National Geographic’s The Hot Zone follows the story of the Ebola threat, and the people who heroically contained it. Executive Vice President of Global Scripted Programming and Documentary Films, Carolyn Bernstein, talks about the evolution of the series, an example of the net’s dive into premium scripted content.
Cynsiders: What does Nat Geo look for in scripted content?
Carolyn Bernstein: The cornerstone of our scripted programming strategy is to work with the industry’s best creative minds to tell relatable human stories that deliver the authenticity rooted in the National Geographic brand. Whether we’re telling the terrifying true story of the discovery of the Ebola virus on U.S. soil or mining the complicated personal and professional life of a world-renowned genius, we want our fact-based scripted storytelling to reflect the complexity, unpredictability and entertainment value inherent in the best scripted drama.
Cynopsis: How did The Hot Zone project come about?
Bernstein: The Hot Zone would have never happened if it had not been for the tenacity of veteran producer Lynda Obst. More than 20 years ago, she bought the rights to Richard Preston’s New Yorker article about the first time the Ebola virus was is discovered on US soil in 1989 in Reston, Virginia, with the intention of turning it into a feature film. But, lucky for us, she ultimately reimagined the story for television as a six-part limited series. Nat Geo is really the perfect home for this fact-inspired, science-based story – one that is equally as important today as it was 25 years ago. Luckily, I had a lunch scheduled with the very talented Julianna Margulies right after we greenlit the series. When I brought up the lead character of Dr. Nancy Jaax, the heroic Army scientist at the center of the story, she was hooked!
Cynopsis: What do heavyweight names like Lynda Obst and Ridley Scott’s bring to a production?
Bernstein: At National Geographic, we always want to work with best-in-class creatives to deliver on our premium content strategy. Lynda and Ridley are unequivocally the best at what they do, so having them as creative partners made casting, booking directors and other key creative hires flow pretty easily. Between the stellar track records of our whole producing team and the timeliness of The Hot Zone story, we hope to create a global conversation and deepen our viewers’ understanding of the world and their role in it.