Nat Geo Wild Recruits Human Celebrities

Nat Geo Wild is adding celebrity star power to its stable of big cats and wild animals.

Veteran TV star Betty White, Dog Whisperer star Cesar Millan and RMS Titanic discoverer Bob Ballard will be featured in specials airing this fall as the network looks to expand its audience through top-notch personalities and reality fare.

“What we want are people whose star value is coming from their real, genuine, authentic and passionate connection with animals … it’s something that goes way beyond the minute you turn the camera on,” Geoff Daniels, executive vice president and general manager of Nat Geo Wild, said. “It’s also very relatable to a broader audience who has a love for the wild and wants to be inspired by the animals and the wild world, and these personalities give viewers a way into that.”


White will host a fall special that will showcase her passion for tigers, lions and other big cats as part of the network’s signature “Big Cats” week-long programming stunt. Millan, who most recently starred on Wild sister service National Geographic Channel’s hit series The Dog Whisperer, will host two specials: Cesar Millan: Doggie Nightmares, and Cesar Millan and the Pit Bulls, Daniels said.

Ballard, who discovered the sunken liner Titanic, will shift his attention to the exploration of an active underground volcano in the special Volcano Dive: Live.

Nat Geo Wild hopes adding White, Millan and Ballard to its lineup will maintain the network’s ratings momentum and attract new viewers unfamiliar with the channel, Daniels said.

Like NGC, Nat Geo Wild is a joint venture of the National Geographic Society and Fox Cable Networks. The channel posted its best period ever during first-quarter 2013, averaging 218,000 primetime viewers.

“Bringing in Cesar, Betty and Bob shows how Wild is hitting the fast-forward button, in terms of trying to grow the brand and profile of this network in the television landscape,” Daniels said. “The critical point about each of these personalities is just how perfect they are for the networks as a whole — it’s not just bringing in any star for star’s sake.”


While the network will remain loyal to its wildlife programming format, Daniels said Nat Geo has begun to experiment with the reality genre through shows featuring a wildlife theme.

The Incredible Dr. Pol, which follows a senior veterinarian as he makes house calls for sick farm animals in Michigan, and Fish Tank Kings, about Florida-based aquarium specialists who build exotic and extreme tanks, have generated strong ratings for the network and are drawing younger viewers.

“[The shows] have brought in a wider audience than when we initially launched the network three years ago and then we’ve seen continued success with our ‘Destination Wild’ Sunday-night block,” Daniels said. “It is something that has separated this network from everybody else in the marketplace.”

R. Thomas Umstead

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.