Nat Geo to Air Epic Skyscraper Climb as Live Special (Exclusive)

UPDATED: Famed free solo climber Alex Honnold will scale one of the tallest buildings in the world for a global TV event this fall.
Alex Honnold

National Geographic is back in the stunt business.

The cable network is set to document Alex Honnold's latest climb in real time. The two-hour fall event, Live Climb With Alex Honnold, will feature the 27-year-old as he attempts to be the first to scale one of the tallest buildings in the world. (For safety reasons, the identity of the building will remain under wraps until closer to the climb.)

“When Alex brought us this incredible idea, it struck at the very heart of what a National Geographic global television event should be,” noted NGC president Howard Owens, adding: “Alex is the world’s premiere free-climber, and we are excited to celebrate his adventurous spirit as he tackles this next challenge.” The event, which is being produced by Sender Films, will air live globally on NGC. A team of vertical cameramen will be hanging in position at various points along the side of the building to film Honnold as he makes his way up.

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“I've always loved climbing in all forms and this is an amazing opportunity to push my own climbing into interesting new terrain. I've admired the aesthetics of sky scrapers my whole life; it's great to be able to climb one," added Honnold, who garnered international fame for his 2008 free solo ascent of Half Dome, a 2,000-foot granite face in Yosemite National Park. His climbs have steadily increased in both difficulty and scope, landing him a profile on 60 Minutes, among other media segments.

The telecast will be padded with prerecorded segments and interviews that tell stories of Honnold’s life and accomplishments; delve into the science behind his unique ability to keep his cool in the face of such danger; and follow his preparations for the wildest building climb ever attempted.

The move comes just weeks after rival network Discovery broke ratings records with a stunt of its own: Nik Wallenda’s heavily hyped tightrope walk across the Grand Canyon. Skywire, as the special was titled, was seen by 13 million viewers, making it the net’s most watched special since 2000’s Walking With Dinosaurs. The same network earned big ratings for its Felix Baumgartner live Space Dive in October 2012, and a doc special on the same subject earned Nat Geo a news and documentary Emmy nomination earlier this summer. In an increasingly time-shifted landscape, such live event specials offer a will-he-or-won’t-he-make-it element that makes for water-cooler TV.