Nat Geo Launches Breakthrough – and for Hollywood’s Elite, It’s Personal

National Geographic Channel has partnered with GE for Breakthrough, an anthology series premiering November 1 that focuses on leading scientists and their cutting-edge innovations, in episodes helmed by the likes of Ron Howard, Angela Bassett, Peter Berg and Brett Ratner. Nat Geo CEO Courteney Monroe talks about the unique collaboration, and what it’s like to work with some of Hollywood’s most elite directors.Courtney Monroe

Cynsiders: How did the partnership with GE come about?

Courteney Monroe: The idea for the series was sparked by a conversation between Executive Producer Brian Grazer and GE’s Vice Chair Beth Comstock. They were talking about curiosity (a favorite topic for both of them) — how it’s nurtured and what it leads to — and the idea for the series was born.

Cynsiders: Is GE a sponsor of the series? What is their participation?

Monroe: Breakthrough is a really unique, hybrid model for both Nat Geo and GE in that GE is not an advertiser or sponsor. GE is an equal production partner — in all ways. We’re producing it together. We’re funding the production together. They worked hand in hand with us, as well as Imagine Entertainment and Asylum Entertainment, to develop the themes, craft the stories and crystalize the intersection between science and tech, and the impact it has on the human race.

Cynsiders: Did you approach the directors, or did they come to you?

Monroe: Brian Grazer and Ron Howard are two of the most influential filmmakers in the industry, with lots of talented friends. They made the initial outreach to the directors. And the directors picked topics that most resonated with them — topics that they felt most passionate about. For instance, the brain has always fascinated Brett Ratner, who directed the Decoding the Brain episode, but what also drew him to this topic was his own personal experience going through brain research when his grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, something he openly discussed at TCA this summer.

Asylum Entertainment

Asylum Entertainment

Cynsiders: How was it decided who would participate — did you start with the director and determine subject matter, or decide on the topic and then pick a director?

Monroe: We started out by developing the subject matter first — brain science, energy, water, aging, pandemics and cyborg technology. They seem not only to be hot and important topics in the world right now, but also topics where incredible advances are being made in various fields. Then, Brian and Ron, working with the talented team at Asylum, did outreach to the directors, who then had the chance to pick the subject matter they were most interested in.

Cynsiders: How involved were the directors in developing the stories?

Monroe: We were so incredibly fortunate to draw some of the most creative and visionary minds in entertainment to this series, with our incredible directors Angela Bassett, Peter Berg, Paul Giamatti, Akiva Goldsman, Ron Howard and Brett Ratner. Both Nat Geo and GE feel incredibly lucky that they are all working on this series. They were involved in everything from story development, production and post-production. Each director selected a topic they are incredibly passionate about, and that is one of the things that makes this series so unique. In the case of Brett and Akiva, they even got their good friends — Adrien Brody and Jason Bateman, respectively — to narrate their episodes.

Cynsiders: Do you think this kind of event programming is just the beginning at Nat Geo?

Monroe: Breakthrough is really emblematic of our new programming strategy. We’re leaning in to what makes us distinct, and that’s big, bold, high-quality programming swings that you would expect from this brand. At National Geographic, we believe in the power of storytelling to change the world, and Breakthrough is a shining example of doing just that.

Cynsiders: What’s your dream project?

Monroe: To be honest, there are several dream projects we are working on that are in the early stages of development right now, but it is a bit early for me to speak about them. One project I am excited about that expands on our partnership with Brian and Ron is Red Planet, which we announced this summer. It is going to be a unique blend of scripted and documentary that taps into what is clearly a renewed fascination with the exploration of Mars. We are deep into pre-production now and it’s looking incredible.

The Cynsiders column is a platform for industry leaders to reach out to colleagues, followers, and the public at large. In their own words and in targeted Q&As, columnists address breaking news, issues of the day, and the larger changes going on in the ever-evolving world of television, video and digital. Cynsiders columns live on Cynopsis’ main page and are promoted across all daily newsletters. We welcome readers’ comments, queries, and column ideas at [email protected].

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