National Geographic Channel’s Feb. 17 premiere of docu-movie Killing Lincoln drew a network-record 3.4 million viewers while introducing its viewers to a new programming genre beyond its traditional documentary content. National Geographic Channels president Howard Owens spoke with Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about the joint-venture-owned network’s shift to more entertainment-themed programming.
MCN:Were you surprised by the record-breaking performance of Killing Lincoln?
Howard Owens: I’m not surprised with its record ratings, because Killing Lincoln — a new genre of factual drama — exemplified our latest effort to expand the original programming that resonates with our audience. In fact, we continued the momentum the following night with our new six-part series Inside Combat Rescue debuting as one of the best series launches for NGC this season. We’re still maintaining the brand values that viewers expect from us, while still delivering programming that is both authentic and entertaining.
MCN: Did you have any apprehensions going in about offering a scripted/dramatization show on a network known mostly for its exploration- and nature-themed documentaries and specials?
HO: One of the things that I wanted to do with our program is really to tap into the core DNA of National Geographic. I look at our 124-year-old history of exploration — both physical and metaphysical — as a huge opportunity for intellectual property, people and storytellers. So instead of running from that, we’ve embraced exploration as a theme. I think one of the things that strikes me as true, rich, inspiring exploration is that a lot of times you get what you don’t expect. The reason people explore is that they don’t know what’s out there, so part of what we’re trying to do with National Geographic is have people say, “I didn’t expect to see that, but I totally get it.” While you might not have expected to see KillingLincoln on Nat Geo, when you see the show, it feels like our network.
MCN: What’s on the programming agenda going forward?
HO: We have Killing Kennedy, the next huge best seller from [Fox News personality and Killing Lincoln author] Bill O’Reilly, that we’ll be doing. We’re doing the first virtual game show that’s ever been done in Brain Games, a 20-part series that is a repeatable, formatted interactive game that allows the viewer to expand their brain. We’re incredibly excited about that show this spring. Also, Ultimate Survival Alaska is new for us. We were looking to create a survival show for National Geographic because it’s so part of who we are and all of the expeditions we take now and historically of the expeditions that National Geographic had pioneered and led.