BBC America showcased its forthcoming wildlife tentpole series Seven Worlds, One Planet for the first-time at a Deadline-moderated session at Banff with the creative team and AMC Networks Entertainment President Sarah Barnett.
Series Producer Scott Alexander and Producer Kiri Cashell lifted the lid on how they made the seven-part David Attenborough-narrated series, while Barnett opened up about the Planet franchise and also revealed that BBC America’s forthcoming micro-net will commission original programming.
Seven Worlds, One Planet tells the story of the planet’s spectacular wildlife and iconic landscapes. This series will reveal how each distinct continent has shaped the unique animal life found there.
The session marked the world exclusive of clips from the series with the audience getting to see moments including a cheeky wild hamster in Vienna, an endangered rhino and how they shot the series using cutting-edge drone technology.
Series Producer Scott Alexander said the show was designed to capture the essence of each continent. “This series is a story we haven’t told before; we’ve never told a story continent by continent, which I thought was quite remarkable.”
He talked about filming Africa’s rift valley, which runs nearly the length of the continent that is home to over a 1,000 species of cichlid fish. He revealed that the teams were diving to capture the fish and they brought home more than they expected to. “The team was out diving and had amazing sequences but they managed to unfortunately come back with their own parasites. They will live to film another day,” he said.
Cashell, who has worked at the BBC’s Natural History Unit for around ten years and is now working on Planet Earth III, discussed filming wild hamsters in a graveyard in Vienna, including a particularly naughty one called Granny, who she called the “star of the show”. “You get to know them, they’re like people, they each have completely different personalities,” she added.
Cashell was also one of the registered drone pilots as the show used a lot of new technology to capture stories. “The cool thing was that the director was not only able to get these new perspectives, shots you couldn’t have got with a chopper, but it was actually interesting to see how the animals reacted to the drones. What we were seeing that the animals just tolerated them, it was absolutely amazing.”
She added that the drones had a habit of crashing. “We actually crashed a lot of them. There’s always the risk of pushing it too far… it was never at the cost of animal, it was usually just going in to the side of a mountain,” she added.
The show is a co-production between the BBC, BBC America, China’s CCTV, Chinese digital platform Tencent, Germany’s ZDF and France Télévisions and will air next year. BBC America is also the first window platform and exclusive linear home for the series, which will also be one of the landmark shows on BBC America’s forthcoming “micro-net” Project Awe.
The super strand will launch towards the end of the year and will feature for 24 hours every Saturday. It will feature 2,000 hours of library wildlife programming including Planet Earth and Blue Planet and comes after BBC set a five year deal with BBC Studios to be the exclusive linear home to these programs.
Barnett said that these shows were a franchise in a similar way to The Walking Dead. “The reason why certain shows become a franchise or a universe, not just because there’s great storytelling but because they have something profound in essence to say about what it is to be human.”
She added that she believed wildlife programming was going through a “renaissance”, leading to increased competition from the likes of Discovery, which signed its own digital deal with the BBC, as well as Netflix, which recently launched David Attenborough’s Our Planet. “I don’t blame other players and other companies for having their eyes on this type of content,” she said. “The work that the BBC Natural History Unit has been doing for the past 60 years is truly world class, no one comes even close. We are really bloody proud to have it.”
Barnett also revealed that Project Awe, the working title as a result of trademark issues, will also commission original series. “It will have its own feel and every quarter will have its own tentpole. We will commission; we’ll buy a lot of library content and we’ll also have some commissions that we’ll be announcing. We think this type of programming is impervious to the kind of consumer patterns that we’re seeing and we think there will be an audience for it.”
Seven Worlds, One Planet airs in 2020.