They’re hanging out in Houston scoring rare interviews with NBA superstar, globalization poster boy and reluctant Chinese role model Yao Ming; they’re in pursuit of poachers in the steamy jungles of Cambodia; they’re investigating the plight of children with mothers behind bars, searching for solutions to this growing problem at home and abroad; they’re in Madagascar, venturing underground to track mythical cave crocodiles and discovering new primate species…and that’s just in the first few shows. Ultimate Explorer’s correspondents will change the way you look at documentary television with their intimate and adventurous approach to real-life storytelling.
In June 2003, National Geographic’s flagship series EXPLORER gets a new look, a new name and a new high-energy take on documentary filmmaking. The result is Ultimate Explorer, an hour-long, correspondent-driven series hosted by the bold and energetic Lisa Ling. Full of verve and charisma, Ultimate Explorer’s correspondents immerse themselves in far-flung locations and cultures, investigating critical issues and presenting highly personal stories that cover the world and all that’s in it.
Premiering Sunday, June 1, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on MSNBC, Ultimate Explorer and host Ling venture to China to explore the remarkable story of China’s most famous export, NBA star Yao Ming. “Basketball Diplomacy: From Mao to Yao” is about far more than basketball — it’s about China, about being an immigrant and about globalization.
In subsequent weeks correspondent Nick Baker reveals the new militancy emerging in the environmental movement as he accompanies an armed hunt for poachers in Cambodia; host Ling travels from Louisiana, where children born in prison are taken from their mothers shortly after birth, to Tihar, India, where mothers raise their children in prison until they are five, to examine the impact the U.S. prison system imposes on children and to reflect on different approaches to this growing crisis; contributing correspondent Brady Barr journeys to Madagascar’s Ankarana Nature Reserve to unravel the mystery of what could be the world’s only cave-dwelling crocodiles; and correspondent Mireya Mayor helps discover a new species of mouse lemur - the world’s smallest known primate in the dense rain forests of Madagascar.
“Ultimate Explorer takes audiences on intimate journeys of amazing adventure,” said David Royle, executive producer of Ultimate Explorer and senior vice president of production for National Geographic Television & Film. “Through our correspondents’ eyes, viewers will experience worlds that few have ever seen, getting beneath the surface of some of the most exciting and dramatic issues of the day and meeting the people who make things happen.”
Ling, who most recently brought her perspective on the world to millions of Americans as a co-host of ABC’s popular morning talk show The View, will be breaking out of the studio to tackle some of the most challenging assignments herself.
“Lisa’s energy and bravado is what got our attention here at National Geographic. We expect her to grab the attention of Ultimate Explorer viewers as well,” said Royle. “She’s a very gutsy correspondent who has completed some very tough assignments, including reporting on the Taliban in Afghanistan and the conflict in Algeria. She has an extraordinary ability to bring important stories to a wide audience in a way that is totally captivating.”
For Ling it’s an opportunity to cover the kinds of stories she’s always wanted to do.
“I am excited to bring some of the fascinating stories that take place around the world home to the Ultimate Explorer audience. I’ll be traveling around the world reporting on a range of stories set on a global stage, immersing myself in those stories, literally in different worlds,” she said.
Ultimate Explorer’s expanded team of adventurous correspondents includes Mireya Mayor, a Fulbright scholar and former Miami Dolphins cheerleader, who has studied some of the world’s most endangered primates; Emmy-winning filmmaker Michael Davie, who has reported from the frontlines of Kosovo and other hot spots around the world; Nick Baker, an enthusiastic naturalist who has stared down polar bears in the Arctic, hunted poachers in Cambodia and who keeps blood-sucking leeches as pets; and contributing correspondent Brady Barr, a herpetologist who has pursued his lifelong passion for reptiles and turned it into several of the most ambitious field studies ever conducted.
“Part of the job description for Ultimate Explorer’s correspondents is an irrepressible passion for adventure and discovery,” said Royle. “Lisa and each member of the team have that enthusiastic, indomitable spirit that makes them amazing storytellers.”
Each week the correspondents will present provocative stories of adventure and exploration, breaking news, world history, international culture and the wonders of the natural world. Their stories will be distinguished by experiential, point-of-view reporting that often employs firsthand camerawork by the correspondents themselves. Through this unique and intimate brand of storytelling, Ultimate Explorer thrusts viewers into the middle of the action, creating a dynamic, immersive experience that inspires a broader worldview.
Episodes of Ultimate Explorer center around a single feature story showcasing Ling or one of the other correspondents. In the studio, Ling and guests address the latest developments or controversies and check in for updates with the far-ranging correspondents. Shot live-to-tape, the studio segments allow guests and correspondents to talk freely about their personal experiences and provide insights that couldn’t be expressed in their films.
EXPLORER premiered April 7, 1985, on Nickelodeon and moved to TBS in February 1986. After a successful run on TBS, EXPLORER moved to CNBC in September 1999, where it stayed until October 2001 when the series launched on MSNBC. Now in its 19th year, EXPLORER is the longest-running documentary series on cable television.
In the past three years EXPLORER has won more Emmy Awards than any other broadcast or cable news documentary program. In all, EXPLORER and its individual creative artists have won 49 Emmy Awards. EXPLORER has won 13 CableACE Awards (Awards for Cable Excellence), The Family Television Award, The Genesis Award and four Gold Medals at the International Film and Television Festival of New York. In addition, EXPLORER films have received more than 400 awards, including a coveted DuPont-Columbia Silver Baton Award, The Peabody Award and two Academy Award nominations.