'Genius' Renewed as Nat Geo Adds Docuseries From Jay Z, Katie Couric

The cable network's upfront slate also includes a new digital initiative.
'Genius'

Genius is off to a smart start at National Geographic.

The cable network has handed out an early second-season renewal to its first scripted drama as part of its upfront slate. The pickup for the anthology comes days ahead of its April 25 series debut. The theme of the sophomore run will be unveiled June 20 during the show's season finale.

Nat Geo's upfront slate also includes docuseries Race With Jay Z as well as a new one from Katie Couric as the joint venture between Nat Geo and Fox also unveiled a new digital initiative, Further Community, to partner with influencers for original stories about travel, culture, science, innovation and wildlife. Key participants include photojournalists Cory Richards, David Guttenfelder and Ami Vitale as well as publishing partners the Skimm, Atlas Obscura and Mashable.

"National Geographic Partners is building accelerating momentum as we continue to innovate at the forefront of the storytelling frontier — from scripted to live, social leadership to 360-degree experiences, we are doubling down on delivering stories that matter, stories that growing millions of consumers are connecting with across devices and platforms,” said National Geographic Partners CEO Declan Moore. “We’ve strengthened our brand definition of storytelling in the premium space and we’re relentlessly looking for new ways to connect with consumers.”

Race With Jay Z marks the third docuseries from the rapper-producer and The Weinstein Co. and first outside of Spike/Paramount Network. The project will explore how race has become the most pressing issue in the nation in the wake of the presidential election. (Jay Z and TWC recently sold a Trayvon Martin docuseries to Paramount Network following the success of their first outing, Time: The Kalief Broder Story.)

"With our shift to big, bold, premium programming, National Geographic has now become a port-of-call for the world’s best storytellers as evidenced by the creative talent behind our upfront slate,” said Nat Geo CEO Courteney Monroe. "They share our relentless passion for telling stories that breakthrough and matter and our firm belief that entertaining and smart are not mutually exclusive." 

The untitled Couric docuseries is a follow-up to Gender Revolution and explores some of the most taboo, political and contentious topics as she travels across America to unpack misunderstandings and inspire conversation around subjects including religion, mental health, sexuality, money and more over six episodes.

"We are distinguishing National Geographic in the marketplace by solidifying our standing as a premier media company with the authenticity and purpose to reach and connect with our broad audience,” Nat Geo exec vp sales Brendan Ripp said. “We are telling stories from a human angle that will help tap into passion, drive, curiosity and innovation, bringing us closer to our readers, users and viewers, and allowing for deeper partnership experiences.”

Here's a look at the remainder of Nat Geo's upfront slate:

Unscripted series

The Story of Us With Morgan Freeman (Revelations Entertainment)

The Story of Us With Morgan Freeman uncovers the fundamental forces that keep our societies together and reveals the common humanity that lies inside each one of us. Morgan Freeman goes on a global journal to meet people from all cultures whose lives are shaped in surprising ways by different fundamental primal forces from love, belief and power to war & peace, rebellion and freedom.

American High School (All3 Media International America)

Filmed over the course of one year at a majority African-American high school in South Carolina, this series follows students as they prepare for the next step in life. From Friday night football games to dates at the diner, senior prom and graduation, the show captures life-changing moments throughout these teenagers’ journey to adulthood. American High School depicts high school as you’ve never seen it before with unique insight into how it really feels to be young and black in America today.

One Strange Rock (Nutopia and Protozoa Pictures)

National Geographic Channel and filmmaker Darren Aronofsky join forces on an epic, cinematic event series, One Strange Rock, a mind-bending thrilling journey that explores the fragility and wonder of Planet Earth, one of the strangest, most unique places in the entire universe. This 10-part series boasts 100 weeks of filming around the world and from outer space, using innovative micro- and macro-photography technology to bring cameras where they’ve never been before.

Chain of Command (National Geographic Studios)

In this new eight-part documentary series, Chain of Command documents the new mission in Afghanistan as it unfolds over one full year. Cameras capture drama in real time with a lens on the Pentagon with Gen. Joe Dunford and the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the battlefield with special operations troops.

Dian Fossey: Secrets in the Mist (Tigress Productions)

From Academy Award-winning executive producer James Marsh (Man on Wire, The Theory of Everything) and Tigress Productions, part of Endemol Shine Group, the three-part special Dian Fossey: Secrets in the Mist will honor the life and groundbreaking legacy of gorilla researcher Dian Fossey. Sigourney Weaver, nominated for an Academy Award and winner of a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Fossey in the 1988 film Gorillas in the Mist, will narrate. With exclusive access to over 40 hours of rare and previously unseen film footage of Fossey and her pioneering research with gorillas, the series will reveal new insights into her life and work.

