National Geographic Channel Brings Back Explorer, Partners with GE and Gets Funny

Science and comedy highlight Nat Geo's offerings

Guests were greeted Wednesday by a puppy named Marley, who's up for adoption, as they entered the National Geographic Channel's upfront event at swanky Má Pêche beneath the famed Momofuku Milk Bar in New York.

The network used the venue's massive floor-to-ceiling canvas walls to project high-quality video previews of its 2015-16 slate of programming. Nat Geo CEO Courteney Monroe kicked off the event—which focused on content, not ratings—for the channel available in 428 million homes worldwide.

Among the new shows is Breakthrough, the brainchild of GE chief marketing officer Beth Comstock, who enlisted the Hollywood producing team of Brian Grazer and Ron Howard for the science and innovation themed show.

"As brands are looking for new ways to get their message out, it's no longer just about the 30-second spot—you will not see any GE commercials in Breakthrough," Monroe said. "You will see other commercials in Breakthrough, so we have a very unique partnership, which is a production partnership."

Monroe added, "These types of stories could have the potential of being very dry, but we're going to tell them in a very human, very Hollywood way." 

Acclaimed actor Paul Giamatti directed several episodes of Breakthrough.

"I'm not quite sure how the hell I even got involved in this, but I'm sure glad I did," Giamatti joked. "It's shaping up to be one of the most interesting and exciting things I've ever done."

Nat Geo also announced four additional new series:

  • 50 States of Survival pairs a survival savant, alternative engineer and gadget guru as they compete in location-based challenges.
  • Primal Survival follows Hazen Audel as he completes a series of survival missions in remote places across the globe.
  • The Great Human Race follows adventurers Bill Schindler and Cat Bigney for 35,000 miles as they complete difficult challenges while dealing with obstacles our ancestors had to overcome.
  • The Yard shows the behind-the-scenes challenges shipbuilders face to get boats ready for launch. 

Returning Series include Life Below Zero, Drugs, Inc., Wicked Tuna, Live Free or Die, Brain Games and StarTalk. 

Explorer, the longest-running documentary series on cable TV, returns after a five-year hiatus with with 12 new episodes. Nat Geo also will dive into comedy with the miniseries History of the World… For Now. The show, from the writers of HBO's Silicon Valley, will use animation and comedy for a four-hour look at all the important events that have shaped our history, from the big bang to Notorious B.I.G.

Nat Geo president of original programing Tim Pastore said he's looking forward to two things in particular this year: "Bringing back Explorer—because, clearly, it is a crown jewel of the network. And our movement into the big, comedic event. I think that will open up new doors and offer our audience something fresh." 

"Hopefully it will trigger a broader audience and bring in new, fresh viewers," Pastore added.

Nat Geo WILD, the 5-year-old sister network that focuses on all things animals, also announced its slate of shows:

  • The Incredible Dr. Pol, Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet, Dr. K's Exotic Animal ER and Cesar 911 will all return for another season.
  • Cesar 911 has a special episode scheduled in which Jerry Seinfeld needs Cesar to help calm his anxious dachshund, Foxy.
  • Vet School and Animal Storm Squad are new series set to debut. 
  • Big Cat Week, Barkfest II and Sharkfest were announced as multi-day events.
  • Destination WILD Natural History Specials include Wild Yellowstone, Wild Sri Lanka, Wild Atlantic, Wild South Africa, Wings of Life, Deep Blue and Oceans. Meryl Streep, Michael Gambon and Pierce Brosnan, respectively, narrate the last three specials.