46 Years of National Geographic Specials

The very first television special from the National Geographic Society was broadcast in color on Friday, September 10th, 1965 on CBS. By my count, CBS aired a total of 31 National Geographic specials, the last of which aired on Thursday, April 12th, 1973. After that, ABC took over broadcasting the specials but would only air four before they moved once again, this time to PBS. Note that I came up with these numbers by physically flipping through a collection of National Geographic magazines and the list I came up with may not be comprehensive.

Titled “Americans on Everest,” the first hour-long National Geographic television special followed a team led by Norman G. Dyhrenfurth as they attempted to reach the summit of Mt. Everest in May of 1963. To promote the special, National Geographic the magazine published a five-page article in its September 1965 issue announcing the Society’s foray into television. Included were photographs, information on the Society’s new television division, descriptions of the first four specials and a list of stations planning to broadcast “Americans on Everest.”

List of CBS stations airing Americans on Everest

List of CBS stations airing “Americans on Everest” – September 1965
Copyright © National Geographic Society, 1965 [1]

Here’s a list of the first 39 National Geographic specials, which includes the 31 CBS specials, the four ABC specials and the first four PBS specials. I have not been able to find a good episode guide for these specials; both TV.com and the Internet Movie Database have incomplete guides. If anyone knows of a complete guide, please let me know in the comments.

### Title Airdate
1965-1966 Season
Specials premiere on CBS
1 “Americans on Everest” 09/10/1965
2 “Miss Goodall in Africa” 12/22/1965
3 “Voyage of the Brigantine Yankee” 02/11/1966
4 “The World of Jacques-Yves Cousteau” 04/28/1966
1966-1967 Season
5 “Dr. Leakey and the Dawn of Man” 11/05/1966
6 “The Hidden World” 12/13/1966
7 “Alaska!” 02/07/1967
8 “Yankee Sails Across Europe” 04/08/1967
1967-1968 Season
9 “Grizzly” 11/01/1967
10 “Winged World” 12/11/1967
11 “Amazon” 02/20/1968
12 “The Lonely Dorymen” 04/16/1968
1968-1969 Season
13 “America’s Wonderland” 10/23/1968
14 “Reptiles and Amphibians” 12/03/1968
15 “Australia: The Timeless Land” 02/18/1969
16 “Polynesian Adventure” 04/15/1969
1969-1970 Season
17 “The Mystery of Animal Behavior” 10/14/1969
18 “Siberia: The Endless Horizon” 12/02/1969
19 “Wild River” 02/10/1970
20 “Holland Against the Sea” 04/14/1970
1970-1971 Season
21 “Zoos of the World” 10/13/1970
22 “Ethiopia: The Hidden Empire 12/02/1970
23 “The Great Mojave Desert” 02/13/1971
24 “Journey to the High Arctic” 04/13/1971
1971-1972 Season
25 “Monkeys, Apes, and Man” 10/12/1971
26 “The Last Tribes of Mindanao” 01/12/1972
27 “Man of the Serengeti” 02/22/1972
28 “The Last Vikings” 03/27/1972
1972-1973 Season
29 “Strange Creatures of the Night” 01/17/1973
30 “The Violent Earth” 02/15/1973
31 “The Haunted West” 04/12/1973
1973-1974 Season
Specials move to ABC
32 “Wind Raider of the Sahara” 09/06/1973
33 “Journey to the Outer Limits” 01/10/1974
34 “The Big Cats” 03/15/1974
35 “Bushmen of the Kalahari” 05/17/1974
1974-1975 Season
No specials broadcast this season
1975-1976 Season
Specials move to PBS
36 “The Incredible Machine” 10/28/1975
37 “This Britain” 12/09/1975
38 “In Search of the Great Apes” 01/13/1976
39 “The Animal Nobody Loved” 02/10/1976

Beginning with the second special, “Miss Goodall and the Wild Chimpanzees,” National Geographic included removable television announcements alongside articles giving a description of the special. These announcements included television listings and were intended to be torn out of the magazine and kept by the television set as a reminder to tune in.

Here are two examples:

The World of Jacques-Yves Cousteau The World of Jacques-Yves Cousteau

“The World of Jacques-Yves Cousteau” Insert – April 1966
Copyright © National Geographic Society, 1966 [2]
Zoos of the World Zoos of the World

“Zoos of the World” Insert – October 1970
Copyright © National Geographic Society, 1970[3]

In January of 2001, the National Geographic Channel was launched in the United States, several years after a similar channel was launched in the United Kingdom.

Works Cited:

1 “National Geographic’s latest adventure: a color television series.” Sep. 1965. Vol. 128, No. 3, National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C. Page 449.

Image Credits:

1 From National Geographic, September 1965, Page 452.
2 From National Geographic, April 1966, Page 529A.
3 From National Geographic, October 1970, 503A.

16 Replies to “46 Years of National Geographic Specials”

  1. I remember the ‘National Geographic Specials’. They were very much prestige programming at the Tiffany network, and they always got good ratings.

    The only correction I have for your list is:

    31 “The Desert Bushmen of the Kalahari” 04/12/1973
    -> I have the title of this being “The Haunted West” 20.3/32%; the “Bushmen” special aired about a year later.

    Given how high the ratings were for most of the specials (I don’t know about PBS), I’m really surprised that CBS almost never encored them.

    1. You are correct. It looks like “The Desert Bushmen of the Kalahari” must have been pushed back. I did not even notice I had it listed twice under a slightly different name.

  2. According to the National Geographic May 1974 issue tv pullout The Bushmen of The Kalahari did not air supposedly due to a strike. Another interesting fact is that the 1972-1973 season only had three specials instead of four like the previous seasons. The Wolper website does list The Haunted West as airing on April 12th 1973. All the April 1973 National Geographics I’ve seen list the Bushmen special.

  3. I remember the National Geographic Special “Grizzly” in 1967 when I was a boy.Is there a VHS or DVD recording available anywhere ?

  4. I remember watching National Geographic Explorer and not allways on PBS, but I do have a question, What is the name of the Explorer intro/theme?

    1. I can’t hear Jupiter from Mahler’s “The Planets” without thinking about National Geography Specials

  5. “Miss Goodall and the Wild Chimpanzees” pre-empted Lost In Space. I wasn’t very happy about it at the time!

  6. did Nat Geo do a TV special circa 1990 about a sea voyage re-enactment of sailing the Indian Ocean (possibly Vasco de Gama)?

  7. It’s been impossible to find copies of these original National Geographic episodes. Would love to watch them if anyone has any leads.

    1. Some of the early Specials were released on VHS in the United Kingdom during the 1980s. The collection was called National Geographic Video Library and it included many, if not all, of the early shows. The Winged World, The Big Cats,The Last Vikings, etc. were among them.

    2. Some of the documentaries are available at youtube, search for “in the shadow of vesuvius” and you will find about 50 more, uploaded by the same user.

  8. I remember these ads from my family’s NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC issues. I loved how they provided a current list of all CBS then ABC affiliates in the US. I wish the specials had also been on NBC for the same reason.

  9. Was the title of the second special named “Miss Goodall in Africa” or “Miss Goodall and the Wild Chimpanzees”? I’m only finding the latter elsewhere, and it’s listed as both on this page.

  10. I’m looking for a special that aired in the 1990s entitled Spain. It included a segment on wine, the bull fight and holy week.

  11. I loved these specials as a kid, my favorite being the one on the Amazon. If anyone has any ideas where I can find this please let me know.

  12. I just went to eBay, searched for “National Geographic Amazon DVDs”, and a few different Amazon DVDs were listed. (I first went to the National Geographic website, but didn’t find what you are looking for.)

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