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Nat Geo In Docu-Series Business With Jay-Z & Weinstein, Katie Couric; Unveils Scripted Development Slate – Upfront

Deadline logo Deadline 4/19/2017 David Lieberman
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National Geographic Channel says it will team with Jay-Z and The Weinstein Company on a six-episode documentary series, with the working title Race, that will provide “a stark and provocative look into systemic injustices in America.” It’s due to air in 171 countries and 45 languages and stems from a first-look deal Jay-Z (aka Shawn Carter) has with TWC.

The news came during National Geographic’s annual upfront presentation to advertisers tonight in New York. The network also announced it was renewing its first scripted series Genius for a second season, and unveiled a still-untitled six-part documentary series featuring, and co-produced by, Katie Couric to debut in 2018. It will follow her conversations with various thought leaders.

Nat Geo also announced three new scripted development projects. There’s The Birth Of The Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex And Launched A Revolution, from R.J. Cutler, Denise DiNovi and Sonar Entertainment; The Hot Zone about the origins of the Ebola virus, from Lynda Obst, Scott Free and Fox 21 TV Studios; and an untitled project that goes back to the 1960s to tell the stories behind Nat Geo’s first documentaries in Siberia and Australia, from Skydance and Marti Noxon.

This is Jay-Z and the Weinstein Co.’s third docu series collaboration, following Time: The Kalief Browder Story and the upcoming Rest In Power: The Trayvon Martin Story at Spike/Paramount Network.

21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch says the entertainment power is “passionate” about NatGeo and prepared to “invest at a huge scale in mission driven content.” Separately, he declined to expand on today’s announcement about Bill O’Reilly’s departure from Fox News Channel.

NatGeo will not have another program based on the commentator’s Killing book series in 2018 and has not made a decision about 2019. NatGeo announced in 2015 a Killing Patton series order,  but no air date has been announced. The network already has aired  Killing Reagan, Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy, and Killing Jesus.

Here is Nat Geo’s descriptions of its development slate:

THE BIRTH OF THE PILL: HOW FOUR CRUSADERS REINVENTED SEX AND LAUNCHED A REVOLUTION

(From Sonar Entertainment, Producer/Director R.J. Cutler and Executive Producers Denise DiNovi and Alison Greenspan)

It has been called the only product in American history so powerful that it needed no name. Today we know it simply as “the pill,” but it was made possible only through the efforts of four larger-than-life figures. Adapted from Jonathan Eig’s 2014 book, “The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution,” the series follows feminist icon Margaret Sanger and philanthropist Katherine McCormick, who campaigned for women’s rights and championed birth control, enlisting the help of visionary scientist Gregory Pincus and Catholic OB/GYN John Rock. Together, the four took on the scientific establishment, the church and cultural norms in their fight to make safe and effective contraception available to millions of women. The Birth of the Pill is a thrilling recounting of the development of a drug that forever changed medical and social history.

THE HOT ZONE

(Lynda Obst Productions, Fox 21 Television Studios, Kelly Souders, Brian Peterson, Jeff Vintar and Scott Free Productions)

Based on the eponymous international bestseller by Richard Preston, The Hot Zone recounts the terrifying true story of the origins of the Ebola virus, a highly infectious, deadly virus from the central African rain forest and its first arrival on U.S. soil. In 1989, when this killer suddenly appears in chimpanzees in a scientific lab in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. — a stone’s throw away from the White House — there is no known cure. A heroic U.S. Army veterinarian, working with a secret military SWAT team, puts herself in mortal peril when she tries to head off the outbreak before it spreads to the human population. The Hot Zone is a dramatic, hair-raising account of a rare and lethal virus and its impact on the human race.

UNTITLED NAT GEO PROJECT

(Skydance Productions, Erik Jendresen, Tiny Pyro Productions)

How did National Geographic become a network? This scripted series, from Marti Noxon’s Tiny Pyro Productions (“Sharp Objects,” “UnReal”) and writer Erik Jendresen (“Band of Brothers,” Killing Lincoln), travels back to the 1960s when an intrepid field producer is put in charge of two ragtag production teams shooting Nat Geo’s first TV documentaries in Siberia and Australia. Both teams must brave espionage, scandal and hostile environments in an attempt to bring Nat Geo’s arresting global storytelling to the new media age.

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