EXCLUSIVE: National Geographic has greenlighted a second season of scientific thriller The Hot Zone, which will focus on the anthrax attacks of 2001. Kelly Souders and Brian Peterson return as executive producers and showrunners of the new installment, produced by Touchstone Television and Scott Free Productions. Preliminary casting for The Hot Zone: Anthrax is already underway.
“The gripping, propulsive story of the hunt for the anthrax killer who terrorized the country in the dark days that followed the Sept. 11 attack couldn’t be more timely,” said Carolyn Bernstein, EVP, Global Scripted Content and Documentary Films. “As the world battles COVID-19, another deadly and mysterious virus, The Hot Zone: Anthrax is a scientific thriller for our time.”
The Hot Zone started off as a Julianna Margulies-starring limited series, chronicling the Ebola virus outbreak, which launched on Memorial Day 2019 and became Nat Geo’s most watched scripted series ever and second most-watched series overall. Just weeks later, Nat Geo brass began discussions with Touchstone TV and Scott Free about turning The Hot Zone into an anthology series, with each season examining a different health crisis where science is a big factor in finding a solution to potential epidemic or public panic. The producers right away zeroed in on the post-9/11 anthrax crisis as a topic of the potential second installment, which was put on fast-track development. The coronavirus pandemic gave the project a degree of urgency and could become a subject of a future installment.
In 2001, just weeks after 9/11, the United States was rocked by another deadly act of terrorism. Letters containing anthrax were sent to unsuspecting victims in Florida, Washington, D.C. and New York. The anonymous assault claimed five lives, left 17 others sick and caused panic throughout the U.S. Despite interagency turf wars and many false leads, an unlikely team of USAMRIID scientists (The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and the Department of Defense’s lead research laboratory), FBI agents and Justice Department personnel slowly closed in on a shocking prime suspect.
“While many of us can recall the breaking news headlines and the widespread fear that ensued when anthrax emerged in America, there are still layers to this story that have not yet been told,” said Souders. “The second season of our anthology series will dive deep into the forensic investigation of a simple envelope that sent the entire Eastern Seaboard into a panic.”
The original Hot Zone series was based on Richard Preston’s bestselling book of the same name and was inspired by the true events surrounding the origins of the Ebola virus and its arrival on U.S. soil in 1989. Across 12 broadcasts through the May 29, 2019 finale (premieres and repeats), it was viewed by 7.5 million people in the U.S.
“After a terrific collaboration with our friends at National Geographic on The Hot Zone, we couldn’t be more excited to be back in business with the same stellar team for another season,” said David W. Zucker, president, Scott Free Television. “All of us well remember the anthrax attacks in 2001, which rocked and terrified the country. We’re eager to tell this extraordinary story of all the drama that unfolded to overcome the attacks and identify the perpetrator.”
With the Season 2 order, The Hot Zone joins another Nat Geo anthology series, Genius, whose latest installment, Genius: Aretha, is now in production.
Nat Geo’s scripted programming slate also includes The Right Stuff, which recently premiered on Disney+, and limited series Barkskins.
For The Hot Zone: Anthrax, Souders and Peterson serve as executive producers and showrunners. Scott Free Production’s Ridley Scott and David W. Zucker are executive producers with Jordan Sheehan also serving as executive producer. Lynda Obst is an executive producer. Richard Preston is a co-executive producer on the series. The series is produced by Touchstone Television, a division of Disney Television Studios alongside 20th Television and ABC Signature, and Scott Free Productions.
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