The Five Spot: Geoff Daniels, Executive VP, Global Unscripted Entertainment, Nat Geo

Nonfiction veteran brings network’s tentpole events, franchises to life
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At National Geographic, now in The Walt Disney Co. fold, Geoff Daniels oversees specials, tentpole events and franchise series. A reality programming veteran, Daniels joined Nat Geo in 1998 and prior to that worked at Time-Life Video & Television, making his mark by acquiring and marketing iconic series like Sir David Attenborough’s Trials of Life and Ken Burns’s The Civil War. His latest passion — Cosmos: Possible Worlds — begins its third season on Monday, March 9. Daniels took some time out to speak with Multichannel News senior content producer, finance Mike Farrell about that series and other developments at the channel. An edited transcript follows.

Geoff Daniels

Geoff Daniels

What excites you most about the new season of Cosmos: Possible Worlds? What’s most exciting is the mind-blowing visual storytelling. CGI has come so far since the last time Cosmos aired, which will make this season a truly must-see cinematic experience with even broader appeal. It’s not just a chance for our audiences around the world to learn about the secrets of the universe and explore new and previously unimaginable worlds, but also to do that in a way that is more visceral and entertaining.

Although it’s an update of the landmark PBS series created by Carl Sagan, his presence is still strongly felt throughout the series. How important was that to you and producer Seth MacFarlane? We all stand on the shoulders of giants in any endeavor that has this level of creative ambition and innovation, so it was critically important to all, with [producer] Ann Druyan as our North Star, to reach for something not only worthy of his legacy but that also broke new ground and pushed the boundaries of what we thought could be possible in a series like this.

Nat Geo's Geoff Daniels collaborates with well-known astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson to make 'Cosmos: Possible Worlds' happen. 

Nat Geo's Geoff Daniels collaborates with well-known astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson to make 'Cosmos: Possible Worlds' happen. 

What’s it like working with such a diverse group — MacFarlane (mainly known for comedy), Ann Druyan (Sagan’s widow) and Neil deGrasse Tyson (perhaps the world’s best-known astrophysicist)? The common denominator was each individual’s incredible passion for the stories, the science and the positive impact we all want this series to have on the world at this critical moment in our planet’s history. Everyone really brought the best of themselves and the expertise they had to offer in a truly collaborative effort, because ultimately our shared purpose is to build connection and community, and inspire hope.

Given how science is increasingly being dismissed by our leaders, how important is programming like Cosmos? For National Geographic, we are always going to be on the side of science and the planet with a firm belief in the power of storytelling to change the world for the better. It is impossible to deny the changes we are all experiencing, so programming like Cosmos, which is grounded in real science, that explores the wonders of the universe and our place in it couldn’t be a more timely and needed wake-up call that will not only entertain but hopefully inspire a massive global audience to join us in doing whatever is needed to ensure a future for all of us right here on Earth.

Nat Geo has come up with a lot of programming over the past few years — Brain Games, The Hot Zone, Genius and others — that is definitely a departure from mainstream documentaries. We embarked on a journey a couple years ago to move National Geographic from reverence to relevance with culturally impactful programming that could break through the clutter. Just look at the shows you’ve mentioned, in addition to winning the Oscar for Free Solo, the Oscar nomination for The Cave, and the success of One Strange Rock with Will Smith. All have been among the most viewed, highest rated and most critically acclaimed in our history because they stand out from the crowd.

BONUS FIVE

What's on your DVR?
Mr. Robot, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Better Call Saul, Doctor Who

All-time favorite TV Show? Breaking Bad but Gilligan’s Island (the original Lost) is a close second.

Books on your nightstand? Right now, I’m finishing up Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy. (SO prescient!)

Memorable recent meal? Christmas dinner at home with our three grown-ish children.

Favorite app? Disney+, of course… but Uber Eats and Dark Skies are neck and neck.

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