Academy Award-winning producer Brian Grazer talks about the sexy genius of Albert Einstein, the topic of National Geographic’s first scripted drama series.
When determining the subject of National Geographic’s first scripted drama series Genius, there was no question who the first prodigy depicted in the anthology series would be.
“Einstein was the first and best idea because he’s completely unchallenged at being a genius,” said Brian Grazer, executive producer of the show. “He’s got a very dynamic and human story that’s sexy, dealing with romance, power, and fame—like any modern bad-boy character—but also at the same time completely changing the world.”
The series is based on the 2007 book Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson, which is what drove Grazer and his team to work on the project.
“The book is really what got us going. Gigi Pritzker [co-founder and producer at Odd Lot Entertainment] bought it quite a long time ago, and she relayed that to us, and we found a way to make it quickly since we were having such great success making scripted shows, working with National Geographic on the six-hour miniseries Mars [with Elon Musk] and Breakthrough. I had immediate access and interest to do it.”
Einstein as a subject held some surprises for Grazer. He didn’t realize how cool Einstein was or how sexually active, as audiences will see in the introductory moments of the pilot. “Everywhere he went, he was known. He used to roll with Charlie Chaplin.”
Yes, Einstein was almost like a movie star in reputation, and while Grazer has an inclination toward producing feature films on real-life icons (see Frost/Nixon or Rush), he felt this project was more suited for television.
“I’m probably thought of more as a movie producer, but I’ve also been producing television for 20 years. I love television. I love the trajectory of the way television sensibility is going; it’s going to deeper, smarter, cooler places. I just felt like television and National Geographic would be the perfect platform for this.”
In fact, Grazer believes that television of today parallels the films of yesteryear.
“Television that is now very popular used to be movies of the ’70s and ’80s, from great directors like Peter Bogdanovich, John Frankenheimer, Billy Friedkin, and Hal Ashby. Those character-driven dramas that have such intensity about them no longer really exist in movie form. You have to either be this giant event series or a superhero franchise. So the art form has been transported to television.”
In recent years, television has skewed more toward depicting the anti-hero, like Walter White on Breaking Bad, but don’t expect to see evil geniuses on the NatGeo show.
“I don’t think I would celebrate genius that would have a negative effect on humanity. Most of my movies have happy endings, like A Beautiful Mind. I want to change people’s moods in a positive way and create aspirational feelings as opposed to anything other than that.”
Season 2 of Genius is already moving forward, with the announcement of the sophomore subject matter arriving during the season finale of Season 1 on June 20. Obviously, Grazer can’t say who the next chapter will be about, but he did reveal his parameters of what it takes to be a Genius.
“Genius is the embodiment of the power of a human being to challenge things that are thought to be one way and only that way. They bring modern disruptive forces to that to give it scale and a new identity.”
Genius premieres Tuesday, April 25, on National Geographic.