Following the success of National Geographic limited series The Hot Zone, showrunner-EPs Kelly Souders and Brian Peterson and EP David Zucker looked at around 100 ideas for a second season, landing subject-wise on the harrowing anthrax attacks of 2001.
From the perspective of Peterson, The Hot Zone: Anthrax was “a really good companion piece” for the original—focused on an outbreak of Ebola and the scientists working to combat it—because it wasn’t a story about a virus, but instead “about bacteria in a targeted situation, [a story that] still lived roughly in same world.”
Souders said during the show’s panel today at TCA that it felt like “the right time” to tell this story “during a pandemic, when science is at the forefront.
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“Definitely, being able to portray scientists as the heroes of today was important for us,” Peterson added, “and was a huge thing for National Geographic as well.”
Zucker noted that the story is also relevant to our times, given that next month will mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “Obviously, that’s something within our nation that we tend to take particular note of,” he said. “The time was an extraordinary one, and one that continues to impact us in so many ways.”
The Hot Zone: Anthrax takes places just weeks after 9/11, watching as the United States is rocked by a second wave of attacks—the anthrax letters. Targeting journalists and politicians, mail with anthrax powder kills five people and causes panic across the United States. We then follow FBI special agent Matthew Ryker (Daniel Dae Kim) as he tracks down the killer, finding himself caught up in an unstable web of psychological warfare.
Souders, Peterson and Zucker were joined on the panel by actors Daniel Day Kim and Tony Goldwyn, the latter of whom plays microbiologist, Dr. Bruce Ivins.
Souders noted that the series’ cast and crew went through “a Hot Zone experience” of their own, given that they were filming it under strict Covid protocols, in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic.
Goldwyn added that these protocols made for “an interesting collaboration,” given that he was for the most part “siloed” from his collaborators. While he initially found the way he was forced to work in these circumstances “bizarre,” he also said he found that it “ended up being very creative.”
Later in the panel, The Hot Zone‘s EPs were asked about the prospect of making a third season of the anthology. While Peterson admitted that there hasn’t yet been “a lot of discussion” about another installment, Souders and Zucker both expressed their desire to press ahead with the anthology, with Zucker noting that there is “so much more to dramatize.”
“I think the emergence in recent years of anthological series, which were dormant for decades, has been an extraordinarily positive one,” he said, “and there are stories like this that fit so firmly in this kind of format, where you can really tell the tale in the right number of hours.”
Harry Hamlin, Dylan Baker, Enrico Colantoni, Morgan Kelly, Ian Colletti, Dawn Olivier and Denyce Lawton also star in The Hot Zone: Anthrax, which premieres on November 28 and will air as a three-night event. Souders and Peterson exec produce the series from 20th Television with Zucker, Ridley Scott and Jordan Sheehan at Scott Free Productions.
The first season of The Hot Zone was set in 1989, following U.S. Army scientist Nancy Jaax (Julianna Margulies) as she was confronted with the possibility of a potentially deadly outbreak of Ebola. It debuted in 2019, and quickly established itself as National Geographic’s most-watched scripted series ever.