NatGeo Preps Scripted Special, DIY Series for 2013 Upfront

Network expands in the wake of ratings rise

The National Geographic Channel is doing more scripted material this season with a two-hour TV movie called American Blackout, produced by Raw TV. The network showed off its new product in a presentation to Adweek and talked up its ratings growth, which it said has been in the double digits across the board—among households, women 25-54, women 18-49 and adults 18-49. 

And NatGeo now has more of an investment from its parent organizations (the National Geographic Society and News Corporation) to toss around, with the production values on this year's slate noticeably higher (and in more recognizable categories) than last year's collection of shows. There's The Legend of Mick Dodge, about a middle-aged Vietnam veteran who lives off the land in the Pacific Northwest; Ultimate Survival Alaska, which looks a lot like one of Discovery's pricey HD nature footage bonanzas crossed with a man vs. nature survival series; and Building Wild, about guys who build houses—tree forts, hobbit-like caves, you name it—in places in which most people would think twice about living.

CEO David Lyle sounds justifiably proud of the turnaround. The network started climbing the cable rankers in earnest when he began his tenure at the network in 2011, coming from Fox's shuttered format distribution unit, Fox Look. "We're looking at all the different ways of doing it," he said. "We're doing science, we're doing scripted, we're doing big events." The network's most significant ratings driver has been its series about survivalists, Doomsday Preppers (renewed for another season and using American Blackout as a lead-in). There's also a new series called Brain Games coming for the network, which has higher-ups excited enough that it's already been renewed for an additional 20 episodes.

And the network is now adopting strategies that Rich Goldfarb, svp of ad sales, says will make a major difference: deep product integrations (Jeep is sponsoring Ultimate Survivor Alaska), talent helping to promote brands and other tactics that have proven valuable to competitors in the unscripted space.

NatGeo Wild is also pulling out the big guns, especially with its Man vs. Cheetah special coming up at the end of its Big Cat Week—the man in question is a to-be-determined NFL player.

Up next for the network is last year's upfront crown jewel, The '80s: The Decade That Made Us. That miniseries is scheduled to debut April 14.