Nat Geo Reveals Robust Upfront Slate, Including Bill O'Reilly's 'Killing Jesus' Miniseries

Wesley Mann
Bill O'Reilly

Coming off of its highest-rated year ever, the network orders six new series and renews 10 current shows including "Brain Games," "Wicked Tuna" and "Life Below Zero."

NEW YORK -- Touting a turnaround marked by its most-watched year in network history, the National Geographic Channel held its first upfront presentation for advertisers and media in New York on Wednesday. CEO David Lyle opened the presentation at the High Line Hotel by noting that six of the network's top 10 shows in its 17-year history premiered during 2013, including hit science series Brain Games.

"We have changed the channel in a significant way in the past two years," added NGC president Howard T. Owens. "Two years ago we had one returning series (Alaska State Troopers) that was franchise-able, now we're announcing 10 returning series."

In addition to the aforementioned Brain Games and Alaska State Troopers, NGC has given second-season pickups to Wicked Tuna, The Legend of Mick Dodge, Ultimate Survival Alaska, None of the Above, Life Below Zero, Drugs Inc. and Building Wild.

Owens noted that two years ago the network had no recognizable faces with the exception of Dog Whisperer's Cesar Millan (whose long-running show helped to launch spinoff network Nat Geo WILD). In attendance at the network's presentation were Brian Games host Jason Silva, Life Below Zero's Sue Aikens, Captain Dave Carraro from Wicked Tuna and Building Wild's Paulie DiMeo and Pat Bakaitis.

STORY: The Complete Guide to TV Pilots 2014

Building on the network's three programming pillars of "smartertainment," action-adventure and big-scale event specials, National Geographic Channel announced two new science series (Crowd Control, which uses experiments to curate social behavior, and You Can't Lick Your Elbow, a Brain Games for the body hosted by CBS Sports NFL analyst Tony Gonzalez) and four action-adventure series (Cabin Fever; Meat Heads, hosted by Los Angeles chef and meat lover Eric Greenspan; The Primitives, about people who drop off the grid and live off the land; and Remote Survival, where contestants must find their way out of the wilderness with the help of a survival expert who communicates with them remotely via earpiece).

Nat Geo also will bow five event specials during the 2014-15 season including a miniseries version of Bill O'Reilly's Killing Jesus from executive producer Ridley Scott; filmmaker John Hoffman's The Great American Sleep Project, which examines the shocking life-threatening consequences of not getting enough sleep; and Eat: The Story of Food, a crossplatform initiative with the National Geographic Society that will explore the origins of America's vast culinary landscape.

And this summer, Nat Geo will bow The 90s, a follow-up to its The 80s miniseries that looks at the decade of Friends, O.J. Simpson and the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky affair; and The War Generals, which profiles the officers who presided over America's wars from Vietnam to Afghanistan.

"No one does inside access like National Geographic Channel," noted Owens before showing a clip from Generals that included interviews with Colin Powell, David Petraeus, who resigned as CIA director in 2012 after admitting to an extramarital affair with his biographer, and Stanley McChrystal, who stepped down as commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan in 2010 after making unflattering remarks about the Obama administration, and especially Vice President Joe Biden, in a Rolling Stone profile.

In the clip, McChrystal, dressed in civvies, asks: "What just happened? My career just ended and everything that I believed was called into question."