BBC unveils new natural history commissions

Tom McDonald, BBC head of commissioning, natural history and specialist factual, was on hand at the Wildscreen Festival for an “On the Couch” session designed to delve into the mind ...
October 12, 2016

Tom McDonald, BBC head of commissioning, natural history and specialist factual, was on hand at the Wildscreen Festival for an “On the Couch” session designed to delve into the mind of natural history commissioners and took the opportunity to announce a brand new line-up of innovative natural history commissions. They include a new special with Sir David Attenborough, a series that arms animals with the latest camera technology, a BBC One series slated for 2019 on the continents, and a conservation documentary from the pubcaster Natural World strand.

“I hope what these titles do is show the breadth of what we do,” McDonald told attendees at the Oct. 12 event.

He noted that Attenborough continues to be a hugely important part of what the BBC does and that he is proud of the fact that, in Attenborough’s 90th year, the BBC has delivered more content featuring the longtime face of natural history filmmaking than it has in a long time.

He also addressed how the proposed BBC charter changes might affect the pubcaster’s Natural History Unit (NHU). As the NHU is facing the loss of an in-house programming guarantee under a commercialization plan put forward by the charter renewal white paper that would see all its production contracts put out for for competitive tender, his plan would be for the NHU to continue on, business as usual.

“What I hope happens is the Natural History Unit will continue as they would do with or without an in-house guarantee to be a really vital part of the natural history story. They’re one of the best suppliers of natural history content in the world,” he said.

Attenborough and the Giant Sea Dragon follows up on the success of the BBC’s last Attenborough-led special, Attenborough and the Giant Dinosaur. This latest series will be filmed on the Jurassic Coast where the remains of a super predator that ruled the ocean at the time of the dinosaurs has been found in a crumbling cliff face. Attenborough, of course, is off to investigate. The one-hour special for BBC One will see the huge fossil excavated, prepared, scanned, and a perfect replica of its skeleton reconstructed — with Attenborough there every step of the way. It’s executive produced by Mike Gunton for the BBC’s Natural History Unit, with Tom McDonald serving as commissioning editor.

Seven Worlds is a a 6 x 60-minutes series for BBC One that takes viewers to the continents to tell the respective stories of their spectacular wildlife and iconic landscapes through their greatest natural wonders. Using cutting-edge technology like stabilized camera systems, drones and mini cameras, the series will reveal how the unique characteristics of each continent — their shape, size, climate, ancient past and position on our planet — have affected the development of the unique animal life found on each of our seven worlds. It’s executive produced by Jonny Keeling for the BBC’s Natural History Unit and is co-produced with BBC America. McDonald serves as commissioning editor, and it will be distributed globally by BBC Worldwide.

Animals with Cameras features presenter and wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan as he deploys specially developed on-board cameras to answer vital questions about animals’ secret lives, adding new new perspective that will take viewers deeper into the lives of animals, including chimps, cheetahs and meerkats. Buchanan will work closely with scientists for whom on-board cameras are a vital new research tool, helping them better understand and protect animals. The 3 x 60-minute series is being produced for BBC One. It’s executive produced by Tim Martin for the BBC’s Natural History Unit, and is co-produced with PBS. The commissioning editor is Craig Hunter, and it will be distributed globally by BBC Worldwide.

Rituals comes from the makers of Human Planet. The 4 x 60-minute series for BBC2, which will be distributed globally by BBC Worldwide. It will immerse the viewers in the human stories that form our global rituals, from intimate ceremonies to welcome a new born child into a remote Amazonian tribe, to the millions of pilgrims who have piercings in the name of their god in Malaysia. The series is executive produced by Lucy Carter for the BBC’s NHU and the commissioning editor is Craig Hunter.

Cherry Blossom: The Greatest Spring on Earth is a one-off special focusing on the beautiful and intriguing natural event and looks at not only how nature responds, but how the people of Japan embrace the moment in surprising ways, both ancient and modern, making the ‘Sakura,’ or Cherry Blossom Festival, the most important cultural moment in the Japanese calendar. The series is executive produced by Tim Scoones for the BBC’s Natural History Unit with McDonald serving as commissioning editor.

Lastly, Sudan’s Story: A Rhino’s Last Stand - A Natural World Special, looks at the last remaining male Northern White Rhino on the planet, as scientists battle to bring his subspecies back from the brink of extinction. A copro between Thirteen Productions LLC and BBC in association with WNET, it’s executive produced by Sacha Mirzoeff for the BBC’s Natural History Unit, and Fred Kaufman for PBS. McDonald is the commissioning editor with Roger Webb serving as series editor.


About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.