Nat Geo was forced to shut down 77 productions, encompassing 394 hours of programming, across more than a dozen countries around the world in March when COVID-19 struck.
It has been laboriously going through the process of getting many of these shows back to production and showrunners from four of its shows – Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted, Running Wild with Bear Grylls, Queens and Category Six – were present at the network’s virtual TCA presentation to reveal how they’ve done it.
Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted has just completed episodes in Croatia, Iceland, Portugal and Finland as it heads into its third season, Running Wild with Bear Grylls has just completed filming an episode in Iceland, female-focused wildlife series Queens is currently shooting in Kenya and the UK and Category Six has been chasing storms in the U.S. since May 11.
Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted showrunner Jon Kroll revealed that the show, which is produced by Studio Ramsay, returned to production with the help of military specialists. “We could wait until next year, but we really wanted to get back to work, if we could go back safely,” he said.
Kroll said the weirdest challenge is the difference in local processes and said that the biggest difficult is that the crew is often at the mercy of local airport officials. “Confusion is the biggest issue because the rules are changing on a weekly basis,” he added.
Queens showrunner Vanessa Berlowitz revealed that it had cancelled a shoot in the Congo as the production was wary of passing COVID-19 to animals, particularly great apes and monkeys. “We’ve had to make some really complex decisions, not only about our own safely but with the animals we’re filming,” she said.
Lisa Bloch, showrunner of Category Six said that the show had been forced to significantly reduce its crew, in some instances, down to one person. “We’re looking forward to getting more people out in the field,” she said. One of the challenges faced shooting in the U.S., she added was the differences between filming protocols in different states, so for instance, it was chasing one storm that it could film up until it hits New Jersey, but is unable to shoot in the Garden State because of its 14-day quarantine rules.
Michelle Upton, SVP, production management, National Geographic, said that the network and its owner Disney was working on a weekly basis to vet its productions before they go out in the field. “As part of the approval process, we’re taking a look in real time at locations, whether COVID-19 testing is needed, whether we need to quarantine crews, having teams working in small pods. Keeping crews and talented safe is our number one priority,” she said.