National Geographic Signs Up BBC Studios Factual Boss & ‘Blue Planet II’ Commissioner Tom McDonald

Tom McDonald
Tom McDonald

National Geographic has signed up BBC Studios’ Factual boss Tom McDonald, the exec and commissioner behind some of the UK’s biggest natural history series including Blue Planet II and Planet Earth II.

McDonald joins the U.S. network in the newly-created New York-based role of Executive Vice President, Global Factual/Unscripted Content, where he will start in June reporting to National Geographic Content President Courteney Monroe as one of her top lieutenants.

McDonald will be responsible for the development and production of all global unscripted series and specials across travel, adventure, exploration, history, science and natural history, which will feed Disney+ and Nat Geo’s linear channels. Carolyn Bernstein will continue to oversee National Geographic Documentary Films.

His direct reports will be Alan Eyres, Senior Vice President, Development and Production, Unscripted, Janet Vissering, Senior Vice President, Development and Production, Wildlife/Natural History and Michelle Upton, Senior Vice President, Production Management.

McDonald is arguably one of the most senior and highly-regarded factual execs in the UK space, which is responsible for the majority of the world’s natural history production.

He has been BBC Studios Managing Director of Factual Productions for three years, overseeing the likes of BBC landmarks Green Planet, Universe and Greta: A Year that Changed the World, along with a wealth of shows for U.S. networks and streaming services.

Most recently, Nat Geo unveiled Home and Lion from BBC Studios during its TCA Disney+ slate announcement, the latter from Jon Favreau, while BBC Studios Natural History Unit opened an office in LA.

Prior to BBC Studios, McDonald sat on the other side of the fence as commissioner, spending seven years in the BBC’s factual department and rising to Head of Natural History and Specialist Factual Commissioning where he ordered the likes of Blue Planet II and Planet Earth II. 

Monroe called him a “brilliant creative executive with extraordinary vision and impeccable taste.”

“Having spent a decade at the BBC creating premium, genre-defining factual content, Tom is the perfect person to lead our efforts to produce best-in-class, must-see National Geographic content,” she said.

McDonald added: “It has been a privilege to work at the BBC, but the chance to join Courteney and her team at this pivotal moment in National Geographic’s evolution is an opportunity that was impossible to turn down. As I relocate to the U.S. and start a new chapter, I feel excited and energized by the opportunity.”

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