A truism in television is that nothing succeeds like success. Certainly that’s the case with Nat Geo and Nat Geo Wild. Coming off its best ratings year, the nets are reprising successful series, adding spin-offs and augmenting all with bigger talent and investment.
Playing off its best-rated, Emmy-nominated “Killing Lincoln,” “Killing JFK” (Nov premiere) generated the nets’ loudest hype, with comparisons to Shakespeare flowing from lead actor Rob Lowe, who plays JFK, and screenwriter Kelly Masterson. Like Lincoln, JFK is a Ridley Scott production and is based on a Bill O’Reilly-Martin Dugard best seller, although the name recognition of Kennedy’s talent roster is much greater with Lowe and Ginnifer Goodwin as Jacqueline Kennedy.
While historical accuracy was paramount in Lincoln, the TCA panel stressed that making characters in the JFK story, including Lee Harvey Oswald and wife Marina, more human will be this film’s chief contribution. “But you’ll also learn a lot of things you didn’t know” about the people and the story, director Nelson McCormick promised.
Lowe said the storytelling will be a distinguishing element, with JFK and Oswald shown in parallel tracks: Kennedy preparing to run for president in ’60 and Oswald defecting to Moscow. Lowe hopes to “inhabit not imitate” JFK, although a clip demonstrated the actor’s mastery of Kennedy’s voice. “All presidents imitate JFK’s” way of speaking, Lowe said, adding Kennedy had two voices, a public and a private one.
The reality series “Doomsday Castle” (Aug 13 premiere) focuses on an edifice in an undisclosed location in the Carolina mountains where a family is prepping for a cyber attack or a natural disaster that destroys the country’s power grid. The spin-off of Nat Geo’s “Doomsday Preppers,” Castle follows a family (surname not disclosed) led by Brent, the autocratic father, who pushes his adult and teen children to build the castle where they’ll live following a major disaster.
Seeking to dispel preppers as a fringe element, Brent said, “We’re like the pioneers, living off the land, being self-sufficient.” His children rebel a bit and argue among themselves, but as Nat Geo CEO David Lyle jokes, “Nothing brings a family together like Armageddon.”
Although “Dog Whisperer” is ending, Nat Geo Wild continues to tap into the popularity of its shows about dogs with “The Secret Life of Dogs” (premieres Aug 25). Clips showed a visually appealing piece that looks at the cuddly pets but also at their evolutionary history and some remarkable things they do.
“Jobs That Bite!” (Nov premiere) seems to be an animal-only version of the late Discovery series, “Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe.” Personable host Jeremy Brandt traverses the country working as a goat milker, lion veterinarian tech, skunk Hazmat specialist, goat herder, bee charmer, chimp handler and camel milker, among other things. Humorous like Rowe, Brandt was asked by TCA critics what prepared him to approach a lion with a rectal thermometer. “I don’t think anything can prepare you for that,” he answered.
Other shows on Nat Geo and Wild’s slate include a reprise of Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos,” a spin-off of hit series “Brain Games,” the return of “Man vs Cheetah” and “The Incredible Dr. Pol,” and a drama about society’s breakdown following a mass power outage called “American Blackout,” which taps into the Doomsday niche. A number of specials also were mentioned, including a nature film culled from 10K hours of footage and narrated by actor Daniel Craig called “One Life” (Dec premiere); “Volcano Dive: Live,” where Titanic discoverer Bob Ballard dives to an underwater volcano (Nov 17 premiere); and a live climb up a to-be-announced skyscraper by Alex Honnold, whose clip of him scaling a huge mountain without a net had TCA critics enthralled.