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Nat Geo is making good on its bid to enter the scripted landscape.
Following its success of Bill O’Reilly’s Killing limited series, the network has put drama series Blood Ivory in development and is also reteaming with Scott Rudin for an hourlong entry based on Brokeback Mountain author Annie Proulx’s novel Barkskins. Additionally, Nat Geo has picked up a documentary series about Syria and Iraq from author-journalist Sebastian Junger and his Emmy-winning producing partner Nick Quested, renewed Star Talk for a third season and ordered a six-part docuseries exploring sex in the modern age. The announcements follow news earlier Wednesday that Nat Geo would be heading to space for docuseries One Strange Rock from Darren Aronofsky.
Blood Ivory hails from FX Productions and DNA Films & TV (The Last King of Scotland, Ex Machina) and writer Joshua Brand (The Americans). The project represents the first original scripted drama series at Nat Geo as National Geographic global networks CEO Courteney Monroe has been committed to entering the space. “What we’ve seen with [Bill O’Reilly’s] Killing films is that our viewers do have an appetite for scripted, and we were able to attract people to our network who don’t typically watch it,” she told The Hollywood Reporter in a December feature. “Scripted doesn’t have to be history, but some degree of factual authenticity is really important. So you’re not going to see dragons here.”
Blood Ivory is described as a thriller that traces the massive global web of contraband animals and ivory and its connection to the trafficking of narcotics, people and weapons. The series exposes a shocking underworld that rewards greed and bloodshed while helping to fund the madness of terrorist regimes.
“National Geographic has strived to bring the horrors of the ivory trade to the forefront of the global conversation in recent years,” Monroe said in a release announcing the news. “With Blood Ivory, we are hoping to craft a smart, relevant and riveting drama series that will not only be entertaining under the guidance of some of the best storytellers working today, but also drive home the importance of ending a senseless war on the animal kingdom.”
National Geographic Fellow and National Geographic magazine contributor Bryan Christy will consult.
Barkskins, meanwhile, hails from Rudin as part of his three-year, first-look development pact with Fox Networks Group. It marks the second Nat Geo production under the pact; the company also acquired rights to Adam Higginbotham’s The Invisible Enemy: The Untold Story of the Battle of Chernobyl earlier this summer.
Here’s Nat Geo’s description of the series: “In the late 17th century, two penniless young Frenchmen, René Sel and Charles Duquet, arrive in New France. Bound to a feudal lord, a ‘seigneur,’ for three years in exchange for land, they become wood-cutters — barkskins. Rene suffers extraordinary hardship, oppressed by fear of and duty to the forest he is charged with clearing. He is forced to marry a Mi’kmaw woman and their descendants live trapped between two inimical cultures. But Duquet, crafty and ruthless, runs away from the seigneur, becomes a fur trader, then sets up a timber business. Proulx tells the stories of their descendants over three hundred years, their travels across North America, to Europe, China, New Zealand, under stunningly brutal conditions — the revenge of rivals, accidents, pestilence, Indian attacks, cultural annihilation, seizing what they can of a presumed infinite resource. Yet the modern-day characters find themselves face to face with the global quandary of possible ecological collapse.”
Scott Rudin Productions will produce the series, which will premiere globally in 171 countries and in 45 languages.
For its part, Original Sin: How Sex Changed the World is a six-part docuseries set to bow this year that is poised to feature archival footage, animation and interviews with experts in the field including Dr. Ruth. The series hails from World of Wonder. Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato, Tom Campbell and Dan Partland executive produce alongside Kevin Mohs, Alan Eyres and Tim Pastore.
For its part, the untitled documentary series is from Junger, who is best known for penning best-sellers The Perfect Storm and Restrepo. The new documentary will see Junger and Quested employ their signature verite style to immerse viewers into the complexities of the war in Syria and Iraq as they gain unprecedented access to clandestine organizations to offer a hard-hitting look at one of the most serious threats faced by the Western world.
“We strive to offer the very best content out there, and Sebastian’s experiential style of filmmaking is the very best,” said Pastore, president of original programming and production at National Geographic Channel. “We are thrilled to be involved in Sebastian’s latest project. After the unprecedented success of Restrepo for the National Geographic Channel, my only regret is that it took us six years to work together again.”
Star Talk, meanwhile, will be back for a third season with host and exec producer Neil deGrasse Tyson. The series returns in the fall and will feature guests including The Walking Dead‘s Robert Kirkman and The Big Bang Theory’s Mayim Bialik. A premiere date has not yet been announced.
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