The U.S. factual networks revealed a slew of new highlights during the Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour last week, touting everything from live events to big-name presenters to buzzy wildlife docs.
Discovery Channel, for one, unveiled Serengeti, which comes from American Idol creator Simon Fuller and multi-award-winning wildlife filmmaker John Downer. The landmark series follows the stories of a cast of African wildlife over the course of a year, showcasing the dramatic moments that make each day of survival on the Serengeti a feat.
The channel is also planning the live two-hour multiplatform event Expedition Unknown: Egypt Live (working title). The programming stunt will be hosted by adventurer and explorer Josh Gates, who will be joined by Egyptologist Dr. Zahi Hawass and Mostafa Waziri, the secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt. It promises viewers a look inside the inner chambers of an excavation site, where archeologists recently uncovered a network of vertical shafts leading to an underground network of tunnels and tombs with 40 mummies believed to be part of the noble elite. Sure to be a highlight, there is a mysterious limestone sarcophagus that was found buried deep within the complex of chambers, and the identity of the mummy inside has been a mystery for 3,000 years—possibly until now.
National Geographic, meanwhile, revealed itself as the new home of Running Wild with Bear Grylls (which had been airing on NBC). Nat Geo already has a relationship with the well-known adventurer, as he serves as host and narrator of the network’s upcoming natural-history series Hostile Planet.
National Geographic is ramping up its natural-history programming as well. Among the additions to the lineup are America, a six-episode series that paints a portrait of contemporary America, and Planet of the Whales, which will be filmed for more than two and a half years, in 24 locations, to reveal the life of five different whale species.
Also looking to make some noise in the live space, Nat Geo is bringing back Yellowstone Live. The live broadcast that garnered 13 million viewers in its debut last summer will return to the nation’s most cherished national park this June. The four-night live event promises to showcase even more of the wildlife and vistas the greater Yellowstone ecosystem has to offer.
Nat Geo has teamed up with Procter & Gamble on Activate, a new multiplatform storytelling partnership and six-part documentary series. Premiering globally this fall on National Geographic in 172 countries and 43 languages, the Activate series will focus on extreme poverty, inequality and sustainability issues to mobilize global citizens to drive meaningful and lasting change. It will be bolstered by custom content distributed across National Geographic’s social, digital, linear and print channels. The series will feature celebrity activists such as Uzo Aduba, Rachel Brosnahan, Hugh Jackman, Gayle King, Usher and Pharrell Williams.
Nat Geo WILD is also making moves in the live space, with Animal ER Live, from Live PD creators Big Fish Entertainment. The four-week live event series will follow animal emergencies in real time at animal hospitals and mobile vet emergency units across the country while being anchored by a team of veterinary experts from a studio in New York City.
Riding high on the wave of interest in true-crime programming, Investigation Discovery (ID) has lined up The Atlanta Child Murders, a special that revisits a case from 1979 when the remains of two 14-year-old boys were found in Atlanta. What was uncovered in 23 months was a total of 29 African-American children stolen from their families and murdered. Multiple suspicions led nowhere, and decades later, no person has been tried for these murders, and the killer has never been confirmed.
Over on Animal Planet, Evan Goes Wild features Dr. Evan Antin, voted the “sexiest veterinarian alive” by People magazine, in his first TV series, as he chases his wildlife bucket list: swimming alongside humpback whales in Tahiti, exploring caves with bats and snakes in the Philippines and tangling with crocs in the Yucatan.
Travel Channel highlighted the new series Portals to Hell, featuring TV personality and executive producer Jack Osbourne and paranormal researcher and investigator Katrina Weidman, who join forces to explore locations with sordid pasts and dark histories that are especially sinister and purported to be doorways to the spirit underworld. The channel has also added to its lineup Mission Declassified, featuring investigative reporter Christof Putzel, who reveals new information from an unsolved case that takes him on an adventure into the past. Episodes include “Escape from Alcatraz,” “The Hunt for DB Cooper,” “The Lindbergh Kidnapping” and others. Following the closure of H2, Travel Channel is reviving America Unearthed, in which forensic geologist Scott Wolter examines artifacts and strange finds to discover the secrets of the country’s history.
Food Network has a new family-centric culinary competition, Family Food Showdown, with host Valerie Bertinelli. Meanwhile, HGTV is continuing with its strategy of combining charismatic real estate/renovation experts and homeowners with relatable property challenges. HGTV stars Christina Anstead (Christina on the Coast), Alison Victoria (Windy City Rehab) and David Bromstad (My Lottery Dream Home) were joined on stage at the TCA presentation by the network’s newest home-renovation expert, New Kids on the Block singer Jonathan Knight (Farmhouse Fixer, a pilot), for a panel discussion about identifying and seizing new on-camera career opportunities.
TLC is bringing back one of the network’s most notable stars: Kate Gosselin, who audiences came to know from the reality show Jon & Kate Plus 8. The single mom of eight is returning to TV with Kate Plus Date, which will follow her quest to find love.
While there’s much buzz about all the high-quality scripted flooding TV screens today, there’s plenty on the roster of factual fare for U.S. viewers to get excited about.