TV Upfronts: Nat Geo Bets on Live and Event Series

MARS miniseries -National Geographic Channel- H 2016
Courtesy of National Geographic Channel/Shutterstock

New network chief Courteney Monroe unveils Ron Howard's and Brian Grazer's scripted-documentary hybrid 'Mars' and expansion of staple 'Explorer' and a live wildlife series.

National Geographic Channel rolled out an upfront slate Tuesday heavy on visually ambitious event series, including Ron Howard's and Brian Grazer’s six-part miniseries Mars.

Blending special effects scripted elements with traditional documentary, including interviews with scientists and innovators, the NatGeo miniseries will bow in the fall across the network’s channels in 171 countries. The scripted portion will focus on two fictional characters: Asian-American twins who as young girls dream of becoming astronauts. Only one of them ultimately makes the journey to Mars.

The planet has been a fascination of storytellers for some time because it has conditions suitable for life in the past. And NASA is currently developing the capabilities needed to send humans to Mars by the 2030s.

Mexican filmmaker Everardo Gout (Days of Grace) will direct the scripted portions, with principal photography set to begin this spring in Budapest and Morocco.

With this first upfront under president Courteney Monroe, who was elevated last November from CMO, the slate is in keeping with Monroe’s promise to stress “quality over quantity” at the network, which last fall got a $725 million capital infusion from 21st Century Fox, which owns the network along with the National Geographic Society.

Other highlights for the upcoming season: an expansion of the network’s staple series Explorer, as a one-hour, weekly magazine-talk hybrid hosted by British TV and radio presenter Richard Bacon that blends field packages with commentary from celebrity guests, experts and correspondents to find a fresh take on topics from ISIS to climate change; a six-part investigative series Lawless Oceans, which follows special investigator Karsten von Hoesslin as he attempts to solve the mystery of a murder at sea caught on video; Chain of Command, a 10-part series that promises inside access to the U.S. military’s mission in Afghanistan as it unfolds over one full year; and Earth Live!, a nature documentary broadcast live from locations across all seven continents.