropics is South Africa. It is a land of distinctive geographical features and climatic extremes, which ensure an exotic natural world always full of surprises. We’ll see “cold-loving” penguins living next to “desert-loving” ostriches. It’s an amazing landscape with a plethora of animals.

WINGS OF LIFE Narrated by Meryl Streep (Disneynature, U.S. Only)

Embark on a stunning adventure full of intrigue, drama and mesmerizing beauty. Narrated by Academy Award winner Meryl Streep, this intimate and unprecedented look at butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, bats and flowers is a celebration of life, as a third of the world’s food supply depends on these incredible — and increasingly threatened — creatures. 

DEEP BLUE Narrated by Michael Gambon (Disneynature, U.S. Only)

Dive deep underwater to explore the secret lives of sea creatures, embarking on a fascinating voyage through awesome aquatic realms where few humans have dared to go. Waddle with playful penguins, dart with lightning speed through schools of sharks, ride over stormy waves with massive whales, encounter families of polar bears and seals and come nose to nose with alien-like creatures so rare they have never before been seen on film. 

OCEANS Narrated by Pierce Brosnan (Disneynature, U.S. Only)

Journey into the depths of a wonderland filled with mystery, beauty and power. Take an unprecedented look at the lives of elusive deep-water creatures through their own eyes. Incredible state-of-the-art underwater filmmaking invites viewers to migrate with whales, swim alongside a great white shark and race with dolphins at play.