National Geographic has given a series order for a miniseries based on Richard Preston’s 1995 book The Hot Zone. The network made the announcement during this week’s upfront presentations, and it comes from Ridley Scott’s Scott Free Productions, Fox 21 Television Studios, and Lynda Obst Productions. It wasn't announced when the show would premiere or how many episodes it would run.
The Hot Zone is about the discovery of the Ebola virus in Africa in the 1970s and an outbreak that occurred in Reston, Virginia, in 1990 when a group of quarantined monkeys began to die of mysterious causes. Ebola is a virus thought to be transmitted to humans through contact with animals. The virus is deadly; those who contract it experience fever, headaches, muscle pain, and diarrhea. In some cases, they also experience internal and external bleeding. The virus has often been seen in small outbreaks throughout central Africa — the most recent outbreak occurred in May 2017 — while a massive outbreak occurred between 2014 and 2016, killing over 11,000 people.
The adaptation has a long history behind it. Preston’s book began as a 1992 article in The New Yorker, “Crisis in The Hot Zone,” which followed the story of the Reston outbreak and the efforts to contain the outbreak by the United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases. That article was optioned for a film in 1993 by producer Lynda Obst and 20th Century Fox. Warner Bros., which had bid on the option for the film, went ahead with its own virus story, Outbreak, which starred Morgan Freeman, Dustin Hoffman, and Rene Russo. Obst had signed Ridley Scott to direct the film, with Robert Redford and Jodie Foster set to star, but the film never entered production. Scott and Obst found renewed interest in the topic in 2014 and began developing a TV miniseries based on the book.
That series has now been picked up by the National Geographic channel, which has begun producing its own original scripted TV in recent years, like the Emmy Award-winning Genius, an anthology show about the lives of notable figures such as Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, and Mary Shelley, and Mars, a quasi-documentary and science fiction show about an expedition to the Red Planet. The Hot Zone will now join that lineup. Preston’s book is an ideal candidate for such treatment: it’s a dramatic story about a frightening virus, made all the more relevant by the recent memory of the 2014 outbreak, which saw infections appear throughout the world, including the United States. What’s more, there’s the potential for follow-ups if this series is successful. In addition to The Hot Zone, Preston also wrote about smallpox, anthrax, and biological weapons in The Demon in the Freezer, and he is working on a book about the 2014 outbreak.