Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Smithsonian Channel’s Unscripted Strategy: What are the trends? A Sunny Side interview with Chris Hoelzl. Watch the video!

Smithsonian Channel is a partner of the Smithsonian Institution, and is recognized for its carefully curated factual schedule:

  • What is Smithsonian’s documentary and unscripted strategy?
  • What do they want?
  • What are examples of recent trend-setters?

For a Sunny Side Meet the Executive session, SVP Programming & Development Chris Hoelzl shared Smithsonian’s vision and programming priorities.

Watch my informative and exclusive Sunny Side conversation with Chris Hoelzl:

Recorded June 17, 2020


  • Smithsonian Channel is a ViacomCBS unit. (It used to be a part of Showtime)
  • We work very closely with the Smithsonian Institution


  • 250-300 hours in production


  • American History, Ancient History, World History, Natural History, Air & Space, Nature/Wildlife, Pop Culture
  • Air & Space is the most popular genre
  • There is a a lot of interest in World History
  • There has been a spike in Natural History
  • Wild Wednesdays: Early focus on African wildlife… have now expanded to other regions (Latin America, Asia)
  • Stories follow the networks’ expanding distribution
  • The archive is important- but the archive must be built around the story NOT story built around the archive
  • We use both black & white and colorized archives

Recent Hits & Notables

Chris selected three documentaries to highlight his team’s strategy. Clips are included in the above Sunny Side video.

  • Black in Space: Breaking the Color Barrier
    • Taking a topic that most Americans don’t know about
    • Intersection of the Cold War, the Space Race and the Civil Rights Movement
    • Race between the US and Soviet Union to put the first black astronaut in space
    • Story of heroism, competition, and propaganda
    • Used the archive extensively
  • An American Aristocrat’s Guide to Great Estates
    • Attempt to try to understand and experience some of Britain’s best known estates and country houses
    • Julie Montague as the compelling storyteller
    • Pivot for Smithsonian- find presenters that can be the face for the network
    • “History in present tense”
    • For anyone who’s interested in history, not just aristocracy
  • The Hunt for Escobar’s Hippos
    • About Escobar’s passion for menagerie
    • His pet hippos escaped their pen in Colombia: now an environmental threat and very dangerous for people
    • Veterinarian is trying to capture, dart, and neuter them
    • Dramatic interpretation of the Wildlife genre
    • Natural History blended with True Crime and Travel

Sources of Programs / Coproductions

  • We are stronger together – can afford bigger budgets, make a bigger global impact
  • We will forge alliances whenever and wherever we can
  • The channel’s expanding global footprint does limit some opportunities
  • Smithsonian is a trusted editorial partner for industry leaders

How to Pitch Smithsonian Channel

  • Producers should inform themselves about Smithsonian’s programming announcements and schedules
  • Happy to receive reels and pitches at

(Notes by Becca Wallance)

Coming Soon: My Sunny Side interviews with:

My Sunny Side interviews with:

  • Jorge Franzini – CuriosityStream
  • Catherine Alvaresse – France Télévisions

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