Feature Docs

Okavango (National Geographic Society)

Like a beating heart, the flow of the Okavango River pumps life into southern Africa. The annual great flood carries water from the distant highlands of Angola, through Namibia and into the Okavango Delta, bringing a migration of Africa’s most iconic species along with it. However, this untouched water is under siege due to increasing pressures put on it by human activity to its north. Okavango reveals an intimate look at a group of individuals that are taking the very pulse of Africa’s last remaining wetland wilderness. Follow National Geographic explorer Steve Boyes as he leads a 1,500-mile expedition, tracing the water in Botswana’s Okavango Delta from its source in the Angolan highlands in hopes to get an understanding of the state of health of the river and what we can do to protect this pristine wilderness for future generations.

Princess Diana: The Lost Tapes (1895 Films)

Princess Diana lived her life in front of the cameras. Now, on the 20th anniversary of her untimely death in 1997, revisit her emotional journey from childhood through her rocky marriage to Prince Charles and subsequent emergence as the popular ‘People’s Princess.’ From Peabody award-winning producer Tom Jennings, this touching tribute relies solely on archival footage and recordings to explore her profound impact on the world and on the future of Britain’s monarchy.

Jane (National Geographic Studios & Public Road Productions)

Brett Morgen, “the leading revolutionary of American documentary film,” according to The Wall Street Journal, will direct, produce and write the untitled feature biopic about the world’s most beloved primatologist — Dr. Jane Goodall. Known for the Emmy-nominated documentary Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck and the Academy Award-nominated movie On the Ropes, the visionary director will draw on recently rediscovered archive film from Dr. Goodall’s early research at Gombe National Park in Tanzania during the 1960s. More than 250 hours of 16mm film have been uncovered to create a compelling and intimate story about how revolutionary research turned this maverick into one of the legends of modern science.

Returning series

Genius Season 2: (Imagine Entertainment, OddLot Entertainment, Fox 21 Television Studios)

Scripted

Season one of the scripted anthology series Genius focused on the life of the 20th century icon Albert Einstein. The global event series explores both the brilliant artist’s professional achievements and the complex untold narrative of his personal life. And now, the global anthology series has been officially renewed for a second season, with the season-two Genius set to be unveiled in the season-one finale on June 20.

MARS Season 2 (Imagine Entertainment and RadicalMedia)

Of all the planets in our solar system, none has captured our collective imagination like Mars. Last season, viewers followed the first human mission to Mars, set in 2033, as the crew struggled to safely land on and create an initial settlement. In season two, we return to Mars years later once the astronauts have established a full-fledged colony. But by this point, the International Mars Science Foundation (IMSF) — a multi-government sponsored space agency — cannot continue to solely finance the Mars expedition, so the doors of opportunity have swung wide open to the private sector. Tensions rise among original mission-driven scientists and miners sent by a for-profit corporation. Throughout six intriguing episodes, MARS examines the impact that humans have on the Red Planet — and the impact it has on us. Tracing the thrilling quest to make Mars home, National Geographic blends cinema-quality scripted drama set in the future with documentary sequences that features current space-technology pioneers.

Explorer (National Geographic Studios)

National Geographic’s long-running, critically acclaimed series Explorer has represented the best of the network for more than three decades. In 2016, Explorer returned as a weekly series in a newly reimagined format, mixing intrepid field pieces, roundtable discussions and in-depth interviews in a continuation of the show’s legacy of pushing the boundaries of journalism. The series opens a window on hidden parts of the world, unlocking mysteries both ancient and modern, to investigate stories of science, nature and culture.

Life Below Zero Season 5 (BBC Worldwide)

Unscripted

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 break up. Each day brings snow and dropping temperatures, forcing even the most seasoned bush dwellers to prepare before the land freezes around them. With resources dwindling and daylight fading, they must risk it all to defend their chosen life in the wilds of the Alaskan bush. 

StarTalk Season 3 (Curved Light Productions and National Geographic Studios)

Unscripted

National Geographic’s two-time Emmy-nominated series StarTalk with Neil deGrasse Tyson returns this fall with 20 all-new episodes. StarTalk, the hourlong, weekly, science-driven talk-show series, is derived from Tyson’s popular podcast of the same name. Each television episode features an intimate interview between Tyson and a guest hewn from pop culture, politics or news, discussing how science and technology have affected their lives and careers. The new season will include Hidden Figures star Janelle Monáe and director Ted Melfi, cyclist Lance Armstrong, basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and conservationist Fabien Cousteau.

Wicked Tuna & Wicked Tuna Outer Banks (Pilgrim Media Group)

Unscripted

National Geographic Channels’ hit series Wicked Tuna is back with an all-new season of drama on the high seas. The series follows a group of salty commercial fishermen from the nation’s oldest seaport, Gloucester, Mass., who make their living through rod-and-reel fishing in pursuit of the bluefin tuna. One catch can bring in as much as $20,000, and with that much money on the line, every captain is fighting to be the best in the fleet. The captains will battle the bluefin, the elements and each other, and at the end of the season, one boat will come out on top. And later this year, the popular spinoff Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks will return. Now entering its fourth season, Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks follows the action as the top captains in Gloucester travel south to catch bluefin in the dangerous waters off the coast of North Carolina. In addition to the unpredictable, treacherous conditions, the Gloucester captains will have to contend with competition from experienced locals who will stop at nothing to beat them to the catch. 

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