National Geographic Showcases ‘Genius,’ Its First Scripted Anthology Series at Its Upfront Event

The show centers on the life of Albert Einstein

Genius is based on newly discovered personal letters from Albert Einstein.
Photo: National Geographic/DusanMartincek

As a way of strengthening its bond with both its audience and with the advertiser community at large, National Geographic is moving beyond its famed yellow border and going “further” in 2017. “Further” is part of a total Global rebrand that was set in motion last year with the genre-busting part-scripted/part-docuseries Mars, which has been picked up for a second season.

“Last year when the partnership was created, we repositioned ourselves as a brand that will go ‘further.’ Not only are we pushing our brand further, but we’re also pushing our consumers further, and we’re going to partner with the advertising community in a way that really hasn’t been done before,” National Geographic evp of sales and partnerships Brendan Ripp told Adweek. “This brand from its inception 129 years ago has always had a sense of purpose [about] giving back to the planet, and we want to continue that.”

Based on its desire to go further, it’s apropos that Nat Geo referred to last night’s presentation to the ad community as a “Further Front.” The event featured high-profile figures affiliated with the network’s programming slate, including Neil DeGrasse Tyson, as well as Morgan Freeman and Kate Bosworth, the two of whom will be starring in separate upcoming Nat Geo original series.

Speaking of programming, Brian Grazer and Ron Howard of Imagine Entertainment are executive producers for season one of the network’s first fully scripted series, Genius, which premieres on Tuesday, April 25. Chapter 1 of the anthology series about the world’s top innovators is all about Albert Einstein, and is based on Walter Isaacson’s book, Einstein: His Life and Universe. Howard also directed the series premiere.

Photo: National Geographic/DusanMartincek

National Geographic has been doing a full-court marketing press in advance of the series premiere of Genius, which includes signs that can currently be seen all over New York’s Grand Central Station. Readers might also recall Nat Geo’s Genius Super Bowl ad that aired right after the conclusion of Lady Gaga’s halftime performance.

The network is so confident in the series that it announced on Wednesday night that it has already been greenlit for a second season.

Genius also represents the first collaboration between Nat Geo and its corporate sibling, cable/digital scripted studio Fox 21 TV Studios.

The network showed footage from other upcoming series, including the cinematic docuseries The Strange Rock, which is in the midst of filming for a whopping 100 weeks around the world and in outer space, “using micro- and macro-photography technology and bringing cameras where they’ve never been before.”

Nat Geo also introduced two military-themed series last night. The first was The Long Road Home, a scripted military drama starring Kate Bosworth and based on the book of the same name penned by ABC News’s Martha Raddatz. Chain of Command is a partnership between Nat Geo and the Pentagon to cover the U.S.’s military mission in Afghanistan for a year, and “how the U.S. is combating global extremism.” This limited docuseries is still shooting.

Then there’s The Story of Us With Morgan Freeman, an expansion of Freeman’s The Story of God franchise on Nat Geo. Freeman will once again take viewers on a global journey to meet people from different cultures whose lives are shaped in surprising ways by different fundamental forces, this time exploring themes that unite us all. Each of the six hour-long episodes will explore a single fundamental force or topic. The series will premiere this fall.

There’s also a six-part docuseries from Katie Couric called Gender Revolution, which premieres on Nat Geo next year.

“What we’re really excited to convey to the marketplace is how far we have come in becoming the world’s leading destination for premium content around science, adventure and exploration,” National Geographic Global Networks chief executive officer Courteney Monroe told Adweek. “We really pivoted this past year in terms of our programming strategy, and it’s a strategy that’s based on quality and distinctiveness. This is creatively ambitious, bigger, bolder more audacious programming that’s being produced with an unbelievable roster of talent.”

Photo: National Geographic/Nick Jordan

One of the most notable speakers of the evening was 21st Century Fox co-chairman James Murdoch, who has been touting the National Geographic television brand as a major growth priority for some time now. Murdoch’s appearance at the event comes just hours after the company he helps run shook up the media landscape by letting go of one of its company’s most important assets in former Fox News Channel host Bill O’Reilly.

Another point of controversy at the parent company is that Fox Networks Group, which oversees National Geographic Global Networks, still hasn’t named an ad sales chief to replace Toby Byrne, who exited the company in September.

Issues with the parent company don’t seem to be stopping National Geographic from making a strong pitch to the advertising community, while continuing to stress the importance of giving back.

“People don’t realize that we’re truly dedicated to a sense of purpose, and that a mission of our brand is to give 27 percent of every single dollar the partnership generates back to the society to fund platforms and programs to preserve the planet,” Ripp said.