Would the Avatar sequels arrive on time if James Cameron weren’t so committed to his side gig producing documentary series about the planet he actually lives on? Perhaps we’ll never know. But even as the director has a full slate of blockbuster features in the pipeline, he remains as committed as ever to his work with National Geographic.
The filmmaker piped into Nat Geo’s Thursday meeting with the Television Critics Association to plug his sixth producorial effort for Disney’s conservation-minded brand in four years: Secrets of the Octopus. “As someone who’s fighting for sustainability and the preservation of nature, this is endless,” says the brand’s “Explorer at Large,” who recruited Paul Rudd to narrate this latest project. “They’re going to have to drag me out kicking and screaming — or show me where the door is because I’ve forgotten — before I stop doing this.”
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That Nat Geo could get Cameron, one of Hollywood’s most famously overextended creatives, to take a break from Avatar 3 pickups to talk about octopi says a lot about what keeps driving that brand — which is now, for many Americans, just another box on their Disney+ menu. Thursday’s presentation included no shortage of high-profile collaborators, not to mention the announcement of another season of Chris Hemsworth series Limitless. But for National Geographic Global Networks president Courteney Monroe, the future of the 136-year-old enterprise is about more than Disney talent on speed dial.
“No one is immune,” she said at the top of the morning when asked about the declining relevance of cable TV. “But we are very well positioned. We are a globally distributed network. We reach over 300 million households around the world, which is pretty staggering. It is a declining business but linear channels around the world still account for a large part of our viewership.”
Naturally, she also hyped her slate’s presence on Disney+ — which just this week reported current U.S. and Canada subscriptions at 111.3 million. Recent offerings there include Bobi Wine: The People’s President, among the five nominees for best documentary features at the 2024 Academy Awards. (Nat Geo’s Free Solo won that very Oscar in 2018.)
One area where the brand doesn’t seem particularly keen on growing, however, is scripted. Though the afternoon would culminate with a planned panel for the fourth iteration of scripted limited series Genius, — its second season focuses on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X — there are no immediate plans for more. When asked about scripted, Monroe said they were just focused on seeing that run air.
“A quality over quantity strategy for National Geographic,” she added. “That’s not new to us.”
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