When it comes to its original series, CNN has long found a sweet spot in politics and pop culture. Whether the subject is late night TV (The Story of Late Night), or a presidential run (Race for the White House), the channel has continued to expand its slate in those genres.
CNN’s new 2021-2022 slate continues that trend, but it also notably expands into new genres: Specifically into natural history programming with a show called Patagonia (like you would find on the BBC or, yes Discovery Channel), and an expansion of the travel-food-culture programming with Nomad with Carlton McCoy, a genre that began on the channel with Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown and has continued to flourish with Stanley Tucci: Searching For Italy.
Amy Entelis, the executive vp of talent and content development for CNN Worldwide, tells The Hollywood Reporter that the channel is hoping the new programming will bring in a different kind of viewer.
“We were looking to spread our wings a bit, we wanted to move into other sorts of subject areas that we have not relied upon in the past at CNN,“ Entelis says. “We could do presidents and history over and over again and it would do well, but we wanted to broaden out, and attract a different kind of audience that might want to come for Patagonia but didn’t necessarily want to come for Lincoln.”
Patagonia is slated to debut in 2022 (yes, the same year Discovery is expected to merge with CNN parent WarnerMedia), though Entelis notes that “we spent almost a year shooting Patagonia, the year of COVID,” adding that the series will also focus on the people who live in the South American mountain region, in addition to featuring spectacular nature footage.
With Nomad, CNN finds itself facing a different challenge: Bourdain had the travel-food format down when he came to CNN, and Tucci was a renowned actor before eating across Italy. But how do you introduce someone new like McCoy?
Entelis says they were “inspired by his personal story,” from growing up in Washington D.C. and learning to cook from his grandmother, to going to culinary school, to becoming a master sommelier.
“He told that story with so much heart and passion that we felt like it could translate on the screen as he went from pace to place around the world, taking about the things that inspire him,” Entelis says. “It is not the same as hiring someone who has done it many many times, but it is a way to get a very fresh perspective, and a voice you have never heard before. Given the success we have had around Bourdain, around Tucci, we know a lot about how to make the show, and when you find a charismatic person to put at the center of it, it is a pretty good bet.”
This year’s slate also includes a timely series: Jerusalem: City of Faith and Fury. Entelis says it has been in the works for two years.
“It was always planned to be released when it was planned to come out, which was this summer,” she says. “We thought it was more or less a timeless story. We like to take stories that are ever present in the sense that it offers something bigger, deeper, and with more perspective.”
And, of course, CNN is continuing to invest in its wheelhouse of politics and pop culture, with films about Jackie Collins and the U.S womens national soccer team’s fight for pay equality, as well as series about Marilyn Monroe, the sitcom and President Johnson.
“I don’t think we have scratched the surface of either of those genres,” Entelis says.