The Watchman: Nat Geo Goes Super-Smart and Scripted, and Univision Tackles ‘El Chapo’

Univision’s Story House and Nat Geo venture into scripted storytelling

National Geographic Channel is seeing what’s what in the scripted world with Genius, the first of 10 episodes rolling April 25. Executive producer Gigi Pritzker has an interest­ing take on its star, Albert Einstein.

“We talk a lot about disruptive tech­nology,” she said. “Einstein was the ultimate early disruptor. He did not accept things as they were.”

Pritzker’s Odd Lot Entertainment holds the rights to Walter Isaacson’s book on the scientist, Einstein: His Life and Universe, but realized his story could not be properly told in a feature. “Einstein’s life did not fit a three-act, two-hour structure,” she said. “The best way to tell it was in an episodic way.”

Enter Nat Geo, which is pumped for its first scripted series. Ron How­ard and Brian Grazer are on board, too. “Watching Ron on set was a terrific thing,” Pritz­ker said. “It was so clear he has a command, in the nicest way, in the material and in the process.”

Pritzker promised a fresh look at Einstein, who she says was as much a creative force as a really, really smart person. “What the series does so well is showcase the man Einstein really was,” she said.

Nat Geo is on board for a second season of Genius, and filling that title role will be a stiff challenge. Pritzker called that challenge “fun and interesting.”

“It’s someone with enough depth in their life to sustain 10 epi­sodes,” she said.

So, like, who? Say, El Chapo?

Univision’s Story House is bringing El Chapo to life in its first scripted venture, too. El Chapo, about notorious drug kingpin Joaquin Guzman, debuts April 23.

Christian Gabela, Story House VP and GM, says the series is a massive departure from traditional Spanish-language TV. He noted how Univision’s newshounds had been covering El Chapo’s doings for years and helped “enrich the story” for the studio.

El Chapo represents a big swing for Story House, which has been around about a year, and whose projects include the docu­mentary Resi­dente, in which director René Pérez Joglar takes a DNA test, then sets out to trace his ancestry around the world.

Season one of El Chapo has nine episodes. It will air on Netflix after its Univision debut. Gabela is psyched to work with Netflix again. “It’s a great opportunity to give our products as wide an appeal as we can,” Gabela said.

Gabela, who is currently enjoying The Crown and Peaky Blinders on Netflix, knows the TV world is full of great stuff. But he’s hopeful El Chapo can stand out. “It certainly is an ambi­tious project,” Gabela said. “It’s a very compelling and relevant story.”