National Geographic to Air First Live Brain Surgery on TV (Exclusive)

Hosted by Bryant Gumbel, the two-hour event will take viewers inside an awake deep brain stimulation surgery via handheld and robotic cameras in the operating room.
Courtesy of National Geographic Channel

National Geographic Channel is going where U.S. television has never been before.

The network will air the first-ever live brain surgery later this month, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

The two-hour event, titled Brain Surgery Live with Mental Floss, will give viewers an up-close look at an awake deep brain stimulation surgery. Filming will take place via two handheld cameras well as several robotic cameras with inputs directly in the doctors' surgical equipment, allowing viewers to see live images as the brain is being operated on in real time. The special will mix live coverage from the operating room at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio with pre-produced informative packages on the brain.

Used to treat essential tremor and Parkinson's disease, DBS surgery is an elective procedure in which an opening is made in the skull to access the brain. The patient is fully awake and able to speak while the brain is being operated on, which allows neurologists to know if they've pinpointed the affected area of the brain. Because of the delicacy of the procedure, it is only performed at select medical centers such as UH Case Medical Center, which helped to develop the surgical theater 3D surgical simulator that is used to map out the surgery and will be featured in the broadcast.

Bryant Gumbel will host Brain Surgery Live with commentary from neurosurgeon Dr. Rahul Jandial and neuroscientist and podcast host Cara Santa Maria. The event will air on Sunday, Oct. 25 on the National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo Mundo and in 171 countries and 45 different languages. The show will be broadcast live on both the East Coast (9 p.m. ET) and West Coast (6 p.m. PT), and in countries including the United Kingdom, Latin America, France, Germany, Turkey, Australia and select parts of Asia. Other regions will air live to tape.

Emmy-winning director Joe Michaels (the Today show) and veteran news producer Robert Wheelock (Good Morning America) will helm the live broadcast, which is being produced by Leftfield Pictures. Wheelock will executive produce with Leftfield Pictures' Brent Montgomery, David George, Shawn Witt, Gretchen Palek and Scott Miller, Mental Floss' Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur, and National Geographic Channels' Char Serwa and Mike J. Miller.

"We continue to celebrate the brain, inspiring and feeding viewers’ wonder and curiosity about the most complex and mysterious organ in the human body," said Tim Pastore, National Geographic Channel president of original programming and production, in a statement. "We’re offering a real-time look into the center of a living brain that we hope will illuminate and teach, as well as tell a story that is unforgettable."

Added George: "It’s extremely gratifying to offer National Geographic viewers around the world the chance to share in a life-changing medical experience, as it is happening, to highlight the extraordinary talent and commitment of a renowned medical team and institution, and to illuminate the wonders and complexities of the human brain."

The neurosurgerical team will include Dr. Jonathan Miller, UH Case Medical Center's director of the Center for Functional and Restorative Neurosurgery; Dr. Benjamin Walter, director of the Parkinson’s & Movement Disorders Center and medical director of UH Case Medical Center's Deep Brain Stimulation Program; and neurosurgeon Dr. Jennifer Sweet. The patient will be identified closer to the live taping after undergoing extensive screening and testing.

"By partnering with National Geographic and Mental Floss, two incredible brands with a passion for exploring science, we hope to demystify brain surgery, diminishing the fear and stigma of this operation," said Miller. "We hope that this live broadcast of a deep brain stimulation surgery will educate viewers and offer a comprehensive look at this cutting-edge surgery."

The event is one part of National Geographic Channel's aggressive original programming push, which increasingly will focus on high-end fare. The network also has the upcoming anthology series Breakthrough, which hails from Imagine Entertainment's Ron Howard and Brian Grazer and focuses on subjects including brain science. More recently, the network picked up a second season of the climate change docuseries Years of Living Dangerously. Nat Geo is moving further into new territories like late-night (Neil deGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk) and scripted programming (the period miniseries Saints & Strangers) as well.

Brain Surgery Live with Mental Floss premieres live on Sunday, Oct. 25 at 6 p.m. PT/9 p.m. ET on National Geographic Channel.

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