On February 17th, the National Geographic Channel premiered its first original scripted project, “Killing Lincoln,” a Tom Hanks-narrated reenactment of the last days of Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth that was produced by Ridley Scott’s Scott Free Productions company. Before the TV movie had even had its premiere, the network announced it was making a second feature in the same vein — “Killing Kennedy,” about the assassination of JFK.
Today, the channel has unveiled its next planned film — “Killing Jesus: A History,” a scripted “factual drama” based, as are “Killing Lincoln” and “Killing Kennedy,” on a book by Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, one that in this case is upcoming and will hit stores on September 24th.
“Killing Jesus,” which will also come from Scott Free Productions, will air on Nat Geo in 2014, while “Killing Kennedy” is currently in pre-production and slated to be broadcast later this year. “O’Reilly has proven with ‘Killing Lincoln’ and ‘Killing Kennedy’ that the public is fascinated with the tragic tales of these renowned historical figures, and this is one of the most dramatic stories ever told. We are privileged to once again work with National Geographic Channel to bring Bill’s vision to the screen,” said Ridley Scott in the release.
The, er, “Killing” franchise is the latest expansion of the Nat Geo brand beyond the old associations with nature and science programming and into more commercial shows, a move than has in recent years included the introduction of more reality fare like “Doomsday Preppers” and “Wicked Tuna.” While “Killing Jesus” might sound like another attempt to cash in on what looks to be a full blown biblical programming trend (thank Mark Burnett and “The Bible”), if it follows in the format of “Killing Lincoln” it will still be formally interesting in its attempts to dwell in a space between scripted drama and documentary, using actors and reenactments but sticking as close to the researched facts as possible and not changing things for the sake of narrative ease.
Nat Geo notes that “Killing Jesus” will tell “the story of Jesus of Nazareth as a beloved and controversial young revolutionary brutally killed by Roman soldiers” while “recounting the seismic political and historical events that made his death inevitable and the changes that his life brought upon the world for the centuries to follow.” News Corporation, which owns Fox News, also primarily owns the National Geographic channel — synergy!