National Geographic Channel made a number of big announcements during its summer 2016 Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour Saturday, signaling the realization of the transformational vision to become the world's leading destination for premium science, adventure and exploration programming announced last year.

Photo by Frank Micelotta/PictureGroup

National Geographic Channel's summer 2016 TCA announcements: Climate change, gender fluidity, ivory trade VR documentary, more

National Geographic Channel made a number of big announcements during its summer 2016 Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour Saturday, signaling the realization of the transformational vision to become the world's leading destination for premium science, adventure and exploration programming announced last year.

The brand's "new breed of premium programming" reinforces the notion that "entertaining and smart are not mutually exclusive," said Courteney Monroe, CEO of National Geographic Global Networks, in her opening remarks. "We embody the trend where smart is the new sexy and visionary vanquishes vapid, a world where Elon Musk has the pop cultural sway that just a few years ago was reserved for Biebers and Kardashians. I mean, how refreshing a thought is that?"

National Geographic Channel, which touches more than 700 million consumers each month, is taking bold programming swings with bigger budgets aimed at a broader audience, developed and produced with some of the best storytellers today. "Our strategy is built on quality and distinctiveness, which is exactly what people expect from this iconic image," Courteney said.

As part of its endeavor to deliver a premium viewing experience for its audience, National Geographic Channel will reduce its ad load up to 50 percent starting this fall. "Not only will this create a more immersive viewing experience, but it also provides a less cluttered environment for our advertising partners," Courteney said.

Here's a rundown of National Geographic Channel's five TCA announcements:

National Geographic Channel acquires worldwide rights to climate change feature documentary
The untitled climate change feature documentary "presents an informative and engaging account of how society can prevent the demise of endangered species, ecosystems and native communities all around the world," Courteney said in her announcement. The documentary is produced by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Fisher Stevens and Academy Award-winning actor and U.N. Messenger of Peace Leonardo DiCaprio, among others. Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese is the executive producer.

Among the subjects interviewed by Leonardo are President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State John Kerry, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Pope Francis.

"We share Leonardo's desire to have as many people see this film as possible before the election in November," Courteney said. "So we're going to release it theatrically in early October and then premiere it globally on National Geographic Channel prior to election day."

National Geographic Channel and Katie Couric Media partner on new global documentary Gender Revolution
The two-hour documentary offers an in-depth look at the role of genetics, brain chemistry and modern culture on gender fluidity. It will premiere in December on the National Geographic Channel in 171 countries and 45 languages, and it will be timed to the single-topic January 2017 issue of National Geographic magazine on the topic of gender.

"Katie has wanted to tackle this topic on television for some time," Courteney said. "She's going to examine how gender fluidity affects everyday life scientifically, sociologically and culturally."

National Geographic Channel announces details for Season 3 of "StarTalk with Neil deGrasse Tyson"
ngc-tca-2016-startalk-neil-degrasse-tyson-400.jpgThe Monday, Sept. 19, premiere will coincide with the release of the first-ever StarTalk book, which will be published by National Geographic. The episode order for this season of the Emmy-nominated series has been doubled to 20 episodes.

This season's list of guests includes Academy Award-winner Whoopi Goldberg; Ben Stiller; Jay Leno; Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead; Terry Crews; U.S. Olympian Hope Solo; Andy Weir, author of The Martian; and many others.

"My goal is to make StarTalk a safe space for Hollywood stars, athletes, comedians, musicians and scientists to proudly fly their geek flags," host Tyson said in the announcement. "In this season, the worlds of pop culture and science come together with some of the biggest stars yet."

National Geographic Channel announces The Protectors, its first virtual reality short documentary
The 12-minute virtual reality film, which comes from Academy Award-winning director and longtime animal advocate Kathryn Bigelow, turns the spotlight on the devastating effects of the illegal ivory trade and its link to finding terrorist groups around the world.

"This film will expose the dangerous and grueling reality faced by rangers who are protecting African elephants from ivory poachers," Courteney said. "Users will be able to connect to elephants and the rangers in a really profound way that transports them to the center of this issue."

The Protectors is co-created with virtual reality filmmaking innovator Here Be Dragons and Annapurna Pictures.

National Geographic Channel orders drama script for "Dragon Teeth," based on Michael Crichton's manuscript
The global limited series from Amblin Television, Sony Pictures Television and CrichtonSun is based on the soon-to-be-published Michael Crichton manuscript, Dragon Teeth, which was discovered by his wife, Sherri Crichton. The novel follows a rivalry between real-life paleontologists Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh during a time of intense fossil speculation and discovery in the American West in 1978. Emmy award-winning writers Graham Yost and Bruce C. McKenna will adapt the story for television.

"This epic tale of science, adventure and exploration from master storyteller Michael Crichton is the perfect scripted project for the network," said Carolyn Bernstein, Executive Vice President and Head of Global Scripted Development and Production for National Geographic Channel.

Go to National Geographic Channel's dedicated TCA site to learn more about these announcements.