Geoff Daniels, the global executive VP and general manager of Nat Geo WILD, tells TV Real about the lineup for the eighth annual Big Cat Week and why the programming event resonates with viewers worldwide.
If lions are king of the jungle, Nat Geo WILD takes the throne when it comes to showcasing them and other majestic felines through its yearly Big Cat Week programming stunt. The eighth annual Big Cat Week kicks off on Nat Geo WILD on Sunday, December 10, in the U.S. and will also premiere globally in 140 countries and 37 languages. This year, it will even feature a live two-hour broadcast of Safari LIVE with an interactive social media component.
Geoff Daniels, the global executive VP and general manager of Nat Geo WILD, tells TV Real that the motivation behind Big Cat Week is to showcase the “most stunning and inspiring films we can make about these magnificent creatures in the hopes of moving audiences around the world to join us in working to protect the big cats—like lions, cheetahs, jaguars, tigers and leopards—at a time when they’ve never been at greater risk.” In fact, the programming event is an extension of the Big Cats Initiative, a long-term commitment by the National Geographic Society to stop the decline of large felines in the wild.
“Our commitment to big cats is year-round, so we’re always looking to develop and deliver the kind of unique and epic stories that have been the hallmark of National Geographic for decades,” Daniels says of how the programming lineup for Big Cat Week comes to be each year. He cites long-standing relationships with top explorers and filmmakers as key to generating the programming.
According to Daniels, the lineup is so unique this year that it is “impossible to pick a favorite,” and he promises that no matter the program, viewers will be “blown away by the action and totally hooked by the dramas that unfold.” He touts the “level of intimate, intense, highly cinematic storytelling” the shows deliver and the new camera technologies used to bring big cats to audiences at home.
One of the specials Nat Geo WILD is showcasing this year is Safari LIVE. Slated for December 14, the show takes viewers back to South Africa and Kenya for a special two-hour broadcast. Safari LIVE gets up-close-and-personal with lion prides, cheetahs, leopards, hyenas, herds of elephants and wildebeest, and more. Fans can chat with the guides in real-time using the hashtag #safarilive.
“In my mind, it’s the most ambitious and innovative wildlife experience online and on air anyone has ever done,” Daniels says of Safari LIVE. “And yes, the whole show is 100 percent live! We are beaming our audience into two of the most iconic reserves in Africa—South Africa’s Kruger National Park and Kenya’s Maasai Mara—for real-time safari drives where our viewers ride alongside expert guides and are able to interact with them in real-time via Twitter.”
Daniels explains that the two-hour broadcast premiering during Big Cat Week will “focus on bringing your family right into the middle of prides of lions, to coalitions of cheetahs and alongside leopards. And because it’s completely live, you never know what incredible thing might happen next. It’s exactly like being on an African safari yourself, but in some ways better because we have such unique access, so many great locations and vantage points that you would never get in person. Plus, it’s a lot less expensive,” he quips.
Fans can continue to engage with Big Cat Week online. “Just search #SavageCuties to see our latest partnership with Mashable,” Daniels says. “We also have a host of different Facebook Live videos with Nat Geo Big Cat Explorers across National Geographic’s accounts, and we’re doing a fun event called ‘Little Cats Watching Big Cats’ as part of a Big Cats Initiative donation drive. Not to mention, Safari LIVE streams every day, twice daily.”
Another programming highlight this year is Jaguar vs. Croc, in which National Geographic photographer Steve Winter and cameraman Bertie Gregory capture rarely seen footage of jaguars in the Pantanal of Brazil. The program, premiering on December 10, tracks a mother jaguar as she teaches her cub survival skills, and a male jaguar facing off with a six-foot caiman.
On December 11, veteran wildlife filmmaker Bob Poole follows a cheetah mother and her cubs in Man Among Cheetahs, while December 12 will see the premiere of The World’s Most Famous Tiger. The show tells the story of Machli, one of the most well-known tigresses in the world, who ruled her territory in Western India’s Ranthambore National Park. Lion Kingdom, meanwhile, drops on December 13. Viewers will look on as three lion prides battle each other for territory, food and power along the Mwagusi River in Tanzania.
The week rounds out with the season finale of Savage Kingdom: Uprising on December 15. In the episode, the Marsh Pride’s aging king, Sekekama, leads his family into hostile territory in an effort to save them from a drought.
Coordinating Big Cat Week year after year is “a little bit like running air traffic control over Chicago or London, so you really need the entire organization’s commitment and focus to pull it off,” Daniels explains. “Fortunately, everyone at National Geographic and 21st Century Fox is so passionate about this cause that we all keep pushing the creative limits to bring viewers powerful programming that continues to entertain and inspire.”
The programming event continues to resonate worldwide as people are fascinated with the power and beauty of these predators, “And yet, in a way, there is also something incredibly relatable as we witness their daily struggles for survival and come to see these animals as individuals, as characters, whose stories are as unique and unpredictable as the breathtaking and brutal worlds they live in,” Daniels says.