Nat Geo Enjoys the View from Emmy Heights

Channel chief Courteney Monroe basks in ‘Free Solo’ wins, touts slate
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While perennial standouts HBO and Netflix had their usual strong showings at the 71st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, Amazon Prime Video surprisingly scored seven wins during Fox’s live telecast — second only to HBO — and 15 Emmys overall, finishing third behind HBO and Netflix.

Courteney Monroe

Courteney Monroe

Another surprise: National Geographic finished fourth among all cable, broadcast and streaming services with eight Emmy statuettes, and first among all basic cable networks, outperforming the likes of FX and VH1 (adding in Primetime and Creative Arts awards).

Leading Nat Geo’s Emmy run was documentary film Free Solo, about climber Alex Honnold’s attempted ascent of Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan. It won seven Creative Arts Emmys, including Outstanding Directing for a Documentary/ Nonfiction Program for show directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin. (Nat Geo’s wildlife documentary series Life Below Zero won the Emmy for Outstanding Cinematography for a Reality Program.)

National Geographic Global Television Networks president Courteney Monroe talked with Multichannel News about the programmer’s big Emmy night, as well as how it plans to build on those the wins. Here’s an edited transcript of that conversation.

MCN: Were you surprised at Nat Geo’s Emmy performance?
Courteney Monroe:
I’d be lying if I said we weren’t. Teams across many divisions worked extremely hard to be sure we were getting our programming in front of TV Academy members in innovative and creative ways. Ultimately, the quality of the programs that were recognized speaks for itself. For Free Solo to go seven for seven and win every category for which it was nominated — making it the most Emmy-winning documentary of all time — is a testament to the incredible craft that went into making that film.

MCN: How do Nat Geo’s eight Emmy Awards enhance the network’s brand?
We want to be one of the first ports of call for best-in-class storytellers in the entertainment business. The current TV landscape gives creators a lot of options when it comes to finding homes for their programs. Emmy Awards are a great statement to the creative community that we are in the business of making premium, compelling and important programs and that we support those programs with innovative marketing and awards campaigns.

Nat Geo Channel's 'Free Solo'

Nat Geo Channel's 'Free Solo'

MCN: Why did Free Solo resonate both with viewers and Emmy voters?
Free Solo is a beautifully made, well-crafted film, made by some of the best editors, cinematographers, sound editors and mixers and directors in the business. It also has a gripping — pun intended — story at its center. I think Alex’s journey to chase his dreams, as absolutely wild as they may be, is something that resonates with everyone.

MCN: Nat Geo recently signed Free Solo’s Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin to a first-look deal. What are your expectations for projects from the duo?
We’re excited to expand our partnership with them to create not only more documentary films, but documentary series for the network. Chai and Jimmy are visionary filmmakers who share our same passion for storytelling, striving unfailingly for the high standards that we look for in our premium content. In fact, we just green-lit their next feature documentary and hope to share details soon.

MCN: How does Nat Geo build on its strong Emmy performance?
We’ve got an exciting year ahead. We’re hard at work on the next season of our Emmy-winning franchise series Genius, which will center on Aretha Franklin; the next season of the Emmy-winning epic science series Cosmos; the relaunch of our Emmy-nominated legacy series Brain Games, hosted by Keegan-Michael Key; and an incredibly fun and informative new series we’ve created for Disney+, The World According to Jeff Goldblum.