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Making Most of ‘Doomsday’ Scenarios

Cable reality series
have focused on such unique
characters as polygamists,
basketball wives, teen moms
and hillbillies.

Recently, networks such as
National Geographic Channel,
Discovery Channel and
Spike TV are spotlighting individuals
and families preparing
for the end of the

And apparently viewers
are intrigued.

With the ancient Mayan
calendar predicting Dec. 21, 2012, as the end of the civilization
as we know it, network executives said viewers are
tuning in to see how people are preparing to survive the
Apocalypse. From a family that has built a live-in shelter
in a backyard swimming pool to a group stockpiling an
Army-like stash of weapons and ammunition, shows like
National Geographic Channel’s Doomsday Preppers and
Discovery Channel’s Doomsday Bunkers are shedding light
on what might happen in the darkness of the world’s end.


“It’s not only the Mayan predictions — people are preparing
for other calamities as well,” Michael Cascio, executive
vice president of programming for Nat Geo, said. “This is a
genre that is of interest to a lot of people.”

Nat Geo’s Doomsday Preppers, in which the network profiled individuals and communities preparing for Armageddon,
is the network’s most-watched series ever, averaging
nearly 1 million viewers over an 11-episode season between
Feb. 7 and April 17.

Discovery Channel’s Doomsday Bunkers, about structures
created to survive virtually any doomsday scenario,
averaged 1.5 million viewers in its three-episode run this
past March, according to network officials.

Sharon Levy, Spike TV’s executive vice president of original
programming, said that the genre appeals to a wide
range of viewers who are curious about how others are conducting
their lives in anticipation of something that might
— or might — not happen.

Spike will jump into the genre sometime this fall (no launch
date at presstime) with
competition reality show
Last Family on Earth, in
which will vie for a spot in
an underground bunker
fortified to withstand nearly
any end-of-days disaster.

Though Levy would not
disclose specific details of
the show, she said contestants
would be tested on
their physical, emotional
and mental strength, as
well as their overall humanity
and how they react
and survive in horrific situations.

“We always try to do shows with high stakes and for these
contestants, there’s nothing greater than the potential survival
of their families,” Levy said. “About 15% of the world’s
population believes that the world will end — not necessarily
tied to a specific date, but tied to any of numerous manmade
natural disasters that could occur — and we see their
preparedness and ingenuity is something that we knew our
audiences wanted to see. Viewers will learn a lot of really
valuable information as part of this series.”

Such doomsday-themed shows are not alarmist or pessimistic
in nature, Cascio added. Rather, they’re informative
and provide some guidance as to how people are preparing
for a catastrophe.

The shows also provide a peek into a subculture that’s preparing
for something that they feel is inevitable.

Nat Geo is looking to create a second season of Doomsday
for the fall, Cascio said, although it’s unclear whether
that run would coincide with the Mayan predictions.


Spike’s Levy agreed that viewers can actually take some positive
information away from these shows.

“Every time you read an article about people surviving
horrible disasters, you can’t help but learn from what
they’ve done,” she said. “So it’s incredibly hopeful that we
can arm all of our viewers with information that they can
apply in their everyday lives, whether they think the world
is going to end or not.

 “So I don’t think it’s being pessimistic, but rather optimistic,”
she said.

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.