National Geographic Channel’s ‘Breakthrough’: New Emmy sweeper?

Breakthrough Fighting Pandemics National Geographic

Attention, Emmy voters and fans: A new TV documentary series full of dazzling scientific observations debuts tonight on the National Geographic Channel – “Breakthrough” – and bears obvious similarity to a recent Emmy-sweeper that aired on the same network: “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.”

Two years ago “Cosmos” scored 12 Emmy nominations and 4 wins by exploring secrets of the universe, quantum physics, time, gravity and mankind’s miniscule place in all of it. Now people are the chief focus of “Breakthrough” as it chronicles how mankind is being transformed by marvels of science. Six acclaimed directors tackle six hot topics:

“Fighting Pandemics” (directed and narrated by Peter Berg)

Premieres Nov. 1 at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT

“More Than Human” (directed and narrated by Paul Giamatti)

Premieres Nov. 8 at 9 p.m. ET/8  p.m. CT

“Decoding the Brain” (directed by Brett Ratner; narrated by Adrien Brody)

Premieres Nov. 15 at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT

“The Age of Aging” (Directed and narrated by Ron Howard)

Premieres Nov. 29 at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT

“Energy From the Edge” (directed by Akiva Goldsman; narrated by Jason Bateman)

Premieres Dec. 6 at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT

“Water Apocalypse” (directed and narrated by Angela Bassett)

Premieres Dec. 13 at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT

Aside from superstar celebrity participation, this TV series is so impressive because of it boldness of scope and vision and a generous investment in content. No costs were cut in pursuit of impressive investigative journalism.

In “Fighting Pandemics,” for example, cameras roam the globe and interview a multitude of top scientists and victims of killer viruses. Suspense is keen. Notes director Peter Berg (“Friday Night Nights,” “Lone Survivor”) in narration voiceover: “As human population expands, previously hidden threats are crawling out of the depths of equatorial jungles: SARS, AIDS and Ebola are all recent escapees from nature’s bioweapons lab. There may be many more waiting to emerge, but how do you fight a microscopic enemy?”

To illustrate the answer, “Breakthrough” focuses mostly on the recent Ebola outbreak and the frantic quest to contain the pandemic and find a medical treatment before it engulfs West Africa and then the world. Berg employs slick graphics, quick edit pacing and an urgent music score to push the story. But always the real photos or videos are most effective – and shocking — as we see grotesque corpses left abandoned on slimy hospital floors or a child outside among village huts, fearful of being contaminated, using a long stick to push a bowl of food toward a loved one who is sprawled out, unresponsive, under a cruel sun.

As “Breakthrough” notes, 28,000 people have been infected with Ebola to date; 11,000 have died. But a cure may be on the way. Tune in to “Fighting Pandemics” to learn more.


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